Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Mission: Impossible III


An Action Lover’s Delight

It’s May again, the inaugural month that hails in the summer movie season. This month is full of huge titles with huge names coming from huge studios hoping to rake in huge profits. It all starts with the third installment of Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise, where he again plays superspy Ethan Hunt trying to save the world. This time we get TV wunderkind J.J. Abrams (Felicity, Alias, Lost) helming, as well as a pretty decent action yarn that awe-inspires visually, but leaves you a bit empty when its all over.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is no longer a field agent for the IMF, but has settled down into training new recruits. This may have something to do with his recent engagement to fiancee Julia (Michelle Monaghan), and his desire to settle down. Things change, however, when Hunt’s protégé Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell) is captured while surveilling arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Ethan reactivates to rescue her, setting off a chain of events that threatens his faith in the IMF leadership as well as his newfound love.

If you are familiar with Abrams’ show Alias, you will feel right at home with M:I3. There’s the good-looking spy trying to balance a personal life with one they can’t speak of. There’s the fast-paced setup, execution, and escape of elaborately staged special ops missions. There’s the quirky-but-lovable spytech guy. If there’s anything that this movie lacks in comparison to it’s TV counterpart, it’s the time needed to establish some kind of back story. Instead, the action becomes the focus.

Oh, and what a focus it is. M:I3 has some of the best, most spectacularly thrilling action sequences I’ve seen in quite awhile. Not only do bullets fly and things explode, but they are mounted on a huge canvas, and don’t pander to the lowest common denominator. They feel smart, believable (with a couple of exceptions), and researched. I like the fact that ammo count was a critical factor, and that reloading was prominent. I also like the heavy use of stunt work melded with seamless CGI work that fused well, and looked real. These sequences are very exciting, and leave you drained at the end of each one.

Unfortunately, this film is all action and not much else. It has no heart. At the beginning we see Cruise and Monaghan at their engagement party, but we need more to feel for them later. There are several scenes where they look all weepy at each other, but we don’t know why or care all that much. We need more screen time to establish this relationship, not just a few scenes with them together looking all goo-goo eyed.

Acting-wise, everyone pulls their weight. Cruise (War of the Worlds) is solid as the action hero, and we do root for him. Monaghan (North Country) is fine, and I liked her scene where she has to defend herself without Cruise’s help. Ving Rhames (Dawn of the Dead) is back, and is always fun in his tough-guy comic relief role. Hoffman (Capote) plays a good, nasty villain, but is around a lot less than I wanted. I also really liked seeing Abrams’ alum Keri Russell (The Upside of Anger) in an action role--Felicity with gun! Laurence Fishburne (Akeelah and the Bee) also contributes as the scenery-chewing IMF boss John Brassel. An A-list cast for sure.

This must have been an overwhelming task for a first-time film director (he does have some experience with his TV shows), but Abrams proves he can play with the big boys. He has full command of his camera and actors, and gets the printed page to screen in spectacular fashion.

Mission: Impossible III offers some amazing eye candy. The action is smart and first-rate, but it’s too bad we couldn’t get some more character development in there. I really liked this movie while I was watching it, but found myself forgetting quite a bit of it afterwards. Action fans will absolutely love it, while the rest will probably enjoy themselves too.

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