Mission: Impossible III

5 stars


11th July 2006

"The creative industries can be broken down into four distinct elements: creation, production, distribution and consumption." That's how my 2,000 word essay is looking after approximately three days of pacing, panic attacks and numerous toilet breaks, and it's due in about 16 hours. Cue a phone call from a friend in the industry promising a spare ticket to a screening of Mission: Impossible 3, and after twenty minutes of frantic cutting, pasting and plagiarising, I'm done, dusted and on my way into central London. That's how desperate I was to see M:I-3; to hell with education, to hell with the culture industry, to hell with Theodor Adorno. I want Tom Cruise, explosions and fairly difficult missions to fill my evening's entertainment, thank you. The first M:I was overlong and over-complicated, the second too dumbed-down to be anything other than forgettable popcorn fare, but the third time's the charm; you've still got your dum-dum-dum-dum theme tune and the most bankable star in the business, but you've got an established TV director given a free reign, a massive budget and an Oscar-winning bad guy to boot. How could it be anything other than brilliant?

Retired from active duty, IMF member Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has settled down and found a fiancée in the form of Julia (Monaghan, last seen smouldering in the excellent Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), albeit under the pretence that he works for the Department of Transportation. When an agent he trained is captured, Hunt is called back to the force to organise a rescue mission with old friend Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), finding himself up against international arms dealer Owen Davian (Hoffman), a man with no conscience and a thirst for power. Davian may look like the phone sex pervert from Happiness on the outside, but it turns out he's a bastard extraordinaire and the most devious foe the IMF have faced yet. Cue Cruise and co. getting on the case to take him down and recover the prize that Davian desires so much - the MacGuffin of the piece, the mysterious 'rabbit's foot'.

J. J. Abrams was the right man for the job. Using his knowledge of the spy genre from his sterling work on Alias plus a fantastic eye for set-pieces, he's crafted a Mission: Impossible movie that fuses together the twisting storylines of the De Palma version and the breathtaking action sequences from the John Woo attempt (without the pretension) to create a truly modern blockbuster - one that's as concerned with character as it is with spectacle. The secret was obvious all along - the explosions, the missions and the stunts are all eye-candy of the highest order, but it's the individual members of the IMF that drive the movie. It is in exploring the personal life of Ethan Hunt that Abrams has struck gold, and it's none more evident than in the opening scene, cut out of sequence, with an apoplectic Hoffman holding all the cards, reducing Hunt to begging, pleading and even crying. The hair-flicking, mountain-climbing berk of M:I-2 has left the building; this Hunt is vulnerable and, more importantly, human.

Something missing from previous instalments of the series, a fairly important ingredient when you think about it, was teamwork. The first movie was a muddled affair (everyone seemed to be a double agent) and number two was pretty much a one-man show, but Abrams nails the dynamic perfectly, with Cruise, Rhames and newcomers Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers all combining to make those missions a little less impossible. Take the Vatican break-in for example; a spellbinding mix of old-fashioned diversion, new-fangled gadgetry, disguises and deception - it's the closest anyone has come so far to replicating the feeling of the old TV show, and although it frequently borders on the ridiculous, it's still utterly enthralling to watch it unfold. It's just one of countless action sequences; the bridge attack has a definite True Lies vibe but it's visceral, shocking and powerfully shot, while a third-reel break-in shows that even the best special agents have to resort to jumping through windows every once in a while.

Like I said before, it's character that makes this third instalment shine. Cruise does excellent work in fleshing out Hunt more than ever before, wisely saving that gleaming white smile for special occasions and generally keeping a lid on that 'I am so fucking boss' attitude that blighted him through the last movie. His tender scenes with Monaghan do lack a certain spark (2001's Vanilla Sky was the last time he had an onscreen partner, remember) but it's when he's really up against the wall and the things he loves are threatened that the real Hunt is revealed. Cruise gets a lot of stick, often deservedly so, but he's still brilliant at what he does. It helps that he's up against such an interesting adversary; Hoffman's Davian is basically a big fat guy, but it's the way he carries himself that fascinates - even when he's being hung out of a plane by his legs, he still manages to cut to the core of Ethan and his cronies. With a low, rumbling voice and a tendency to chow down on scenery when riled, Davian is one of the most memorable screen villains of recent years.

Mission: Impossible III is one of those action movies that leaves an indelible mark on your consciousness, featuring many memorable sequences that will no doubt spawn a myriad of imitators over the next few years. Spy movies rarely feel this organic; in delving deep into the psyche of the agents involved, it gives the action scenes a real sense of danger, something that's been sorely lacking from the series thus far. It features a great ensemble cast, some ingenious plot twists, a tub-thumping soundtrack and every frame is so irrepressibly cool, you just can't help but swagger down the streets on the way home, hoping someday, you'll get to fire guns, woo girls and jump off buildings for a living. Sure beats the shit out of writing essays about the creative industries.

More:  Action  Sequels
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