This ‘mission’ is better than the rest



Image: This ‘mission’ is better than the rest:Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) right, rescues IMF Agent Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell) in “Mission: Impossible III.” Photo Courtesy of KRT:

Aubrey Henry

It seems only fashionable nowadays to figuratively jump all over Tom Cruise like he literally did to a certain talk show hostess’ couch. At the risk of sounding unoriginal, I was never a huge fan of Cruise. From Cocktail, to Top Gun, to A Few Good Men and down the line, I didn’t like Tom because he was-Tom.

That trademark grin and chuckle-the stoic jaw clenching -the perpetual running (connect every running scene in every Cruise flick and he’d run the Boston Marathon)-these Cruise constants annoy me infinitely. Two things I can’t take away from the man is that a) he’s willing to take chances with his image to make better films (although save Magnolia, he almost never seems like anything other than himself), and b) the man’s a dynamo of cinematic intensity. It’s those two essential Cruise attributes, along with the light touch of first time film director J.J. Abrams that make Mission: Impossible III click-for the most part.

After the head numbing plotline of the first “mission” and laughable comic book action that dominated Mission: Impossible II, it seemed only fitting that Abrams, who cut his teeth on the effective small screen spy drama Alias, take the reins of the franchise. His understanding of timing and character building improves the film greatly in comparison with John Woo’s second film and slightly in the case of Brian DePalma’s initial jaunt.

The first thing that jumps out at you in the film’s initial sequence is that trademark Cruise intensity. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt pleads for the life of his wife, Julia (Michelle Monoghan), who sits restrained with a gun to her head. The chillingly calm international arms exporter, Ownen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) demands Agent Hunt to give him the location of something known only as “the rabbit’s foot” while pushing the pistol’s barrel harder into Lindsey’s skull. Not for one moment will you question whether or not Davian would pull the trigger, such is the level of malice projected by the Oscar-winning Hoffman.

After setting up the audience, the film jumps back to a happier moment in agent Hunt’s life: a dinner party- hosted by Hunt and his fiance. For the first time in the series Hunt becomes a three-dimensional character, and Abrams takes great delight and playing with the concept of a nearly superhuman spy cleaning dirty dishes and getting ice for the drinks. As audiences know, it’s not meant to last, and after a strange phone call and cloak and dagger-style meeting, the semi-retired Hunt, who now instructs rookie agents at the headquarters of IMF (Impossible Mission Force-don’t laugh this was 60s TV) decides to come back for one last mission.

No sooner than you can say “this message will self destruct,” Hunt is off to Berlin to rescue his protege Lindsey (Kerri Russell), who has been captured by Davian monitoring him. During a daring rescue in a blacked-out detention facility, Lindsey reveals a secret that connects IMF, Davian and the mysterious rabbits foot.

By the time the scene is over Hunt realizes that for the safety of Julia and everyone else in the world, he must track down Davian and retrieve the rabbit’s foot. It’s not a revolutionary plot premise, but Abrams’ ability to convince audiences to invest in his characters, then ratchet up the story’s tension, make the cliches easy to forgive.

Unlike the first film, in which nearly the entire M:I team was wiped out in 10 minutes, or the second, in which Ving Rhames (who triumphantly returns as Luther Stickell) was the team, this mission actually requires a few helping hands. Joining the team are the dour Declan (Johnathan Rhys Myers ) and congenial Zhen, who get brief moments throughout the film to contribute, but sadly never develop into truly essential characters. Laurence Fishburne plays IMF’s head honcho, Brassell with biting wit, although the role is basically a derivative of every up-tight spy agency ringleader seen on celluloid.

Rhames’ Luther, on the other hand, has an interesting, almost brotherly rapport with Cruise’s hunt. At one point in the film he goes back and forth with Hunt over the subject of having a marriage and a secret identity at the same time. It provides for interesting character moments throughout the movie that were missing in the past films.

The action in MI: III is usually on target, with a few exceptions. Audiences have become desensitized to the hyper-kinetic, overly choreographed action in many of today’s films, so in that sense the gunplay in MI: III is welcome return to the meat and potatoes of action films, with its simple run-and-gun style. There’s also an excellent helicopter chase scene through whirling wind-powered generators. Then there’s a Vatican break-in (for the purpose of kidnapping Davian) that’s absolutely the highlight of the entire film.

In Vatican City, all four characters play intricate roles in a caper that’s techno-fetishist’s wet dream. There’s even a humorous reference to the first film’s Langley mission that fans of the series will love.

The much-hyped bridge assault sequence (which feels eerily similar to a scene in True Lies) is where the film starts to loose steam. Perhaps it’s me but the tension and suspense I felt earlier in the film wasn’t there. As if in acknowledgement of this, audiences are treated to a death-defying “Tarzan from a skyscraper” sequence that actually comes off a little bit half-baked at points, but Abrams manages to squeeze out a little vertigo, and quite a few laughs.

The film essentially ends where it begins-with Cruise and the love of his life strapped to chairs and facing certain death. There are a few “surprises” that audiences might not be prepared for, but one thing that shouldn’t surprise is the excellent performance turned in by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. His understated, completely believable villain was the highlight of the film for me. Too bad he’s only on-screen for around 25 minutes-tops. Cruise does manage to inject a little pathos into Hunt, although in my opinion, he still remains Tom Cruise in an undersized black shirt. At least it’s “intense” Tom. There’s a moment in the film where anger and sadness boil up in him to the point it appears his head might explode. It’s all pretty good stuff.

Mission: Impossible III is a workman-like debut by J.J. Abrams that really takes the film back to the very essence of what the TV show was about-impossible odds, hiss-worthy villains, seamlessly executed plans and gadgets. Although, it could’ve used more Hoffman, and perhaps bigger roles for Cruise’s supporting cast, Abrams proves that his mission to redeem the series in the eyes of fans was anything but: impossible.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Aubrey Henry can be reached at [email protected]