Mission: Impossible III

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With the man behind the insanely popular and quirky TV series Lost, JJ Abrams, in the director’s chair for this third installment of Tom Cruise’s 60s TV show-inspired action series, it is likely that many cinemagoers will be expecting something a bit different.

But, lest you forget, the last two Mission: Impossible films were also helmed by big names famed for their idiosyncratic styles, Scarface’s Brian de Palma and Hong Kong legend John Woo. Neither was quite able to break the standard action movie mould. Yet it is doubtful if that was ever the intention.

The reason producer/star Tom Cruise has gone for big names to direct these movies has been less about gaining originality of vision and more about ensuring a slick visual style. In this, Abrams’ work on Lost is less important than what he did on his earlier TV series Alias. That show was largely a small-screen version of Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films, only with a woman in the lead. It was all action and dangerous espionage, with none of Lost’s bizarre psychological tricks lurking in the jungles of a desert island.

Alias did, however, pride itself on the kind of action and plot twists that are pretty much essential for any big action film worth its salt.

That this third film in the series is not aiming for any major reinvention of the action genre becomes more apparent when you look at the chosen writers. Relatively little-known duo Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are the people responsible for the decidedly average sequel The Legend of Zorro as well as the not-as-clever-as-it-thought-it-was The Island. Both were respectable, but hardly stunning actioners that followed fairly standard formats.

In other words, don’t expect anything overly amazing on the plot and dialogue front, but plenty of impressive action set pieces. Which, let’s face it, if you’re going to see the third movie in an action franchise, that’s pretty much what you should be expecting anyway.

What Cruise has managed to do with all the films in the Mission: Impossible series is, effectively, take the James Bond formula to extremes. Bringing in genuinely good actors in supporting roles – such as Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave and Kristin Scott Thomas in the first, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton and Brendan Gleeson in the second and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Billy Crudup here – fleshes out these movies far better than any amount of computer-generated effects could. Cruise’s insistence on doing many of his own stunts, despite being probably the single most valuable star in the world, again helps create a better sense of realism.

Either way, until we finally get to see what Daniel Craig makes of the role of James Bond in the upcoming Casino Royale, due out in November, Cruise’s equally glamorous and gadget-laden Ethan Hunt is a welcome substitute. A solid piece of silly action entertainment of the sort Hollywood does so well.