Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Movie Review: Mission: Impossible 3

(picture curtesy of www.missionimpossible.com)

Clear your calendar.

Summer blockbuster movie season has definitely arrive.

With new big name movies scheduled to grace our local cinemas almost weekly in the next few month, both my time and wallet will be stretched to the limit to try to catch them all. Compared to last year, the summer blockbuster movie offerings this year show much promise and hopefully will deliver on it especially those that I have been looking forward to. To start off my wallet bursting journey though the summer releases, I took some time off last weekend to view “Mission: Impossible 3” at my local cinema which I notice have raised the admission ticket prices up RM1 from the normal RM10. Good thing that the cinema is fairly close to my apartment so I can save money by buying early-bird tickets for early morning shows but this price increase bears watching if it is applied to all movies this season.

“Mission: Impossible 3”, clearly indicated by the title, is the third entry into the M:I franchise first started back in 1996. Directed by J.J. Abrams, most notably the creator of the “Lost” and “Alias” TV series, M:I3 signals the return of the franchise to the hyperkinetic style missing from the last installment of the franchise nearly 6 years ago. Tom Cruise returns for the 3rd time to reprise his role as IMF superspy Ethan Hunt who at the beginning of the film is celebrating his recent engagement to Julia (Michelle Monaghan). Unknown to his fiancée and everyone else, Hunt continues to work in the IMF as a field operative trainer after retiring from active duty. When one of his star pupils disappears during a field reconnaissance mission, Hunt is recalled by the IMF Operations Manager to lead a retrieval team to get her back. After giving Julia a plausible alibi for his departure, Hunt teams up with Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Zhen (Maggie Q) and third-time partner Luther (Ving Rhames) to attempt to rescue Lindsey (Keri Russell) who was captured while she was tracking down arms-dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for the IMF.

Despite the pitch battle in the warehouse and wind-generator farm district in Berlin, Hunt’s team failed to retrieve their target alive thanks to a miniature explosive device implanted in Lindsey on Davian’s orders. Thanks to the clues discovered after the failed attempt, the team discovers that Owen is trying to obtain a mysterious weapon on mass destruction known only by the codename “Rabbit’s Foot”. With the info recently obtained, Hunt’s team managed to intercept and capture Davian at Vatican City where he was suppose to meet with the buyers interested in purchasing the device. Davian would shortly later escape custody after a high explosive ambush on Chesapeake Bay Bridge which seems to be orchestrated by someone within the IMF working for Davian. Thanks to the mole within IMF ranks, Davian was able to abduct Julia to force Hunt to help him retrieve the “Rabbit’s Foot” from a secure location in Shanghai. With the device successfully retrieved, Hunts races against the deadline towards a climatic encounter with Davian to save the life of his wife and his own after being implanted with a similar explosive device that killed his protégé in Berlin.

Working from a lean script, credited to Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci as well as the first feature director JJ Abrams, M:I3 is definitely a return to the basics of what made the original TV series so interesting to watch. At it’s core, I personally feel that the M:I franchise is always about the spy gadgets and subterfuge and we see both in action in this installment. While it was a different take on the franchise, John Woo’s visual style in the previous M:I film felt too stylized to fit into what we are already familiar with the series. Having created “Alias”, which is itself a homage to espionage shows of the 60’s including the M:I series, it is hard to avoid comparisons of this film with the show Abrams created especially when some of the character interaction we see in the film echoes those we have seen previously in “Alias”. M:I3 does have the bigger explosions and flashier special effect than the TV shows but at times it fails to raise up the adrenaline level befitting the bigger budget that it had compared to it’s small screen cousin. For the most part, the script feels more like a clothesline barely holding distinct action sequence together with a smidgen of storyline in between. Fortunately for this film, the action sequence were well executed and would surely meet the expectations of any action movie junkie watching this summer blockbuster fare.

Fresh from his stint in “Capote”, Phillip Seymour Hoffman portrayal of the icily amoral arms dealer is one of the reasons why people would want to see this movie. The character seem to exude malice direct from the pores and Hoffman stepped up admirably to the plate to realize the character on screen. It is unfortunate that his screen time is so little that if you’ve seen the first 10 minutes of the movie, then you’ve already seen the best part of his work in this movie. To a lesser degree of interest, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Maggie Q’s characters also suffer from the lack of screen time to allow the audience to invest any level of sympathy to the characters. Ving Rhames’s character does at least get to inject a little more humanity into the story as he questions Hunt of his choice of to expose a unknowing civilian to the dangers of his line of work without giving them the chance to decide for themselves. Like the team handlers in IMF, the existence of these characters could easily be disavowed by the storyline as it had not given it sufficient development time to flesh them out to be other than the clogs in Hunt’s team.

Despite his off-screen antics, it is hard not to acknowledge that Tom Cruise definitely knows how to pull in the audiences with his trademarked million watt smile and chest-out running sequence. His performance in M:I3 is not something that we have not seen in his prior work before but it is enough of a pull for this movie. There were times in the movie that I thought that what I saw on screen from him was a little bit off somehow but it was hard to really put my finger on what was throwing me off. It could be the less than stellar chemistry between Cruise and Michelle Monaghan who played his wife even when she eerily reminded me of Katie Holmes at times. It could also be how peculiar Cruise looked while running in desperation to save her in the backstreets of Shanghai. Irregardless, Tom Cruise sufficiently gave the performance that this movie needed.

The one major disappointment that I have with this movie was the final fate of the villains of this movie. After watching the action sequence increase in frenetic energy levels and desperation as the movie went along, I personally felt a bit let-down by how the movie ended. It felt too rushed and too simplistic an ending after all the buildup that proceeded it. Other than ending more on a whimper than a bang, “Mission: Impossible 3” has all the components of a fun summer blockbuster movie going for it. Good action sequence that are not bogged down by heavy drama in between and sufficiently simple storyline to follow would surely appeal on an escapist level. Just don’t go in expecting to find a deeply coherent reason why the characters do the things they do in the movie and you’ll be fine.

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