The Mission: Impossible film franchise is not really Mission: Impossible. It is the ‘Tom Cruise does spy stuff and explosions’ franchise. The television series was a real ensemble piece, with Peter Graves providing a regular leader. The films have changed it so that Ethan Hunt is the star, and the story is all about him.
The first film had some lovely set pieces, even if De Palma nicked them from other sources, as his is MO. The second film was a mess, but a beautifully filmed mess, with lots of lovely Woo visuals, but a flimsy story that wasn’t very Mission: Impossible, and which used the mask trick WAY too much. The third film is an entirely different beast, but it is the Tom Cruise show again, which seems a criminal waste of one of the greatest theme tunes in the world.
The film starts in media res; Phillip Seymour Hoffman is holding a gun to a woman’s head, who we know is Cruise’s girlfriend from the trailers. He threatens Cruise and ends up shooting her in the head, leading to the credits. Now, this is a nice idea; grab the audience’s attention and have some fun. However, there is no way that they are going to shoot Cruise’s girl in the head in a mainstream blockbuster, so you know that it’s a false cliffhanger.
The film then reveals the story up to that point; Ethan Hunt is no longer in the field, and is in love with his new girl (Michelle Monaghan), lying that he works for the Department of Transport. He gets called into a rescue mission for an operative he trained, who was caught by Hoffman. She dies, and Cruise gets back into the game, catching Hoffman, only for him to escape and go after the woman. The killing of the love interest is usually the start of a duff revenge film starring Jean Claude van Damme, so the cliché is a little worn, but JJ Abrams is aware of it and doesn’t fall into the traps.
Talking of Abrams, I have to confess that he was the main reason for my interest in the film. I know he must have put up with Cruise wanting this to be a personal story for his character (again, completely missing the point of the Mission: Impossible idea, but never mind), but I’m glad he did, just to see what he does with a big budget action flick. The problem he sets himself is that we know where the story is leading for the first two-thirds of the film, so he had better make it interesting. And the action pieces are very nicely done, exciting, dramatic, well shot and worth the price of admission. He puts in nods to the first two films, with Cruise dropping to his Superman-on-a-rope pose, and the use of the masks, without being slavish, and he keeps things moving. This bodes well for the future, even if this film isn’t brilliant.
In the acting stakes, you have to put up with Cruise a lot, but that’s an unfortunate side effect of the franchise. Monaghan comes across as something more than the token love interest, even if they overplay it in the final set piece. The other actors don’t get much in the way of screen time, which is a shame for Ving Rhames, but not so much for Jonathan Rhys Meyers (why does he get so much work? He is not pretty and his voice and acting is rather annoying). Hoffman is wasted in the role of bad guy, but he puts in some nice menacing looks. Simon Pegg gets the best cameo, bringing a smile to my face for his silly bit of nonsense. Lawrence Fishburne has fun in a role that he fits rather well, but Billy Crudup looks out of place in his stab for the mainstream, which is a shame for such a good actor.
If you like a blockbuster that is well done but doesn’t leave much taste on the palate, then this is the film for you. It’s inoffensive and enjoyable, to a degree, with everything you would expect from the franchise. However, I wouldn’t say the future is particularly wonderful for Cruise’s pet project.