Monday, May 08, 2006


As I giddily walked into the Cinerama Dome this weekend with my compatriots, I felt ready and eager to start the summer movie season. It's not that I was dying to see Mission Impossible 3. It's that I was dying to celebrate the kickoff of my favorite movie time of the year. Most people count off the days on their calendar till the fall and winter arrives, when the "award" films start hitting the theatres, but not I. I await with baited breath for the first big blockbuster in May to signal the slew of monsters, car chases, and super powers that are unleashed by the studios every year without fail. Every summer promises to be bigger than the last, and though that that's not always necessarily the case, it's always fun to suss out the line up and hope for the best. As an adult, summer movies are one of the last things we can cling to that reek of childhood. Gone are the last days of school, and the sweet sensation of finishing your last final and walking out into that warm summer air. Lining up on the street each balmy Friday night of summer and munching on popcorn reminds of being a kid again. We all need that escape from the drudgery filled reality of our lives.But enough sentimentality, and onto the movie. I walked into MI3 with mixed expectations. I liked the first one, but couldn't abide the second one. I thought the trailer was well done, and I'm a big fan of JJ Abrams, but I still wasn't convinced that the movie was going to be any better than bearable.

I was pleasantly surprised. MI3 had great action sequences, a fun cast, and cool spy gear. I realize I'm not talking about anything to revolutionary here, and while I do believe that summer movies CAN have depth, MI3 wasn't one of them. But that was OK by me, because I think it completely succeeded in its endeavors.

The movie goes something like this. IMF employee Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is engaged to Julia (Michelle Monaghan), a lovely nurse. Ethan no longer goes out on missions, and chooses to train new faces instead. When his superior, John Musgrave (Billy Cruddup) asks him to go on a mission to rescue junior agent Lindsey Farris (Keri Russel), Ethan agrees against his better judgement. Ethan teams up with his old buddy Luther (Ving Rhames), and attractive newbies, Declan (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q). Together they travel to Berlin where Lindsey has been abducted by master mind black market criminal, Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Their rescue mission doesn't go as planned, and when the team returns to IMF headquarters, Ethan does a little research on Davian. With the help of tech guru, Benji (Simon Pegg) Ethan learns that Davian is about to acquire a top secret piece of merchandise known as the rabbit's foot. Ethan and his crew head back over seas, this time to Rome, where they intend to capture Davian and acquire the rabbit's foot. Ethan conducts these operations without the knowledge and approval of IMF head, John Brassel (Laurence Fishburne). The rest of the movie tracks Ethan and co. as they chase Davian and the rabbit's foot. Along the way, Davian kidnaps Julia, and the stakes are raised, as her life is now added to the equation.

First off, did anyone notice the INSANE cast list I just rattled off? The most impressive element of this movie might just be the fact that Abrams corralled all these different actors under one title. I enjoyed the diversity of the casting, but at times couldn't help but notice the looming spectre of globalization, as Asian super star Maggie Q fired guns next to UK film star Johnathan Rhys-Myers, and so on. Still, I'm not complaining, I enjoyed the myriad of hot shots, and it was nice to see Abrams bring in some of his old standbys like Keri Russel and even Greg Grunberg for a lil cameo. Everyone put in a solid performance, which comprised mostly of looking really suave, and even Cruise, who wears a little thin recently, delivered. Actually my favorite description of his performance was written by Todd McCarthy of Variety, who put it brilliantly when he said Cruise was "determined to give a persuasive human impersonation of a Ferrari." I really couldn't have said it any better myself.

The thing about this movie was, there wasn't really much of a story. It was just a series of missions attempting to retrieve someone or something. The first mission was to bring back Agent Farris, the second was to arrest Davian, and the third was to rescue Julia. The issue of the rabbit's foot was secondary, because even though it was a necessary plot mechanism we never find out what it is, or what it's remotely about. Not only does the rabbit's foot remain a mystery, but Davian as a villain, remains pretty vague and ambiguous; he's a "bad guy" in the broadest sense of the term. We learn early on that he traffics in information and illegal goods with subversive foreign governments. Davian is sadistic, he enjoys torturing people, and does not value human life, but his ultimate goals remain evasive. Does he want to take over the world? Infect the human population with a deadly virus? Or does he just enjoy crime for the thrill of it, and to maintain a luxurious lifestyle. I think the filmmakers were trying to say that it doesn't matter, and that any explanation would sound ridiculous, so why not for go it. Still, while it was fun watching Phillip Seymour Hoffman take on a role like this, I would have liked to see him have a little more to work with.

