By Marc S. Sanders
Remember that CW TV show called Felicity? I’ve never seen an episode, but I remember the advertisements. Beautiful, former child actor, Keri Russell with the golden, curly locks of love, was on her way to college. Every commercial had that crisp, home like comfort feel voiceover. It left me with an impression that this was a corny, yet sweeping exploration of coming of age while at college, and gaining independence. The show came from JJ Abrams. Abrams is a good director and writer. He’s now one of the biggest producers in Hollywood. Back in the early 2000s however, he wanted to nurture his characters. Protect them. Make them feel warm and content. After Felicity, he went on to develop a spy thriller series called Alias with Jennifer Garner. She was a college student with a lovable roommate by day and was super spy by night, or whenever the moment called for it. Abrams went on to blending his coziness with that of stunts and explosions that modernized a series like, say…Mission: Impossible. Naturally, when Tom Cruise recruited him for the third film of the high-octane franchise, we got the “Felicity Finish” applied. Ethan Hunt is sweet and kind, and he’s ready for married life. How precious!
Don’t get me wrong. Mission: Impossible III is likely what kept the still running blockbuster movie series going. Following a style over substance lackluster entry before, from action director John Woo, this third entry went in a completely different direction. Ethan Hunt hugs a soon to be sister-in-law. Ethan Hunt cries. Ethan Hunt has feelings. Ethan Hunt has to rescue who he regards as his “kid sister,” Felicity…I mean adorable Keri Russell from being held hostage. Ethan Hunt belongs on the cover of a Hallmark card with actress Michelle Monaghan.
I imagine JJ Abrams is not fond of the early James Bond movies. I’d make a case that he watches them and wishes that someone, anyone would just give 007 a warm and sincere hug after he saves the world, and hold him close. Superspies have emotions too, ya know?
The story of this third M:I chapter focuses on the pursuit of a MacGuffin known as the rabbit’s foot. A powerful weapons dealer named Owen Davian (a brutally frightening Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is working to get a hold of it. Following a first act rescue mission that Ethan and his IMF team (Ving Rhames, Maggie Q, Jonathan Rhys Meyers) engage in, the main hero finds reason to capture Davian and intercept the mysterious rabbit’s foot. Complications get in the way because Ethan has fallen in love with an adorably beautiful doctor named Julia (Monaghan), who is unaware of her fiancé’s exploits.
The action is superb in Abrams cinematic directorial debut. Once it gets started after a sweet engagement party scene, it does not let up. Everything is well edited and choreographed. An essential part of a Mission: Impossible movie. An unexpected attack on a bridge crossing is spectacular. The covert tactics are fun to watch as well. When Ethan and team secretly invade The Vatican, the step-by-step maneuvers are carried out with gleeful ease.
There are twists and double crosses at play as well that you are not even thinking about looking for. Frankly, they work more effectively here than they did in the original M:I film directed by Brian DePalma. When the traitor is revealed to deliver a line like “It’s complicated,” it is not unreasonable to gasp.
Hoffman still remains the best of the villains in Cruise’s action franchise. Maybe that’s by Abrams’ design because this is probably the most personal of all the films to date. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the guy who will be apprehended and braced to a railing on an airplane by the IMF team, and yet will still hold the upper hand. A question like “Do you have a wife or a girlfriend?” has a much more sinister context when uttered by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
I do recall when I first saw the film that the ending is not original. It’s an opportunity for Tom Cruise to do another running scene, but it was first used in an episode of Alias where an operative is remotely giving directions to the hero while talking on a cell phone. Clever the first time. The second time seeing it, I was just calling it out. So, Abrams needs to stretch his imagination a little. No matter. The pulse of the adventure races at high speed.
Mission: Impossible III might be unabashedly hokey and corny. Everyone looks like they belong in a JC Penney commercial at Christmas time, or on a CW TV show like Felicity. However, it won’t deny you of what you are looking for which are big stunts in the sky and on the ground, along with the cool gadgets and those signature pull away masks that made the original series so memorable.
I still realize that by the time film series reached this chapter, the franchise still belonged exclusively to Tom Cruise occupying every frame. Once again, his team of IMF agents really don’t matter or carry any substance except to wear clothes. At least this time, Tom Cruise cries over someone else. So, he’s not as self-involved as the last couple of times, or even the last couple of dozen movies. That’s a nice change of pace.