VOD film review: Mission: Impossible III
James R | On 25, Jul 2018
Director: JJ Abrams
Cast: Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan, Philip Seymour Hoffman
“Who are you? What’s you’re name? Do you have a wife? A girlfriend? Because if you do, I’m gonna find her. I’m gonna hurt her. And then I’m gonna find you and kill you right in front of her.” That’s Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) threatening Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in Mission: Impossible III. It’s a threat that could have come from any blockbuster of the last 30 years, and that’s the disappointing misstep of this third sequel: it tries to turn Ethan Hunt into a generic action movie hero.
Ethan Hunt has always been a charismatic leading man, a figure of reckless agility, near-suicidal determination and a twinkling grin. He’s the man who does the impossible missions, no matter what the cost. He’s not the man who retires and settles down to start a family. Yet that’s how we start this third outing for the IMF icon: he’s married to Julia (Michelle Monaghan), now a trainer of young agents for the organisation. It’s only when an old friend (Billy Crudup) turns up with news of a prodigal trainee being kidnapped that Hunt is drawn back into the field.
One last mission and this time it’s personal? It’s a move too far away from the IMF formula. While M:I-II introduced a romance with Thandie Newton’s thief, the film itself was driven by a single mission to stop a viral outbreak. M:I-III, on the other hand, drives its plot with more personal stakes (that, crucially, aren’t directly connected to his work colleagues), leaving any sense of mission far behind – and a familiar whiff of agent-goes-rogue lingering in the air.
Cruise, of course, remains nothing less than good value: his athletic performance, with its ever-escalating stunts, continues to amaze, to the point where him just running becomes impressive. Abrams turns that almost into a joke, with every set piece involving long takes of Cruise’s legs in a blur. “See Tom run. Tom runs fast. Run Tom run.” could easily have been the film’s poster tagline.
While the action remains nail-bitingly perilous, though, the script can’t quite get the balance right: the scenes between Michelle Monaghan and Tom Cruise don’t give Monaghan enough screen-time to flesh out her character, but are long enough to interfere with the overall pace and focus. The movie’s best sequences come in the middle, as Abrams (and co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci) nail the ensemble feel of an IMF mission: Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (and Ving Rhames’ always-entertaining Luther) have great fun as agents helping Ethan to break into – yes – The Vatican, and seeing them in flow all at once is popcorn excitement at its finest.
The addition of Laurence Fishburne as a one-liner machine of a boss (“Please don’t interrupt me when I’m asking rhetorical questions.”) is a nice step up from Anthony Hopkins’ fleeting IMF chief cameo, but the introduction of Simon Pegg as Benji (a tech whizz whose distinction from Luther only comes into fruition in later films) and Crudup’s middle-management figure mainly take time and weight away from Hoffman’s villain. Hoffman is magnificent, being mean for the sake of it without hamming it up, and perfectly doing an impression of Tom Cruise pretending to be him. Plus the scene where he beats up Ethan Hunt for five minutes is brutally satisfying to watch – you just wish, like the Maguffin of the “Rabbit’s Foot” that he demands Ethan steal for him, that there was more screen-time for Owen, who mostly remains a mysterious cipher.
There’s something admirably bold, almost Hitchcockian, about not explaining a central plot device, and Abrams is at his best when sprinting along without pausing for exposition – this third Mission: Impossible outing features probably the franchise’s best use of face masks, with their technology captured flawlessly without any verbal explanation needed. So when M:I-III does pause to try and build character outside of the immediate IMF team, it frustrates more than moves. Mission: Impossible succeeds because it gives its directors the opportunity to impose their own style upon the franchise. Abrams’ narrative may appear more stripped down than Brian De Palma’s opening film, but the overall result aptly feels too stuffed to grip entirely. Sometimes, seeing Tom run is enough to entertain.