Mission: Impossible III Review
Tom Cruise talks in one of the featurettes included on this set of how late one-night after an arduous shoot he sat down to watch TV and came across Alias. He found himself most impressed with what J.J. Abrams had accomplished and decided this was what he wanted for Mission: Impossible III. And that is pretty much what he got, with Abrams’ first big-screen outing being essentially a feature-length big-budget episode of Alias. Obviously the characters and the world they inhabit are completely different but the direction of the film and the focus on Ethan Hunt’s life outside of his work and the impact his work has on that life are very much in the same basic vein as those of Alias and its central character, Sydney Bristow.
This however is no bad thing. In its prime Alias redefined what was possible with a TV action series that lived in the fantasy realm as opposed to the gritty realism 24 strives for, and it did this not just through its many exciting action set-pieces but through the many characters and the relationships which bound them. In M:I:III there is a limit to what could be achieved in terms of character development when you have an action quota to meet in the limited running time a feature-film provides, so a conscious decision was obviously made to focus on Ethan and one or two central figures around him. The crux of the story is not the taking down of the psychotic villain who is threatening the world with a new deadly weapon – portrayed here quite ably by Philip Seymour-Hoffman – he’s merely there as a target for Ethan Hunt to work towards as the real struggle plays out. And that is whether or not a man in his line of work can have a relationship – in this case we learn that Ethan is to be married – but can the relationship work when trust is constantly betrayed?
We’ve seen Sydney Bristow muse over this question on many an occasion and in true Alias fashion M:I:III sets up the ultimate test by putting Ethan’s new love in harms way as a direct result of his work. Abrams’ opens on a tense moment where Hoffman’s evil menace Owen Davian is threatening the life of Ethan’s now-wife Julie (Michelle Monaghan) as he himself is helpless, showing us a rare glimpse of the IMF super-spy with his defences down and emotions literally dripping off the face. It’s a tense and inspired opening and a plot device used more times than I care to remember on Alias, only here there is no “7 days earlier”, the film just naturally jumps back and slowly builds to the moment. Along the way Ethan is called back to active-duty where he reunites with Luther (Ving Rhames) and meets two new members of the team before setting out on a mission which initiates the interest in Davian and steamrolls to the eventual showdown. The pacing is keenly adjusted with a constant sense of movement brought about not only by the photography which is always in motion but also by the integration of action and drama which sees some of the best moments of the film as Luther and Ethan discuss the merits of a relationship in their line of work as they go about getting the job done. Be it on comms as Ethan infiltrates an enemy hideout or face-to-face in the sewers of Vatican City where they prepare a mask for the snatch-and-grab of Davian, the conversation is always punchy and the visuals which aid it help to alleviate the serious nature of the subject at hand.
Not to sound like a broken record but like the casting of Simon Pegg in a role that is essentially Marhsall Flinkman this method of storytelling is a key ingredient of Alias’s success, and by transferring these elements into the gritty realism that Abrams’ is shooting for here in M:I:III he has succeeded in making what is for me the best Mission film yet. This is no major accomplishment when I consider the forerunners (especially John Woo’s feature-length Head & Shoulders advert) but with some fine casting (Hoffman is by far the most crucial, though Billy Crudup and Laurence Fishburne are fine additions to the already established Cruise and Rhames rolls) and some thoroughly intense action sequences (the bridge is nothing short of stunning, and the intensity which Hoffman and Cruise bring to the final act is palpable) M:I:III was the action highlight of the summer blockbuster season.
Arguments however can and should be made against certain aspects of the film, such as the cardboard cut-outs that Zhen (Maggie Q) and Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) essentially are, contributing very little to the film beyond the much talked about ‘team’ aspect of the missions. The actors both work well and do their jobs as required, and the characters do bring some added flavour to the missions but with no effort made to develop them into living breathing individuals the one scene there is where they have a brief exchange that isn’t mission-speak, well, it just feels out of place. Another easy target is the lack of scenes involving Hoffman, an actor who brings so much to the film through the effortlessly confident and vile character of Davian that you can’t help but wonder why they didn’t develop the character more. There is of course the issue that stopping Davian is not the ultimate goal of the story, but when you learn in the commentary that Davian wasn’t even originally going to be the one threatening Ethan and Julie in that pivotal scene it becomes even more obvious that his character is very much underwritten.
