Thursday 16 November 2006

Thursday 16 November 2006
WRITERS: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & J.J Abrams

CAST: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Owen Davian), Michelle Monaghan (Julia Meade), Laurence Fishburne (Theodore Brassel), Keri Russell (Lindsey Farris), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickler), Billy Crudup (Musgrave), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Declan Gormley), Maggie Q (Zhen Lei) & Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn)

Ethan Hunt is called back into active service to rescue an IMF agent he trained, but he soon becomes embroiled in a plot to obtain a mysterious "Rabbit's Foot" wanted by arms dealer Owen Davian...

After numerous aborted attempts, wherein directors David Fincher (Fight Club) and Joe Carnahan (Narc) left the project, Tom Cruise's franchise finally founds its saviour in television supremo J.J Abrams (creator of Alias and Lost).

Mission: Impossible III, hereon MI-3, marks Abrams' feature film debut, and while I'm sure the likes of Carnahan or Fincher would have done a more spectacular job, Abrams brings a frothy sense of fun and pace honed by years of TV, together with an emphasis on teamwork sorely missing previously.

Tom Cruise clearly relishes playing Ethan Hunt, and what's not to enjoy for any man living out their James Bond fantasies? MI-3's plot affords him more emotional scenes, as Hunt is now engaged to be married and has taken a backseat at the IMF to train agents (his fiancee blissfully unaware of this, in shades of True Lies).

Whatever your opinion of Cruise in the wake of his couch-hopping antics on Oprah, you can't deny the man is committed and passionate about filmmaking. He's an actor who can deliver the physicality but also ground his character with a believable emotional punch. Yes, he's essentially dusting off the grinning hero he's been touting since Top Gun, but it doesn't matter.

Philip Seymour Hoffman gets to play nemesis Owen Davian, another of the actor's patented lowlifes, but this time with a sadistic attitude that chills the screen (watch the opening scene). Sadly, while Hoffman's great, his character is phased out of the movie half-way through until a disappointing face-off with Cruise at the end. It's almost as if the script was tailored to fit around Hoffman's tight schedule, meaning he has less presence than most bad guys. It's a shame, because Davian is a worthy villain, but he's just not used to his full potential.

Michelle Monaghan (stunning in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) doesn't really make a lasting impression here; hamstrung by a script that sets up her relationship with fiancee Hunt nicely, but then forgets about her until the last 15 minutes! It's also frustrating that when she's made aware Ethan is actually a globe-trotting secret agent she hardly bats an eyelid!

The supporting cast are an electic bunch: Ving Rhames returns as Luther, wasted despite more screen time; Keri Russell is practically a cameo; Laurence Fishburne is fantastic as IMF boss Brassel; Billy Crudup is good as Musgrave; while Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are just background faces.

After the high-octane bore of John Woo's MI-2, J.J Abrams makes a wise decision to mix more humanity into MI-3 between the gunfire. The screenplay, by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and J.J Abrams, is also much simpler than Brian DePalma's tangled original, with the "Rabbit's Foot" macguffin just a thin excuse for various dilemmas.

But the streamlining works wonders. MI-3 doesn't offer much broad originality, but it's still a very effective action movie with enough surprises and stunts to leave you smiling, if not quite as exhilerated as you'd hoped.

The action sequences are great, particularly a tense helicopter chase through a wind farm and a stunning bridge attack. J.J Abrams is well-served by legendary Second Unit Director Vic Armstrong, and the action throughout is well choreographed and visually strong. An "impossible mission" at the Vatican is a brilliant orchestration of action beats, even explaining how those life-like IMF masks are created.

Overall, MI-3 is an entertaining popcorn movie with a few neat touches (brain bombs!) and some cool stunts. It's far more enjoyable than Woo's brash effort, although it doesn't quite eclipse DePalma's original because the script isn't as textured. However, for pure entertainment value, MI-3 is the best of the bunch. It was also very satisfying to see the original TV show's team aspect better utilized than before, although this is still Tom Cruise's baby and not a true ensemble piece.

On the whole, J.J Abrams' movie debut succeeds on most levels, and provides enough fun and machismo. Abrams' small screen background means it sometimes feels like a TV episode with big-budget set-pieces, but Abrams ensures MI-3 has slick pacing and packs some thrills, so that problem can be easily overlooked.

Mission accomplished.


PICTURE: The 2.35:1 widescreen image is gorgeous, with the transfer handling bright scenes (Vatican), picking out detail in China, and coping well with the many dark sequences (wind farm).

SOUND: Dolby Digital 5.1 spits out the expected array of explosions and gunfire to great effect, placing you amongst all the visual mayhem.


The single-disc release of MI-3 contains the following extra's:

Commentary: Director J.J Abrams and star Tom Cruise provide an entertaining and insightul commentary that's a gerat deal of fun.

The Making Of The Mission: a featurette covering the creation of the film, never outstaying its welcome and giving you a good overview of the challenges involved in making a globe-trotting action spectacle. It focuses almost exclusively on filming, so fans of post-production work like musical score and CGI effects could be frustrated.

5 Deleted Scenes: a typical assortment of underwhelming scenes that were quite rightly left on the cutting room floor.

Generation Cruise: this is a montage of clips from Tom Cruise movies, compiled by MTV. It helps to remind you of just how many blockbuster movies Cruise has starred in since the 80s. Not very modest of the star, but fun for Cruise fans to watch.

Trailers for Transformers, World Trade Center and "The Tom Cruise Collection" roundout the disc, but if you invest in the 2-Disc Collector's Edition you'll also have access to 6 additional featurettes, theatrical trailers, TV spots, and a photo gallery.