Oh, man. This week’s post Couch Jump Tom Cruise movie is an installment in what might be my favorite current franchise that doesn’t include Ant-Man. It’s Mission: Impossible III! And to start with, I have no idea if I’ve ever seen this movie before or not. I know I was off Tom Cruise at the time but it seems unthinkable that I wouldn’t have seen a J.J. Abrams movie in 2006. Or any time subsequent, if I’m being honest. And there were bits that seemed familiar but others that did not ring any bells at all.
So let’s talk about the franchise a little bit. I say it’s my favorite, but I did not care for the first two at all and that may be why I didn’t see this one upon release, if in fact I didn’t see it. The next one, Ghost Protocol, was the one that got me back. And the one that got me back to watching Tom Cruise movies. I love that one and the follow-ups, and maybe when all is said and done, I’ll go back and watch the first two again and see if I like them now. Admittedly, Brian DePalma and John Woo have not gotten more watchable as I’ve gotten older, but it can’t hurt to give them a shot. All this aside, M:I3 is an interesting turning point – it’s not all the way good, but it’s certainly not a slog. I think it’s a necessary transition that gets us to Ghost Protocol.
You know how you can tell this is a J.J. Abrams joint? It starts in media res and then jumps back in time. It just occurred to me that he doesn’t do this in Star Wars and I bet that’s only because if they start establishing units of time in that universe, people would get mad. So instead they got mad about the existence of heroes who aren’t white males. You can’t win. We start with Philip Seymour Hoffman threatening Michelle Monaghan with a gun to her head and demanding the Rabbit’s Foot, some ill-defined item from Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. This item will remain ill-defined. He kills Monaghan before sending us to the flashback and I was a little bummed to open with a fridging like that, but it’s actually kind of OK. (Given that she turns up in Fallout, this is not really a spoilee.)
And this is so far the last time we’ve seen Ethan doing something that isn’t a mission or hiding out and awaiting a mission. We get quite a lot of Ethan Hunt being domestic and hosting a party with his fiancée, Julia. (Michelle Monaghan) He gets pulled back into Mission: Impossibling when sent to rescue an old friend and fellow agent played by Keri Russell. And here’s why I think I haven’t seen this movie before – I was so geeked that Keri Russell was in this movie and I was expecting all sorts of spy antics from her, even though this was well before The Americans and thus it wasn’t the most natural thing in the world to have her do.
Unfortunately, Keri Russell is taken out by a bomb in her brain, but at least we get a really fun escape sequence that feels like the future of the franchise. And that puts Ethan back in the business full time, looking for revenge. And since I’m going to be writing about three more Mission: Impossible movies before this is done and this is my least favorite of them (but still super fun), I’m not going to dial in too much on the plot since it’s all nonsense anyway.
But we get some killer action scenes, masks (including the reveal that the Michelle Monaghan executed by Philip Seymour Hoffman was actually his head of security in a mask, killed for failing him), and an awesome rooftop chase with some parachute antics that really seems like the kind of thing the next three movies are going to deliver on a regular basis. Ving Rhames is there, of course. After being in every movie in the Nineties, now he only gets out of bed for Arby’s voiceovers and Mission: Impossible. And I have to assume that’s his choice because you know people are trying to get Ving Rhames for their movies. This one also introduces Simon Pegg’s Benji to the franchise in a small role, and that’s maybe M:I3’s greatest gift. He’s an absolute treasure.
It feels like there isn’t anyway we get to Ghost Protocol and the Christopher McQuarrie installments without this one. The plot is almost a parody of the needless complication of the first one and it sets the template for the coming sequels. If you remember the first one, it was criticized for being too confusing and I don’t think it was confusing in the way that you just need to pay attention and then you’re rewarded. It was needlessly confusing. Here, if you lose track of who’s betraying Ethan or why somebody wants something, it doesn’t really matter. The first movie had pretensions and this marks the beginning of it just becoming a straight action franchise.
In fact, let’s give J.J. some credit here. Up until now, this was a directors’ franchise (and in fact, it wasn’t until Fallout before a director returned), but not necessarily in a good way. DePalma and Woo were not at their best with their Mission: Impossible movies, but they were their most DePalma and Woo. J.J. Abrams (and I say this with only love in my heart) is at his most J.J. Abrams when he’s trying to make things as cool as possible. And when that pays off, it’s amazing. From here on, that’s the Mission: Impossible aesthetic. I don’t think we get the next installments if we don’t have J.J. Abrams deciding to turn this thing around and make it as fun as possible.
I got sidetracked, but the climax has Ethan coming in to rescue Julia but then Philip Seymour Hoffman (I can’t remember his character’s name) detonates the bomb in his brain. Well, activates it, I guess. So that means you get a wild scene where Hoffman kicks the crap out of Tom Cruise until our guy rallies. And this is another moment where we see the future of the franchise – some of the best scenes in the upcoming movies have Ethan Hunt getting back up after he’s absolutely wrecked. Think of the end of Fallout or the moment in Ghost Nation where he’s not quite right after drowning and being defibrillated (maybe my favorite bit of Cruise acting ever). It’s great. And then Julia actually gets to be an active participant and save Ethan’s life while taking out a couple of bad guys. And we never learn what the White Rabbit is. Probably a Rambaldi artifact.
It’s good! I had fun! There are three Mission: Impossible movies that are significantly better, but I don’t think we get those without this one. Props to J.J. But our real purpose here is to focus on Tom Cruise. This is his third time playing Ethan Hunt and it’s the first time it really seems to gel. The first movie doesn’t know whether it’s a popcorn movie or a serious conspiracy thriller and that left Cruise stranded. The second put him in the mold of a John Woo hero – a seemingly complicated man feeling pain as artfully as possible. This trades on Tom Cruise as Movie Star. He’s going to have the craziest plan imaginable and you’ll go along with it because he is Famous Person Tom Cruise. Ethan Hunt doesn’t work as well if he’s not the most famous person in the world, and Abrams was the first in the franchise to get that and really make it sing.
Next time we’re going to slow things down with Lions for Lambs, a movie that’s so sure it’s Important that they might as well have put a “For Your Consideration” chyron over every scene.