Creator of TV shows like Lost and Alias, credited with successfully rebooting Star Trek & Star Wars, and being Hollywood’s ultimate geek – there are many titles for JJ Abrams. However, many people tend to overlook his feature film debut. Mission Impossible III was probably the most under-the-radar releases of the franchise. Following up on John Woo’s pompously vain second film, this one had none of the excess baggage of a conventional Tom Cruise project. No long locks, no unnecessary slo-mo and no easily avoidable love tracks. The third installment of Mission Impossible franchise is, by far, the most compelling film of the series. And it has so much to do with its efficient first-time director, JJ Abrams.
The movie starts with a brilliant pre-credit scene where our super-spy hero is injected with an explosive detonator through his nose, and interrogated about something called the Rabbit’s Foot. In the entire movie, we’re not told what the Rabbit’s Foot is. It is the director’s MacGuffin. It doesn’t matter WHAT the thing is, it only matters WHERE it is. Abrams quickly builds up the tension with a count to 10 (literally) which features some of Tom Cruise’s best *acting* in the franchise. He summons all the rage, vulnerability within him to stop Phillip Seymour Hoffman (playing Owen Davian) from shooting his wife, held hostage right across him. The director shows us exactly what is at stake, and quickly after that we go about how the story got there. It had me by the collar and invested, in under 3 minutes.
After Brian De Palma’s fantastic first film came out in 1995, there were things one came to expect from a movie about the Impossible Mission Force (IMF). Conceptually brilliant stunts like that Langley heist, gorgeous women stepping out of expensive cars looking their most glamorous, and the art of high-stakes deception using masks, JJ Abrams’ film ticked all the boxes while maintaining its individuality. So even though it uses the ‘mask prop’, it made the element its own with Phillip Seymour Hoffman pulling off his best Tom Cruise impression – with a smile which radiates through his eyes as he repeatedly pats the arm of Ving Rhames (reprising his role of Luther) in the most Tom Cruise-fashion.
The film tries to look into the life of an aging super-spy, and his pursuit of a ‘normal life’. He marries a doctor (played by Michelle Monaghan) who is oblivious to his reputation as Ethan Hunt, hoping it would finally help him settle down. Obviously as we’ve been fed over the decades how a spy’s job is never over. There’s always one more mission. One more target. One more weapon of mass destruction to be diffused with seconds on the clock. Hunt is forced to come out of retirement after his protege is taken hostage by the world’s most powerful arms dealer. What follows are three extremely well-shot missions in Berlin, the Vatican City and then later in Shanghai.
One of the biggest positives of Mission Impossible III, is how it continuously keeps ticking like a vintage clock – never for a second stopping to get a hold of the situation. The film also excels in providing the most imposing antagonist of the series – Owen Davian. Hoffman was having a ball playing the bad guy, as he used his silences to perfection. The awareness of his own power, is what makes him such a formidable opponent.
Even after Hunt threatens to throw him out of an airplane, he sits their calmly not saying a word. And then slowly repeats the name of Cruise’s character ‘Ethan’ pronouncing it as a threat. The cast also sees a bumbling Simon Pegg (playing Benji Dunn) make his debut in the series, describing nuclear weapons as the Anti-God.
Even as directors like Brad Bird, Christopher McQuarrie reap the benefits of raising the bar with the stunts, JJ Abrams’s brilliant film will be long forgotten. It was far from the sexiest installment of the franchise, but definitely the most human Mission Impossible movie. As the future films of the franchise drift further away from grounded reality, it will always be a pleasure to come back to Cruise using his super-spy ability to lip-read a conversation between his wife and her girlfriends, and then politely butt in. That’s what makes Mission Impossible III such a charmer.