A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 358 – Mission: Impossible III

Mission: Impossible III – February 21st, 2011

After last night’s mixed bag of a movie I was hesitant going into this one. Same franchise, but new writers and a new director, and a director I like. Still, the previous two movies had issues. And then we discovered we own the pan and scan version of this movie, which is so very sad. We have thoughts on pan and scan and they are not complimentary. So yes, hesitation here. And I’m happy to say that I found this movie to be the most enjoyable of the bunch. But still, I have some quibbles.

First of all, let’s address the plot, which is convoluted and full of twists, as expected. Of course there are double crosses and disguises and people aren’t who or what they seem to be at first. That’s par for the course in these movies. The masks are deployed several times, as is the voice changing tech. The specific storyline here involves a villain named Davian and his attempts to get his hands on something top secret. It also involves another rogue agent setting up Ethan and his friends/colleagues. And I do not think it is too much to ask that the IMF start screening their people better. I’m not going to bother going too far into detail because if I do I’ll be here all night. Suffice it to say that the bad guy kidnaps Ethan’s wife to force him to steal this top secret whatever (it’s a macguffin, we know it’s got biohazard tags and that’s about it) and Ethan’s got to do it in 48 hours or she dies and his superiors aren’t cooperating so he’s working on his own and he and his team do all sorts of wild stuff to get the job done.

I think I just described the last movie too, but really, this one does it better. A lot better. For one, I have absolutely no complaints about the treatment of the female leads. Sure, Ethan’s wife gets kidnapped and is a damsel in distress and all, but she also kicks a good deal of ass and never once did I feel that Ethan or his true allies were using her. Same goes for Zhen, one of his team, and Lindsey, his protege who shows up at the beginning. They are competent and bad-assed. In fact, aside from the damsel stuff, which is par for the course and I’m going to just cope and move on, this movie does a really nice job of treating all the characters as effective players in the plot and I really really like that. I like the current team, with Ving Rhames reprising his role as Luther and Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Myers as Zhen and Declan, his other two teammates. Also, there’s Simon Pegg as Benji, a techie who helps them out a few times. And I do so love Simon Pegg. Billy Crudup as Ethan’s immediate superior, Musgrave, and Laurence Fishburne as the higher up Brassel are both fantastic, and then there’s Philip Seymour Hoffman as the incredibly disconcerting villain, Davian. It’s a nice cast and I felt like really only Zhen and Declan got shorted a bit and mostly that’s an issue of there not being enough time to give them much more than basic roles. Still, they’re all treated with respect.

The plot itself is more than ridiculous. It’s all an excuse for lots of action and determined looks from Ethan. It’s certainly a lot more serious than the other two movies were, but the level of over-the-top action is the same. And I like the serious tone here. The movie starts out with a scene where our baddie is threatening a woman we will later find out is Ethan’s wife, while Ethan watches. He demands and answer and Ethan gives it to him again and again, to no avail. Those are high stakes and the movie then spends the rest of its time building you back to that point. Showing you how Ethan and Julia got there and what’s going on. It’s brutal. It’s meant to be like that. There’s no winking at convention here. There’s no smug grin. There’s just the mission and the twists and turns that it takes and Ethan’s determination to get it done. And that is my kind of spy movie. If you’re going to have movies where the bad guys kill people and fuck shit up, then go for it. Don’t tiptoe around it.

But then too, that’s where I quibble. Because while I did enjoy this movie and I liked the characters and the action and the grit, I’m not sure what makes it a Mission: Impossible movie aside from the masks and the names and the music. I think this might be an issue for the franchise as a whole, but then I don’t know the original series, so I could be way off. Still, this movie isn’t quite like the second movie which wasn’t quite like the first movie. The first didn’t balance its camp and action. The second went a little overboard on the parody. And this one has no humor at all, aside from some good lines from Luther. There’s no tongue-in-cheek here. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. It feels like this franchise has an identity crisis with each installment and hasn’t quite settled on what it wants to be and how best to incorporate the show. I liked the movie, but I feel as though it could have been any spy/action movie. Take away the music and the superficial references like names and what does that leave you? I’m not sure.

February 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Mission: Impossible III

February 21, 2011

Mission: Impossible III

Another tale of daring do with Ethan Hunt of the IMF and another amazing director makes the movie his own. Tonight it’s J.J. Abrams taking over the reigns. His vision of Mission Impossible is dark, gritty, suspenseful and compelling. Right from the very start we know that this isn’t going to be a light-hearted action romp – it’s a high stakes movie where everything has the potential to go very, very wrong.

After the hook – what I recognize to be a very Abrams opening that grabs the audience and gets them invested in the movie – we join Ethan in his semi-retirement. He is no longer in the field – he trains agents now and is planning to get married to a woman named Julia that he met while skydiving. She is a civilian – a doctor – and not part of the spy world. He’s not part of that life any more. Until he gets a call at an engagement dinner he’s holding because one of the agents he trained is in trouble. So he has to come out of retirement for one last job.

Of course not everything goes to plan. We know it won’t because in the opening hook to the movie Hunt is tied up and forced to watch as the heartless arms dealer Owen Davian threatens to kill Julia right in front of him if he doesn’t deliver something called the “rabbit’s foot.” Most of this movie shows the events that lead up to this state of affairs.

I’m really enjoying how these movies are each so distinct. There’s no real effort to keep them consistent between films aside from having Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames and using the facial replacement trick. This movie pulls no punches. It delivers great action. It gives us some fun IMF spy action and some more hard hitting spy adventure that seems inspired by the Bourne movies. Gone is the grinning, cocky, annoying Ethan Hunt. Here he’s beaten, desperate and dangerous, which is actually far more interesting to watch I think.

My favorite bit in the whole film was when they showed the IMF team making one of their ubiquitous masks. We’ve seen the masks torn off multiple times in every one of these movies, but it was pretty cool actually seeing one manufactured and applied. It’s a lot of fun to see an IMF mission going off as planned with all the cool gadgets and split second timing.

I was also thrilled with the new acting talent Cruise and company brought in for this installment. We get Laurence Fishburne as the head of IMF, where he brings a lot of intensity and power, adding to the danger Ethan faces even at home. For comic relief we have Simon Pegg who is always fun for a laugh and would go on to work with Abrams again on the new Star Trek movie. (I kept seeing his tech-head character Benji here as a modern day Montgomery Scott.) Best of all we have Philip Seymour Hoffman as Davian. He is absolutely terrifying from the very start of the film. Hoffman is an unbelievable actor and this role is so sinister and deadly that it’s wonderful to watch him at work. You never doubt for an instant that he’s capable of the most heinous crime – that he’ll kill anybody with no emotion whatsoever. Terrifying.

These movies continue to amaze me. That an old spy adventure show from the sixties could give rise to such a collection of different movies, each with its own tone and feel, baffles me. None of them really capture the feel of the old show, but they’ve done something different. They’ve created a completely new and exciting franchise. I see that Brad Bird is directing the fourth instalment, which is due to hit theaters next year. I can’t wait to see what his live-action debut looks like.

February 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment