Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Mission: Rewatchable, Part III

On rewatch, I found I loved part one and hated part two, so we're tied. Or we would be if we were keeping score.

We'll see how #3 fares right after this obligatory *SPOILER WARNING*

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

J.J. Abrams doesn't get nearly enough credit for being the guy you call to salvage fallen franchises. Think about it a minute: he's been hired to direct a new installment in three franchises that were more or less dead, and in each case, he delivered a film that revitalized the series with a fresh take. Sure, he's had missteps (though I kind of think history has been a tad harsh in how it's remembered Into Darkness), but he brought back Star Wars, Star Trek, and Mission: Impossible. I feel like that should be a bigger deal.

At any rate, my opinion of this movie hasn't really changed since I last saw it in 2006. It does a wonderful job recapturing the suspense of the first without rehashing the story. Abrams ingeniously gives Ethan a fiance and a civilian life, then builds the movie around his attempts to balance these with his secret identity. The tension is established from the opening, which seemingly shows his fiance executed in front of him. The movie then rewinds and shows us the lead up to this inevitable tragedy...

Which (spoiler alert for a twelve year-old movie?) isn't all it seems. There actually is a fairly textbook fridging in the movie, but it's not her. Honestly, I think the fridging (a fellow spy Ethan trained who dies early on) is justified by the narrative, but it's still more than a little troubling how often this trope pops up in this series.

Regardless, the movie's main antagonist is Owen Davian, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Davian is easily the most memorable villain this series has had, and I certainly wouldn't be the first to suggest he inspired aspects of both The Dark Knight's Joker and Skyfall's Silva. He's frightening without being inhumanly powerful, he's brilliant but prone to human weaknesses, and he's evil without being cartoonish: he's an absolutely fantastic nemesis for Hunt. And, in the end, he does manage to kill Ethan (sort of - it obviously doesn't stick).

The script is tense and well constructed. The story rearranges the standard elements you'd expect from the series in a way that's surprising and fascinating. There's a touch of humor, but it doesn't detract from the suspense in the least.

I should mention Abrams's infamous "mystery box" makes a somewhat literal appearance in this movie. The villain's motivation is to get his hands on a mysterious object the IMF wants kept safe, and the film goes out of its way to dangle the fact they're not going to tell you what's inside. I liked this in the context of the movie - the resolution implies it doesn't matter, and that the whole thing is silly, which is really the best way to wrap up a mystery box. It does leave you wondering if Abrams realized that would be the takeaway, or if he actually thought we'd be interested in the McGuffin. But ultimately his motivations will remain a mystery box, as well.

The action isn't quite as consistent as I'd like. There are definitely some cool sequences and some wonderful fights, but the large-scale set pieces sometimes feel forced. Even then, Abrams does a decent job giving you something interesting to see, even if it's by skipping a sequence entirely to follow the team waiting in the van instead.

It holds up well and manages to recover the franchise after the mess that was Mission: Impossible II. All that said, I don't find it quite as compelling as the first in the series. I think a lot of that is due to the fact that, despite the novel conceit of having Hunt struggle with balancing his home life with his work, this still feels like a fairly conventional (though good) action flick, while part one felt bizarre and quirky. It probably would have helped if MI2 hadn't reduced Hunt to a generic, gun toting super-spy, but that genie would have been hard to put back in the bottle.

This isn't revolutionary, but it's still a great flick that's worth revisiting.

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