Mission: Impossible III (2006)

SPOILER ALERT: The death of one character early on in the film is discussed.

After getting such directors as John Woo and Brian DePalma, the Mission: Impossible franchise has some weight behind it even if it has only been mediocre at best. So who do you pass the torch onto? If there’s one thing Hollywood loves more than milking name recognition it’s sticking some exciting new guy behind the camera. Enter J.J. Abrams, the creator of Alias. As much as I love some of Abrams work, I have to say he really surprised me here. I thought whoever came after Woo’s colossal mess would find it hard to follow up to but Abrams far surpasses him by making the most confusing and incoherent installment yet.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has finally got a chance to settle down and give up the life of a superspy. He’s with girlfriend Julia (Michelle Monahan) and thinks are looking pretty serious between the two. But it’s not long before Hunt is pulled back into the fray when former student Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell) is kidnapped by weapons dealer Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Now back he’s got to wonder whether or not domestic life is for him or if he belongs in the spy world.

And then they kill Kerri Russell. What could have been a really compelling struggle ends up being shot when Kerri dies. Why? Hunt is trying to have this normal relationship with a civilian. In the few moments we see the Keri Russell character we see a competitor. She’s smart, tough and seems to have a thing for Hunt.  He obviously must feel something for her if he suddenly drops everything to rescue her. It’s a compelling love triangle but instead we get another paper thin plot.

And in true Mission: Impossible fashion it’s a mess. Abrams opens the film with a scene that seems to be the resolution. It’s an interesting twist, a surprisingly dark one at that, so the question becomes how does it get to that point. To Abrams credit he did pull a couple of slick ones on me and more than once he found some interesting twists to throw in but it gets there in really messed up ways creating this story that was just unnecessarily messy. I seriously did not know what had happened by the end of the film.

Equally confusing are the totally unforgettable action sequences. In the past at least these films had compelling action set-pieces but in a post Bourne Supremacy world it’s all about the shaky camera. I could never figure who was shooting whom at any given moment. There were shots of guns, explosions and people making faces edited together in some rapid-fire order. The camerawork never gave me a sense of what space the action was working in. Even as I write this I’ve forgotten most of the action because I simply couldn’t remember it.

I must also give Abrams credit for subverting expectations. Not only did he hoodwink me on a couple of occasions but he also finds ways to create unexpected moments. The opening is certainly one instance as it sets the mood for a much darker picture but he throws in a fair number of similarly surprising scenes.  In one such instance he gets us excited for a big action set-piece and then simply cuts to Ethan making his escape. We never learned what exactly happen and it totally sweeps us off our feet.

But the scene also leaves lingering questions, much like the other films. Why does Ethan go back? His life is looking up and he has a bright future. Does he really care more for Lindsey than his girlfriend? Maybe it’s just that Cruise sucks as an actor and has to act emotional. Really? Why Abrams, why demand emotion from such an incompetent actor? And why did you have to kill Keri Russell? And, the most important question, why are they making another one of these films?

© 2009 James Blake Ewing

Mission Impossible III [Blu-ray]
Mission Impossible III [DVD]