Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 14, 2015)
As Tom Cruise quickly entered Wacko Jacko territory and became better known as a weird celebrity than as a performer, we saw how this affected box office receipts. Cruise’s nuttiness didn’t seem to have a substantial impact on 2005’s War of the Worlds, though it became tough to gauge whether the actor’s behavior did lower receipts. Worlds snagged a tidy $234 million, but perhaps it would have made even more without Cruise’s various controversies.
With 2006’s Mission: Impossible III, it became more likely that the increasing public perception of Cruise as a weirdo negatively impacted the film’s profits. Despite very positive reviews, Mission 3 only took in $133 million at the box office. I recognize that “only” is a relative judgment, as plenty of movies would kill for that kind of take. However, given the film’s pedigree, budget and expectations, $133 million clearly turned into a disappointment.
All of that’s too bad, for M:I III unquestionably offered the best of the first three flicks. The film starts with a scary scene in which Impossible Mission Force (IMF) agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) begs Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) not to kill a babe named Julia (Michelle Monaghan).
Right in the middle of a tense moment, the flick cuts and heads back into the past. We find out that Ethan and Julia are engaged, but she doesn’t know about his real job. He claims to work for the Department of Transportation and hides his secret agent life.
Actually, the active hero of the first two movies has become more of a desk jockey, as Ethan now primarily trains new recruits. His superior John Musgrave (Billy Crudup) lures him back into the field when Davian captures Ethan’s star pupil Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell). Ethan takes a team that includes old partner Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) with younger agents Zhen Lei (Maggie Q) and Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).
Although the group manages to extract Lindsey, she dies when they can’t disable a little explosive device in her head. This sets Ethan on a mission of revenge to get back at Davian for what he did to Lindsey. We watch the team track Davian to Vatican City and find out that the baddie pursues a secret device known as the “Rabbit’s Foot”. The rest of the movie follows Ethan’s pursuit of Davian and the “Rabbit’s Foot” as the story progresses toward and beyond the perilous scene that launches the flick.
How many times does a series’ third entry prove to be its best? Rarely, if ever. One could argue that Goldfinger remains the top Bond flick, and if we view Revenge of the Sith as the third of the Star Wars prequels – and not the sixth in that series – then it would stand as the top effort. I also would narrowly put Dark Knight Rises below Dark Knight.
As I indicated at the start of my review, I definitely see M:I III as the best of its series, and there’s a lot of distance between it and the others. I liked the first movie and M:I:2 to a reasonable degree, but I think both suffer from significant flaws. The original film just never really soars, while the first sequel simply takes way too long to go anywhere.
M:I III doesn’t suffer from either of those problems. Instead, it grabs us from minute one and never loosens its grip on us. When I saw the flick theatrically, I’d indulged in too much pre-flick Diet Coke and needed to whiz before too long. I waited for a moment that felt like it’d give me the respite needed to zip to the restroom and not miss too much, but that time never came. I finally gave in and went anyway, but the film doesn’t provide long stretches of potential bathroom breaks.
Indeed, any slightly slow spots can be measured in seconds, not minutes. Without question, M:I III offers a relentless film. It doesn’t pound us with mind-numbing action, but it maintains a brisk and thrilling pace that makes every moment count.
Though this easily could have become too much and have worn down the audience before the movie's climax, the flick manages to ease off the pedal just enough along the way to allow us to breathe. We don’t get deep breaths, but at least we don’t feel like the movie batters us.
It really does create a heck of a thrill ride, though. M:I III manages to offer plenty of neat twists on the usual action sequences and it constantly surprises us. Just when we think the story will go one way, it twists in a different direction. Although the action never proves especially revelatory or innovative, it plays with conventions just enough to feel fresh.
The early killing of Lindsey helps keep us off-guard as well. When we see a sweet presence like Russell on the screen, we assume she’ll escape unharmed. Her death tells us that all bets are off and we can’t count on the usual assumptions. Though all of our movie-going instincts tell us that Ethan and Julia will eventually ride off into the sunset, the demise of Lindsey ensures we won’t ever feel too comfortable with our convictions.
The first flick in the series created after 9/11, M:I III makes nods in the direction of the post-2001 world but doesn’t dwell on them. I like that fact. It would have been easy for the filmmakers to provoke cheap sentiment and emotion with 9/11 evocations, but it never heads down that path. The movie glances in that direction just enough to prove believable. A story of this sort with no indications of changes enacted in the prior five years would be even less acceptable than one that dwells on that area. The film manages a nice balance.
A strong cast bolsters the experience, and Hoffman stands as the best of the bunch. Fresh off his Oscar-winning turn in Capote, Hoffman gets surprisingly little screen time. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the opening sequence appears mainly to make sure we don’t have to wait more than 45 minutes for his character’s introduction.
In any case, Hoffman clearly makes the most of his moments. Ala Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, Hoffman takes a relatively small role and still manages to dominate the film. He never camps it up or views the role as beneath him. Though not exactly a physical presence – the actor is best described as “doughy” – Hoffman makes Davian cruel, intimidating and scary.
Frankly, I find it hard to think of anything that M:I III does wrong. That doesn’t mean I view it as a perfect film, but it does signal that the flick maintains a consistently high level of quality. Heck, just like in the enjoyable War of the Worlds, I was able to ignore my feelings toward Cruise and accept him in the part. M:I III provides a killer action experience with all the meat and little of the fat.