I was privileged to see a private sneak preview the third installment of the Mission Impossible franchise, and what is arguably the first blockbuster popcorn movie of the summer of 2006.
Let me say from the onset that it starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. It’s non-stop action from beginning to end. It’s like watching 2 episodes in a row of the TV show 24. Total adrenalin rush. It has “video game” written all over it.
The female lead, and love of super-agent Ethan Hunt’s life is Julia, played by Michelle Monaghan, with a preternatural resemblance to Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise’s real-life fiancée. Ms. Monaghan has been seen in the films North Country, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (ironically, the title of a song in the James Bond movie Thunderball), and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
Speaking of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, in a scene in the first act of M:i:III, new recruit Lindsey, played by Keri Russell, and Ethan engage in “synchronized shooting” like that seen in the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie movie.
There were a number of other “tributes” as well. We see Ethan and Lindsey repelling on a cable like in Batman (the latest installment of which Katie Holmes was in, but that’s another subject.) The HQ role of Benji Dunn, played by Simon Pegg reminds one of James Bond’s Q, though the more eccentric one from the non-canonical Sean Connery outing Never Say Never Again.
There is skyscraper-to-skyscraper swinging, a la Spider-man. Indeed there are a number of great stunts, though it is at times difficult to believe that Tom Cruise did all of his own as claimed.
We can say that this time his hair is normal for a change. In the first installment, it was unusually short, it what many called “a bad hair day.” In the second it was quite long. In this one, it’s just right.
While this movie is back to the ensemble cast, unlike M:i-2 which was more of a “mano-a-mano” film, in this movie Ethan is not just one of the agents, as he was when he started in the first Mission: Impossible movie. Rather, he’s the leader of a group that seem more like his chorus.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers is Declan the transportation expert. We don’t usually hear his natural Irish accent, but it’s evident here, and much better than the Irish accent that came and went when Tom Cruise tried it in the movie Far and Away. It’s interesting to see him play a good guy, as we’ve usually seen him do somewhat unpleasant characters earlier, as in The Magnificent Ambersons and Vanity Fair.
There is the usual intrigue, assumed and mistaken identities, and split-second timing we’ve come to expect of Mission: Impossible. And we’ve got the strains of the original theme music for the TV show written by Lalo Schifrin, including the military drums as the mission begins.
There were four units with filming going on all over the world, including the US, Berlin, Shanghai and Rome. Most of the Roman filming was in and around the Vatican, including Declan’s unlikely parking in the middle of the piazza of St. Peter’s.
The action is fabulous and there’s lots of eye candy – from beautiful locations to beautiful women to beautiful cars. The gadgets are improbable, but flashy. Nokia got listed in the credits (for some cool phones.) But Cisco was listed too!
The previous M:I movie came out in 2000, before the TV show 24 became a hit. There are many similarities to it in the new M:i:III movie, from hand-held camera action to the “speak or die” ultimatums. Yet somehow, this movie does not hook the viewer on a visceral level like 24. Kiefer Sutherland brings an angst to his role of Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer that Cruise does not for his character. Rather he brings intensity, passion and fear. This is not as engaging, the audience does not care for his character like they do for Jack.
Final take: the movie is a bit formulaic. By that I don’t mean to say that it’s derivative of other spy movies, though it is, but rather I mean that they include the most successful elements of highly popular movies, mix them together in a winning formula, put it in a blender, set it on “cacophonous,” press all the right buttons, and out comes a movie that is sure to be a hit. It will please most of the movie-going public, though it’s a rollercoaster ride with little in the way of modulation or variety. But for my money, I’d give it a B. Jack Bauer needn’t worry about his job at CTU.
- You’ll like it if: mindless, senseless action with lots of gadgets is what you crave
- You won’t like it if: you are looking for plot sense, depth, plausibility, logic or character development
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood culture vulture