Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) juggles a new fianc?e (Michelle Mongahan) and a happy domestic life with his new job as a trainer for the IMF. He also has to keep the existence of the IMF a secret from his future bride. During the engagement party, Musgrave (Billy Crudup) calls and Ethan soon learns an agent he trained, Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell) has been kidnapped by a ruthless arms dealer, Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). She is being held hostage in an abandoned factory in Berlin and they need to get her back because she has incriminating evidence about Davian. Ethan and his team, including Luther (Ving Rhames), Zhen (Maggie Q) and Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) are soon in operation. After the rescue, Ethan is now Davian's enemy and they lock horns.
Directed by J.J. Abrams (the creator of TV's "Alias" and "Lost"), "Mission: Impossible III" accomplishes the impossible. It is the rare sequel better than the first (and second installments) of the franchise.
Okay, so we all know Cruise is off his rocker. I don't really see how this impacts your enjoyment of the film, but to each his own. Clearly, many people feel this way and have stayed away from the film for this reason. Throughout the history of Hollywood, there have been many stars who have been into one thing or another and they still managed to make some darn good films. Cruise is guilty of what, being overly enthusiastic? Damn him. If you don't like him, try to look beyond that, because the majority of the films he makes are very well-made. He takes a hand in producing most of the titles, working with his producing partner to make sure every element is top notch. Yes, the films are often imperfect, but they are heads and shoulders above most of the other offerings we are subjected to on a normal basis.
Cruise seems very comfortable in the role of Ethan Hunt. He has had time to acclimate to it, and now seems to fit the shoes he has had to fill. He owns this character and is able to convincingly portray the tender side of Ethan to his new fianc?e and instantly switch to the old Ethan, the one who will use every skill at his disposal to save a fellow agent.
Cruise convinces us that he is in love with Julie (Michelle Monaghan, who bears a striking resemblance to Katie Holmes), which is important during the last act of the film. And we believe that he can effectively lead his team into Berlin, Rome and Shanghai, tracking the purely evil Davian (Hoffman, in a bravura performance).
This is Tom Cruise's film. Ethan Hunt is the main character and is in virtually every frame of celluloid. Because so much of the film rests on his shoulders, we have to believe in Ethan and Cruise makes this happen. He fully inhabits the character.
Of course, there is an equally important flip side to this character, the villain. In "III", Hunt finally seems to have a villain who challenges him. Hoffman's Davian is a very memorable creation. Part of this is because the character is so unlike anything we have ever seen from Hoffman, evil seeps out of his pores. When he is initially captured by Ethan and his team, he doesn't even seem concerned and tells Ethan that he will hunt down his girlfriend and make them both pay. This scene does two things; it demonstrates Davian knows he will get out and soon. And he will also attempt to get even. Because he seems so sure of himself.
"III" is not a perfect film. There are a couple of points that I would like to make, but if I discussed them, it would ruin a couple of the moments in the film. I can't do that. Let's just say the film violates one of the most basic conventions of the thriller. The reason it is so basic? Because it is necessary for any successful thriller; if you violate it, the film loses some of its impact.
Also, it is a shame the supporting cast is little more than window dressing. Ving Rhames' Luther has a history with Ethan, so he is a welcome sight, but he is still simply a cog in Ethan's machine. He doesn't have his own story or impact the story all that much. The same can be said of the characters played by Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, simply tools in the machine and the roles could have been played by anyone. "III" follows the tradition of the earlier films and casts these actors because they are `current' and `interesting'.
Bill Crudup's Musgrave is easily the least interesting character he has ever played. That says a lot because Crudup is one of the best actors working in film. Musgrave is weak, boring and easily manipulated. The character is an old friend of Ethan's, but that is about all he contributes to the character.
On the plus side, the action sequences are fantastic and it appears as though Cruise did most of his own stunts. There are three prolonged, involving sequences spaced throughout the film and they are well-staged, interesting and the top of the craft. For me, the standout is a sequence on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Hunt does everything he can to prevent a covert force from removing a suspect from his custody. They throw missiles, gunfire, planes, helicopters, and more at him. He jumps over holes in the bridge, gets flung against cars, but he won't stop.
These, combined with an amusing, more "Mission: Impossible"-like sequence set at the Vatican, provide an amusing backdrop for the story. The story is well-plotted and easy to follow, but that doesn't detract from the seriousness. When they are in the Vatican, they use that old "Impossible" trick of creating a lifelike mask of Davian, to allow another character to pose as the villain. This was done all the time in the television series; a phony pan behind a beam or wall would hide the moment they switched the actors. In "III", they use the same technique, but the effect is simply stunning. Completely believable.
"III" does a good job of giving the original series some credit, something the first film, in particular, had a lot of trouble with. From the memorable theme music and the signature fuse burning to a scene involving masks, Abrams seems to realize that this is the heritage of this film. These elements are partially why the series is so fondly remembered, tribute is needed.
Abrams was a great choice to head this latest installment in Cruise's franchise. He brings intensity to the action and a humor to the dialogue which works perfectly with the story.
"Mission: Impossible III" heralds the beginning of the summer popcorn season. Hopefully, "III" isn't the high water mark and merely a sign of things to come. This could be a very good summer indeed.