By the time the franchise had reached the third installment everything was set up. The previous two films were widely different and audiences did not know what to expect from number three. What they got was a real change of direction from the second film which was overblown in every sense of the word. On board came up and coming director J.J. Abrams and the Ethan Hunt story was told from a completely different angle.
You are assured of the differences from the opening scene. After the ominous bass notes of the score’s opening we hear the sound of Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) asking where the rabbit’s foot is. The screen is black. Cut to a bloody and battered Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) who is restrained in a chair and facing an interrogation that may cost him and his wife their lives. It is tense and confusing as you, the audience, are thrown into the drama without any preamble. From there the film goes back to fill in the blanks.
Ethan Hunt has retired from field work and now works as a trainer at IMF headquarters in Virginia. One of his proteges, Lidsey Farris (Keri Russell) is captured on a mission to find the arms dealer and all round bad guy Owen Davian. Hunt is persuaded by his boss Musgrave (Billy Crudup) to take on the rescue effort and he assembles a team including Luther (Ving Rhames), Zhen Li (Maggie Q) and Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). The resue ends badly with Farris dying when an explosive pellet embedded in her head is activated. Hunt then makes it his goal to track down and apprehend Davian to pay for the loss of the IMF agent.
As with all of the Mission: Impossible films, this one has the influence of the director all over it. It is quite unusual these days for that to happen. A star like Tom Cruise can call the shots on these movies if he wishes but instead he tends to collaborate with the directors to make the best film possible. In doing so, each of the films looks and feels very different.
J.J. Abrams is the man in the chair for number three. Having seen what has gone before he decided to tackle the IMF set up in a slightly different way in his feature film debut. This film focuses more on the private life of Ethan Hunt with the introduction of a love interest. This is the backbone of the film and also adds the element of a civilian who is the equal of the Ethan Hunt character. Julia (Michelle Monaghan) is a doctor and is in every way just as capable as a spy. Her personality is no mere plot device and it is to the credit of the film that she is one of two strong and prominent female roles.
As well as the drama there is a fair amount of high octane set pieces which we have now come to expect from the franchise. The ethos of the original Mission Impossible TV series was on team work and this film holds true to that. Hunt is front and centre for all the action beats but he is ably assisted by a group of individuals who are his equals. Even the tech support guy Benji (Simon Pegg) has a role to play.
Another reason the film works so well is the inclusion of a great antagonist in the form of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the role of Owen Davian. All too often in action (and spy films in particular) we get a bad guy who has ruthlessly reached the top of his profession only to act really stupid when it comes to the point of squaring up to the hero. Davian is not like that and never conforms to this stereotype. He isn’t prone to slipping into a monologue explaining what he is about to do. He is ruthless and efficient which leads to him being an impressive character. Hoffman plays him perfectly. You can almost feel the disdain in his portrayal having been obliged to deal with people who he sees are beneath him.
The score provided by Michael Giacchino underpins the scenes beautifully. He uses a mix of original compositions and elements of the Lalo Schifrin music from the TV series to great effect. It is memorable and stands up on its own without the accompanying visuals.
Overall, a film that ticks all the boxes for the fans of the series and in my opinion the best film to date. Highly recommended.