Published on July 17th, 2015 | by Brad0
IMFridays – Mission: Impossible III
After scoring the biggest hit of the year 2000 with Mission: Impossible II, the franchise officially became part of the furniture. Ethan Hunt and team would return every 4-6 years to do the impossible all over again, with new teams behind the camera to keep it fresh. In a strange turn of events after the direction of icons like Brian De Palma and John Woo, Mission: Impossible III was made by a debut film director. He’d had a couple of hit shows in the previous decade, but it was still a risky proposition. And really, has the world heard of J.J. Abrams since?
Mission: Impossible III opens with Ethan Hunt being interrogated by Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) about the location of something called the Rabbit’s Foot. Davian gives Hunt to the count of ten to give him the location before he shoots Julia (Michelle Monaghan), who we’ll later learn is Ethan’s wife, in the head. Hunt clearly thinks he’s already given Davian the Rabbit’s Foot, and tries to say anything he can to save Julia. Davian reaches ten and pulls the trigger, firing us into the opening credits. It’s a very striking opening, immediately selling Davian as a threat to be reckoned with as well as suggesting how close Ethan and Julia are.
The Mission: Impossible franchise up to this point had been somewhat defined by the relationships between Ethan Hunt and his villains. The first movie has the twisted father figure in Jon Voight’s Jim Phelps and the second has Ethan’s dark reflection in Dougray Scott’s Sean Ambrose. There’s less made of that with Davian; he’s a pure sociopath. Ethan may hate Davian, but Davian has no interest in Hunt beyond needing to remove him so he can keep doing what he’s doing. The late great Philip Seymour Hoffman is sensational in the role, proving just as adept at big blockbuster fare as he was in the smaller dramas he was better known for. For me, he’s the Mission: Impossible series’ outstanding villain to date.
After the explosive opening, the narrative proper opens at a suburban household and Ethan and Julia’s engagement party. After brief cameos by Abrams regular Greg Grunberg and a stunningly young-looking Aaron Paul, Ethan is called away from the party to take a meeting with IMF agent John Musgrave (Billy Crudup). It’s revealed that Ethan has retired from active field duty and now trains new recruits, and one of his best and brightest has been captured by Davian in Berlin. Musgrave sends Ethan and team (the returning Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), pilot Declan (Johnny Lee Miller) and infiltration expert Zheng (Maggie Q)) to Berlin to save her, but she’s killed by a very small bomb Davian planted in her skull.
Enraged, Ethan tracks Davian to the Vatican based on information recovered by comic relief techie and soon-to-be series mainstay Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). Amusing side note – Pegg was asked in a 2005 interview about his growing profile in the United States in the wake of Shaun of the Dead’s success over there, and he responded “I’m a bit better known, it’s not like I’m going to be in Mission: Impossible III or anything.” Before he leaves for the Vatican, Ethan marries Julia in an impromptu ceremony in the chapel at the hospital where she works. The Vatican mission comes off without a hitch and the team fly Davian back to the USA.
In the background to all of this has been the revelation of a traitor in IMF feeding information to Davian. The suggestion is that it’s the director, with the great Laurence Fishburne following Henry Czerny and Anthony Hopkins in that position. The IMF seems to change management more often than a Premier League football team. The traitor’s influence is seen almost immediately upon the team’s return to the United States as a team attack the convoy carrying Davian to prison and break him out. Director Brassel blames Ethan and has him locked up. Meanwhile, Davian’s men kidnap Julia. Ethan is given 48 hours to escape, find a chemical weapon called the Rabbit’s Foot and bring it to Davian, or he will kill her.
It’s a recurring motif throughout the Mission: Impossible franchise that something will happen which forces Hunt to go rogue and bring the villain to justice by himself. Indeed, Mission: Impossible II is the only film in the series in which Hunt is on-team the entire way through. By this point you’d think his superiors would trust him, but hey ho. Hunt’s quest leads him to Shanghai, and the film’s big aerial stunt. He jumps off the left of a very tall skyscraper, and then uses his harness as a fulcrum to launch himself onto the roof of a more heavily guarded skyscraper to the right. It’s pretty bloody sensational. From there, all hell breaks loose as we have come to expect.
For me, Mission: Impossible III is the highlight of the series so far. It strikes the right balance between ensemble spy thriller and Tom Cruise vehicle, the action sequences are spectacular, and in Philip Seymour Hoffman it has for my money one of the great action movie villains of the 21st Century. J.J. Abrams turned out to be quite a dab hand at directing, and having Hunt as a retired, married man coming back in was a neat twist on the formula. Weirdly though, it did the least Box Office of any film in the series so far. Maybe Cruise’s star was on the wane a little at that point – it did come in the middle of his weird, jumping on sofas, super-Scientology period – but whatever. It’s a cracking film, well worth your time.