The Summer blockbuster season is officially upon us and first out of the gate is Mission Impossible III, the latest instalment of the Tom Cruise action franchise based on the TV series that ran from 1966 to 1973 about a group of secret agents working for the US government. The movies are high octane entertainment, with the elaborate plotting of the TV shows making way for explosions and car chases.
The series has had an illustrious series of directors with Brian De Palma taking the reigns in 1996, followed by John Woo in 2000. Now, Alias and Lost creator JJ Abrams has his name on the director’s chair, and adds a playful sense of mystery to the proceedings.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Owen Davian, a powerful bad guy who appears to be some kind of top-end arms dealer. Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is brought out of retirement to lead a trio of agents—Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames), Declan (Jonathon Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q)—to rescue an IMF operative kidnapped by Davian. The mission fails when an explosive planted in the operative’s head explodes.
The team manage to discover that Davian is planning on selling a hugely expensive weapon code named The Rabbit’s Foot to a Middle Eastern country, so they track him down to the Vatican City and kidnap him. Davian himself is then spectacularly rescued, and takes revenge on Hunt by threatening to kill his new wife Julia (the elfin-nosed Michelle Monaghan) unless he gets the Rabbit’s Foot and delivers it to Davian within 48 hours.
The Rabbit’s Foot is the biggest MacGuffin of all time: neither we nor the characters ever find out what it actually is, it’s just a device to set the battles between Davian and Hunt in motion. In fact the plot is faintly ridiculous and really makes very little sense, but no matter: I enjoyed the ride and that’s all that counts. Surprisingly, the best performance in this film doesn’t come from Hoffman, who’s simply a one-note baddie with no room for development, but rather Laurence Fishburne, who plays Hunt’s boss John Brassel and is given some excellent lines to chew on. Simon Pegg puts in a nice little cameo as a nerdy computer operator in a role that was apparently originally slated for Ricky Gervais.
It’s pretty much action all the way, with only momentary pauses for breath as the drama lurches from the US to Germany to Shanghai leaving a trail of destruction and spent shell casings. Abrams proves himself to be adept at handling the mayhem, employing a gritty, motion sickness-inducing hand-held camera style. He’s slated to direct the next Star Trek movie, a Kirk and Spock prequel, due for release in 2008, but there’s no doubt he’ll be in demand to direct other glossy action flicks.
M:I:3 is probably the best Mission Impossible movie so far, but it’s still dumbed-down entertainment that makes the average James Bond film look like Ingmar Bergman. But this is the nature of summer blockbusters and if you go in with low expectations, you’ll be rewarded with an frantic, adrenaline-charged movie that allows you to park your brain next to your popcorn for two hours and enjoy our favourite Scientologist kicking some ass.
There’s a small easter egg for Lost fans should you decide to sit through the credits. The last company thanked before the lights come up is The Hanso Foundation.