Friday, August 3, 2018

Movie Review: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3 (2006)

Back in the day, trilogies were the cool thing to do with a film franchise, and it seems that Mission: Impossible wanted to follow that trend.  M:I-3 feels like the conclusion to Ethan Hunt’s story while also serving as a sort of soft reboot of the series.  It’s very much a sequel, but can be watched as a stand-alone film with no problem.  You don’t lose out on anything, other than a few visual references, if you’ve never seen the first two films, but you do appreciate it more after the train wreck that is M:I-2.

Here we see the feature film directorial debut of the man that relaunched Star Wars in 2015, J. J. Abrams, and I gotta say, he did a damn good job.  From the beginning you can tell that this is a much more intense film.  It’s definitely the first in the series with a truly great villain in Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is built as a terrifyingly formidable foe right off the bat.  He does a marvelous job of stealing every scene he’s in without overacting or getting hammy at all.  Hoffman gives such a great performance that it really doesn’t matter that we never actually find out what the film’s McGuffin really is, but more on that later.

A decade after the first film, Ethan Hunt is finally trying to live a somewhat normal life, no longer working in the field, but instead training IMF agents.  He’s engaged to a nurse named Julia, played by the very talented Michelle Monaghan, who is tragically underused in this film.  She becomes one of the driving forces for the plot as a “damsel in distress” for Ethan to save.  She does get a moment of independent badassery toward the end of the film however, and even saves Ethan’s life, but I wish she had gotten more throughout the whole thing.  But she’s not the only actress who got shafted and used to push the plot.

As it’s been nearly a decade since I last watched this film, I had forgotten most of what happened, including Keri Russell’s role.  I’ve always enjoyed her as an actress, but it wasn’t until the recent series, The Americans, that I truly grew to respect her abilities as an actress.  So, when I saw her pop up here, I was super excited, and that excitement is what led to my utter shock when she dies.  I couldn’t believe it, and the way it was done caused me to gasp and literally sit here for a moment.  I wasn’t sure that what I was seeing was real, but it was.  I was heartbroken, and we had literally just met this character. And that’s one of the things I loved about this movie – the characters.

Ethan is obviously a great character, and Tom Cruise knows how to play him, but he wouldn’t be nearly as successful without a strong supporting cast for him to work off.  As I mentioned earlier, Ethan is engaged to Michelle Monaghan’s character, who was a highlight for me.  She’s got such a great personality and energy on screen which is why I wish she had more to do here.  We also got a slew of new characters in this film played by some wonderful actors such as Laurence Fishburne, Billy Crudup, Maggie Q, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Simon Pegg, and the aforementioned Philip Seymour Hoffman.  They give some really solid performances which help to shape this film into the best of the franchise up to this point.  And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the always wonderful Ving Rhames, who returns as the ever charismatic Luther Stickell.  His banter with Ethan is always a welcome treat in these films, as he has become as much a staple as Cruise himself.

Mission: Impossible 3 gave us a return to the espionage game in a great way, with more than one fantastic heist sequence and a deeper, more emotional story.  But with that came a nice balance with the action, giving us the sequel we actually deserved.  However, even though it absolutely felt like a return to form for the franchise, I can’t help but think that the tone was influenced by the Bourne films, of which two had been released by this time.  It’s not a slight against the Mission: Impossible series, seeing as the original Bourne trilogy was very successful, but it’s pretty obvious that they opened up the world, giving us a deeper look into the IMF, to emulate that franchise.  And speaking of the IMF, I’m pretty sure this is the first time over the course of three films that the actual name of the agency, the Impossible Mission Force, is actually said out loud, and honestly, it’s a ridiculous name.

One of the things I love about this film is the way they recreate some of the key sequences from the original, like an inventive reinterpretation of the famous wire scene, as well as the use of masks.  And unlike Mission: Impossible 2, the use of masks here wasn’t overplayed, but instead was strategic to the story.  We even got to see how it’s actually done (including the voice modulator), which is something they never showed us in the previous films.  It's the perfect progression of this series, encompassing the ten year gap from the first film to here, but as I said earlier, it did feel a little bit like a soft reboot, using a similar story angle with Ethan being framed by his own agency, which is why it can work as a standalone film.  

There were a few flaws, of course, as no film is perfect.  For one, there were a couple of cheesy shots, such as the cliched action movie gun toss/catch/fire maneuver.  It's a shot that's always been rather jarring for me and is something that I wish wasn't used in films anymore.  The other thing I wasn't a huge fan of was the lack of explanation for the "Rabbit's Foot".  This is your classic, textbook definition of a macguffin, made even more so by the fact that you never know what exactly it is.  All you know is that it's something bad that the villain desperately wants.  My assumption is that it's some sort of bioweapon, as the symbol on the canister looks like a biohazard symbol, but it's never actually made clear one way or another.

Mission: Impossible 3 is a solid spy film and a great return to what this series started out as, and that is one of the reasons why I enjoy it so much.  It gives us a nice, wrapped up ending for Ethan’s story, capping off the original trilogy, which is something other film franchises should take note of and learn from.

The Merc’s Score: 8.5/10

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