It’s amazing how quickly our weekends have filled up through the spring and well into July. As a result, one of our favorite summertime family activities – going to the movies – gets complicated. All of this is preamble for why I’m only now talking about Mission: Impossible III.
I adored the original series, watching it just as Martin landau and Barbara Bain rotated off the show and Leonard Nimoy beamed aboard. I stuck with it until the final seasons as the show stopped being relevant or even as well-done as the past. A lot of that has to do with the changing world politics as well as the evolving nature of dramatic prime time series with a greater emphasis on character and writing whereas M:I was heavily plot-driven.
It was that lack of characterization and plot-heavy mechanics that proved to be the hallmark of the first two Tom Cruise vehicles. M:I certainly had the ability to evolve to a film franchise and Cruise was fine as Ethan Hunt. The problem is, the stories made no sense, eschewing story logic for explosions and a thumping, annoying soundtrack. Heck, even the great John Woo flubbed the second installment.
I was heartened to hear Cruise tossed out all the development on part three when he hired J.J. Abrams. Abrams knows how to do spies well, as witnessed by Alias (concluding tonight…sniff). His plotting was tight, the pacing breathless, and he threw you right into the action. After all, we first met Sydney Bristow as she was captured and about to have her tooth extracted by a malevolent dentist, as he sought information. Then we got to know and fall in love with her.
After two movies, we don’t know a thing about Ethan Hunt. He was barely distinguishable from Cruise and his fellow agents were ciphers – save for the wonderful Ving Rhames who has too much presence to be relegated to the background.
The new film grabbed your attention from the opening, as Hunt was captured and this time the villain, wonderfully played by the great Phillip Seymour Hoffman, wanted the whereabouts of the “rabbit’s foot” or he’d shoot Hunt’s wife. Pull back and there she is, strapped to a chair and scared out of her wits. Now we care, now we want to root for him and find out how the hell did this moment happen.
The story has many of Abram’s bits from the charismatic tech geek to the high-tech look of IMF HQ. The story briskly takes you from Virginia to Germany to the Vatican to Shanghai without losing the audience along the way. We get to see why Hunt risks his home life to rescue Felicity, er, Kerri Russell and what it means to him. Ving gets off some good comments and proves his loyalties time and again. We get some surprise twists along the way so you can’t predict each and every stunt. The M:I bits of espionage and disguise are all there as is a lovely music cue taken from the series that brought a broad smile to my face.
Is it perfect? No. For the second time in three movies, one of the villains turns out to be part of the IMF operation. While we like Ving’s Luther, we still don’t know much about him and the other agents, Maggie Q and John Rhys-Myers, don’t get much personality.
Still, it was an entertaining way to kick off the summer movie season. I’ll be happy should they reteam for a fourth installment.