It’s still the “Tom Cruise Show” whether you like him or not, but J.J. Abrams’ writing and direction not only delivers the best of the IMF series but practically resets the potential longevity of the franchise back to ‘start.’
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has retired from IMF (Impossible Mission Force) field work and only trains new agents. On the eve of his marriage to a woman (Keri Russell) who lets him forget all about his life of espionage and assassination, Ethan is tempted with a new mission he has a personal interest in. Against his better judgment, he takes the assignment only to discover that the repercussions of his actions sets him on a collision course with an untouchable villain (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that could cost him everything.
After the first Mission: Impossible film eliminated the team concept and created the one-man “Tom Cruise Show,” everyone kind of went with it. The second film idolized Cruise further yet, with director John Woo putting him up on pedestal and worshiping him as the action-junkie’s new James Bond. Then silence; Mr. Cruise went on to do other things when all possibility of a third film seemed like the real impossible mission.
And then J.J. Abrams, the freshly-crowned king of episodic must-see television thrillers such as “Alias” and “Lost,” was offered the opportunity to take over the third installment and everything seemed to click. Suddenly, the team was on board and the mission was on, and I’m happy to report that not only have all the elements excluded and absent from Mission: Impossible been returned, the third film is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that even Tom Cruise can be impressed with.
Part of it is the cleverly-balanced plot; Cruise gets to be “the man,” everyone else gets to be his support team and REALLY support him. The balance between these points of view keeps everything moving along nicely (it’s worked on “Alias” for years). Secondly is the cinematography; while camera pans are nothing unusual in a action/thriller, somehow Abrams has arranged to make the audience feel like they’re out there hanging by a thread from a skyscraper, too. Without any television commercials to interrupt the actions, neither Abrams nor Cruise gives the audience much time to catch their breath. Mr. Cruise even takes (or allows) a few (self-aware?!) pokes at himself, humor timed to let us know when to relax for a moment between sequences.
This is exactly the kind of movie that should kick off the summer; word of mouth should carry it far enough to make a bundle and set an early benchmark for the rest of May and afterward. With Abrams take on the entire production, there could easily be another trilogy without Tom Cruise that could be just as successful. For this particular outting, however, if you’re among those that can’t stand that camera-mugging, cradle-robbing, couch-jumping Tom-somebody, you may not enjoy it as much as the rest of us seeking the first great escape of the season film studios have paid handsomely to be called ‘blockbuster.’
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)