Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Mission: Impossible III

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Starring Tom Cruise and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Straight away it's worth saying that this is popcorn multiplex cinema at its purest.  Although it bears no resemblance to the TV series episodes, which week in and out consisted of complex con schemes, in which the team would use their array of disguises and tricks to sidetrack and confound their nemeses, the films have been primarily focused on action.  Of which, this episode delivers in spades. With J.J. Abrams being the talk of the town at present, having directed two "Star Trek" films, and with "Star Wars: Episode 7" on its way, I think it's worth re-visiting his directorial debut, another franchise-reviving effort.  Following the overly convoluted first installment (inexcusable that - Spoiler alert - they made Jim Phelps a villain) , and the overblown "M:I 2" this episode pumps a shot of adrenaline into the series.

Chiefly, "M:I 3" is superbly entertaining.  I liked Cruise at the start of his career; around the "Jerry McGuire" era, I started to find him extremely annoying, but around about the time of "Minority Report" (2002) he went on a really good run of films, and I gradually came to like him again.  He's certainly immensely charismatic in this movie.  Recently married (to Michelle Monaghan's character) Hunt genuinely has something to fight for, and to lose, and this gives the film an added punch. Michelle is great as the wife who slowly comes to realise that there is more to her husband than she first thought, and comes into genuine danger towards the film's climax (incidentally kicking some serious ass along the way - go girl!).  As one would expect from a film in this series, the globe is well and truly crossed, from Washington to Rome, eventually to a beautifully shot Shanghai (predating "Skyfall" but looking no less wonderful.).  I believe that this was the first Western production to be allowed to film in China.

Perhaps unlike previous installments, the rest of Hunt's "Impossible Missions Force" team are suitably likeable too.  Ving Rhames returns as Luther, Ethan's right-hand man, and a stalwart of the series.  The gorgeous Maggie Q ("Live Free or Die Hard") joins in the fun, and the team is rounded out by Jonathan Rhys-Myers (aka Henry VIII) as the team's helicopter pilot.  There's even a small role for Simon Pegg as Benji, an IT alayst at the IMF (not the International Monetary Fund!)  The antagonist, Owen Davian, is magnificently played by the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He brings a chilling nastiness to the character, posing both a physical and mental threat to our hero, and is easily one of the best cinema villains of recent times.  Support is offered by Billy Crudup, Musgrave, and as the team's overall boss, Brassel, a snarling Laurence Fishburne.  The great Eddie Marsan also crops up as one of Davian's henchmen.  The plot revolves around Davian's attempts to obtain something called the"Rabbit's Foot".  This a Macguffin of the highest order, as it is never explained as to what it is; presumably it's some sort of virus or chemical weapon.  Along the way we get TV's "Felicity", kidnappings, daring rescue attempts, message-containing microdots, the obligatory self-destructing message, a  Lamborghini being blown up, Hunt using a mask to impersonate Davian, a traitor in the agency, our hero becoming a fugitive and, for good measure, a fair bit of fighting and explosive action.

It's all pretty standard stuff for a film like this in a genre like this, nothing new, in other words. It feels like something we've seen a hundred times before, but not quite. It's almost as if the set-pieces have been given a slight tweak, so they feel a little more original. For example, a helicopter chase takes place not just over, but also through a giant wind-farm, leading the audience to fear and / or expect one of the helicopters to be hit by a huge rotating propeller. A missile attack at one point takes place on what seems to be the longest bridge / causeway in the world - I presume it's the Florida Keys. Narratively we see from the very first scene Hunt, captured by Davian, tied to a chair and his wife with a gun to her head, so the film is essentially 85% flashback. We know where he ends up, but it's enjoyable finding out how he got there. Hunt seems more interesting this time round, probably due to his emotional involvement - in addition to his romantic situation, early in the film a character he's close to and trained up, is killed off, so he's trying to keep a lid on the grief from that.

Abrams' direction is impressive.  For sure there is a measure of "Shaky-cam", and quick cutting, but the action is always coherent.  Although he was an experienced operator in the TV world at the time, as a feature debut, charged with reviging a high-profile franchise, no less, this is strong work.  It's by a long chalk the best of the M:I films.  It's not a guilty pleasure, there's nothing about which to be guilty.  It's a well put together piece of fluffy entertainment, but does exactly what it sets out to do.  Mission: Accomplished.

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