The script was definitely on the lighter side, as in not too much dialogue. There was a lot of action, A LOT. My favorite part of the film was when Ethan and Co. broke into the Vatican to snag Davian. I enjoyed watching the agents use their high tech gadgetry in heist like scenarios, more than the machine guns firing into an explosive abyss. Don't get me wrong, the first action sequence in Berlin was incredible, both the stuff on the ground and in the air. But by the time the highway sequence rolled around, with the missile launchers and overturned SUV's, I was starting the flinch a little bit. The style of this action sequence in particular that one, was very harsh. It had that shaky hand held camera work, crazy angles, and mile a minute cuts. You blink and you loose about a thousand frames. The gritty filters and constant movement was too much even for me at times, and I'm normally not sensitive to that sort of thing. I also found the base jumping from the tippy tops of Shanghai sky scrapers preferable over the blitzkrieg of gunfire.

I liked this movie. It's hard not to smile when you see Cruise and co. in their best Armani sunglasses coasting on a motor boat in Rome; it inevitably emotes "cool". There was a nice light hearted feel to much of the film, and even some humor, provided primarily by Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg. JJ Abrams did a fine job directing the film, both in capturing the right attitudes from his stars, and choreographing visual sequences. But I didn't love this movie, because there wasn't much to love. The heart of MI3, which was meant to be Ethan's love for his fiance/wife Julia, served to sell the action in the movie, but wasn't dimensional enough to make him a true protagonist. Action movies, like any movie, can have emotionally resonant moments: think Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. Those felt like movies about actual people. MI3 though quite enjoyable, felt like a movie about celebrities and explosions.

Of course a little FX driven escapism never hurt anyone, and I think it was a pretty good kickoff to the summer movie fair. Mmmm, I can smell the cotton candy in the air already…


Anonymous crazymonk said...

Yeah, I'm with you on this one. Fun movie, nothing incredible. But better than the second crap-fest with slow-mo actions scenes and an abundance of birds (thanks, Mr. Woo).

I'm beginning to really like Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as an actor. I saw Match Point last week, and thought he was great, and his small role here was a nice for a bit part (except for the "teach it to me" prayer scene).

1:24 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

I agree, he was very good in Matchpoint. Forget Cruise, JRM is the new hunk in town.

2:09 PM  
Blogger The Coen Bros. said...

I call MI two MI poo. M:I:III was a decent, fun movie, but I wish it had more of Phillip. And the plot twists were pretty obvious. Why is there a mole in every agency in movies and TV?

2:24 PM  
Blogger Daddy Background said...

Hey! I was out and saw the movie last night, too. Maybe we were in the same cinema!!! Wait, there's the 4,000 mile discrepency....

I read only two movie reviews before I saw MI:III and they both used the word "MacGuffin" (I wonder if one reviewer had read the other's first....). So everytime someone said "Rabbit's Foot" my brain would yell, "MacGuffin". Moral of the story? Avoid reviews before the movie. Which, I guess, presents sort of a Catch-22. Never mind.

Anyway, agreeing with Mssrs. Coen, under the rule of Economy of Characters, you pretty much figure out the real bad guy once they point you to the fake bad guy. Mole, I mean.

So I'm with the majority, I guess. Really liked 1, didn't like 2, I'm okay with 3.


It's been a long time since I've gone to the cinema; money's tight and time is tighter. Most of the trailers that preceded MI:III were for great looking films that had May release dates and I left wondering if I maybe would have been better served by holding out a bit longer for one that was Coming Soon.

7:04 AM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

What trailers did you see?

9:24 AM  
Blogger Daddy Background said...

Cars, X-Men: The Last Stand (it looked nasty!!!), Superman (I thought after reading your previous post that I was going to be seeing the new one, but no, it was just the teaser) ... uh, what else... Pirates of the Carrabean: Dead Man's Chest, Over The Hedge, Nacho Libre. I think that's it.

The first three on the list are must-see. The rest might wait till they appear on digital cable. :)

10:09 AM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Yeah I have a very good feeling about X 3. What no pirates in the theatre? I think that one would be worth seeing there as well if you can swing it.

10:26 AM  

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