Mission: Impossible III

Mission: Impossible III

***

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"I know what I'm talking about," says Luther (Ving Rhames) to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), in an attempt to dissuade his colleague from marrying into a "normal relationship."

"Whoever this girl is, you're going to end up messing up her life, too."

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We know what he's talking about.

While it has never been easy to get the work/life balance right in a relationship, it becomes that much trickier when one of the partners must conceal a top secret career from the other. Just think of all the trouble had by Harry Tasker in True Lies (1994), Superman in Superman II (1980), Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2 (2004), or Mr and Mrs Smith in, er, Mr & Mrs Smith (2005).

Even if it were possible to ignore the pressures of cliche on mainstream cinema, we still know that there are bad times ahead for Ethan and his new civilian bride Julia (Michelle Monaghan), because, unlike previous installments of the Mission: Impossible franchise that began with a James Bond-style mini adventure to establish Ethan's do-or-die skills in the field, this one opens with an episode that takes place near the end of the story, with a bound and utterly helpless Ethan forced to watch as psychopathic weapons dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) shoots Julia dead.

From here on in, as the rest of the film's adventures play catch-up with this grim scenario, Ethan's globe-trotting pursuit of Owen, while trying to keep Julia out of the picture, seems more like Marriage: Doomed than Mission: Impossible, since relationships rarely recover from the kind of rough patch that Julia is soon to hit.

In other words, this time it's personal.

Unlike the two predecessors, Mission: Impossible III wants its audience to invest in Ethan Hunt, not just as a stunt machine, but also as a human being with real feelings. Sure, he is taken through the usual memorable action set pieces and forgettable double-cross plotting, but in between there are quieter moments when he is allowed to show that he (choke) cares.

He loves Julia, he discusses his personal life with Luther and the rest of the team, and he is so upset over the death of his one-time star pupil (Keri Russell) that even Cruise's trademark grin disappears for almost an entire five minutes of the film, even if by the end that smiling rictus is fully restored and indeed forms the final image, seen in cloyingly toothy close-up just before the credits roll.

All this business with emotions is something of a high-risk strategy that does not fully pay off. On the one hand, J J Abrams, debuting as a feature director after his success with TV's Alias and Lost, deserves praise for trying to take the series in a new direction, but, on the other hand, the dramatic material is too conventional to be truly refreshing and its impact is undermined by the gleeful ridiculousness of the rest of the plot (biological weapons traded in the Vatican, anyone?)

The sad truth is that Ethan will always be better at saving the world than saving his marriage and fans of the first two films are likely to find the agent's journey of the heart an unwelcome distraction (in a very long film) from scenes of espionage and ass-kicking. Fortunately Abrams directs the latter at a furious pace and a deafening volume, with everything moving so hard and fast that you do not have time to catch your breath, let alone notice how preposterous much of it is - until those more tender domestic moments kick in once again to remind you.

Strangely, towards the end, the film - much like Ethan himself - seems to suffer a near total loss of pulse. Ethan's single-handed assault on a heavily guarded building in Shanghai is not so much depicted as sensitively implied, while the film's climactic sequence is too intimate to explode with the intensity of the earlier set pieces. Such restraint, while commendable in arthouse fare, seems out of place in an action extravaganza. The only compensation is in the subtle humour (again, in a film where subtlety is hardly at home), as Ethan realises, with surprise and delight, that his otherwise suburban wife can acquit herself like a fully trained soldier when under fire.

It is yet another case where the family that slays together stays together, raising the possibility that Mission: Impossible IV may feature a husband-and-wife team whose marriage license is accompanied by a license to kill. Let's hope not; for, the Spy Kids franchise aside, it's the kind of premise that ought to self-destruct in five seconds.

Reviewed on: 05 May 2006
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Mission: Impossible III packshot
The Ethan Hunt franchise gets personal, while chasing a psychopathic arms dealer half way round the globe.
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Read more Mission: Impossible III reviews:

Stephen Carty ***1/2
John Gallagher ***
Scott Macdonald **

Director: J J Abrams

Writer: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, J J Abrams, based on the TV series created by Bruce Geller

Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, Maggie Q, Laurence Fishburne, Bahar Soomekh, Eddie Marsan

Year: 2006

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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