A not so easy target is Tom Cruise. Given his much publicised outbursts in the past couple of years you might think otherwise, but the role of Ethan Hunt just fits him so well. His insistence on doing the stunts and hearing him talk about them in the making of featurettes is rather tiresome, but in doing so he brings an intense physical presence to the screen which not only helps with the gritty action style that Abrams’ has gone for but is very much indicative of his performance as a whole. There is a level of commitment visible in his motions and expressions which help to embody the Ethan Hunt character, and this physicality is carried through to the emotional torture Hunt is put through and helps to bring the scenes with Hoffman to life. The clashing of Cruise’s intensity and Hoffman’s callous calm is what helps the film open so strongly, and is what makes their subsequent scenes together so much fun. There are some cracks in his performance though, and these to my eyes are most visible in the unnecessary final scene inside the IMF offices. Self-indulgent in appearance the scenes of relief and friends reunited show Cruise with that trademark grin and laugh which see the character shed and the high-on-life Tom Cruise come out to play.
Available in both a plain vanilla single-disc edition and this two-disc Special Collector’s Edition M:I:III looks great on DVD but the extras disappoint.
Presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen the transfer here is reference quality in all but one or two minor areas. The film is so richly textured from skin tones to the walls of the Vatican and the detail present in the transfer to disc is often quite stunning, with deep black levels and well graded colours allowing the action to leap off the screen. I failed to notice any flaws in the encoding save for some minimal edge-enhancement (mainly on background details such as buildings on the horizon) and a few blink-and-you’ll miss them moments of aliasing, most prominent on the complex brick patterns of the Vatican walls.
One other concern is the intended subtitles for the occasional foreign-language exchange in the film, such as Zhen’s entrance to Vatican City and Musgrave’s silent exchange with Ethan which is subtitled for the viewer. On this DVD these subtitles are player generated and use a rather ugly and large white font (and I can verify the R1 is the same, only it uses yellow subs). The location names which appear on screen at a few points in the film are as they were in the cinema, part of the print and not player-generated.
The English DD5.1 surround audio mix is everything you’d expect from a recent action blockbuster, full of life and active surround usage helping to add that extra touch of excitement to the numerous action set-pieces found within the film.
Disc one opens with a commentary by Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams which sets the bar relatively low yet somehow manages to be the single-most interesting bonus feature on the set. The combination of actor/producer and first-time feature film director makes for a very complimentary chat-track in which we discover the film was so much fun to make, everyone was so great and brought so much to the project on which every creative decision was the right one. That’s right, Abrams and Cruise set another standard for the extras on this set by patting each other and everyone involved with the film on the back throughout the track, yet in spite of this their enthusiasm and ability to keep up the conversation over every minute of the film keeps this relatively entertaining. Both manage to weigh in on creative and technical aspects of the shoot in between the numerous complimentary nods, though the scene-specific nature of the track and the fast nature of the film prevent either from getting into detail on any single aspect of the production.
Making of the Mission (27mins) is a surprisingly decent though ultimately very slight look at the production of the film, taking us from the first day of shooting in Rome through to the last day in Shanghai. Along the way the main focus of the talking head interviews and the behind-the-scenes footage they are interspersed and overlaid onto is the numerous action and special effects sequences with the major emphasis being Tom Cruise doing his own stunts. Although quite promotional in nature there is very little attempt to sell a product, instead we are simply allowed to enjoy a brief overview of the work that went into making the movie and to get a sense of the enthusiasm everyone brought to it.
The last significant extra to be found on disc one are five deleted scenes which run for a little over five-minutes. The first two are the additional fight sequences cut from the Lindsey rescue sequence which Abrams mentions in the commentary were taken out for pacing reasons, showing both Ethan and Zhen in action. Next is an additional scene between Ethan and Musgrave that adds some unnecessary exposition and brings too much attention to Billy Crudup’s character, something which Abrams also brings to light in the commentary. Lastly there is an additional flashback scene between Ethan and Lindsey which seems to be an alternate take on something which made it into the movie, and finally there is also an extended version of Zhen’s entrance to the Vatican. All in all these are brief enough to be worth a look, though like most deleted scenes were excised for all the right reasons.
The final extra on disc one is Generation: Cruise. This essentially is a montage of clips from movies starring Tom Cruise, and was shown during the 2005 MTV Movie Awards where Cruise won the first ever MTV Generation Award. It’s not at all relevant to the set though making its inclusion utterly pointless.
Moving onto disc two you’ll find roughly 90 minutes of video featurettes followed by the usual selection of trailers and gallery sections. Unfortunately everything is promotional in nature, making this one giant Electronic Press Kit with the kind of material they broadcast on TV and the internet around the time of theatrical release in order to drum up interest and increase ticket sales. Opening the disc are a series of featurettes which combine talking-head interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the main feature edited together and focusing on one specific aspect of the filmmaking process. All of the footage seems to have been taken from the same interview and behind-the-scenes source as the material found in the making-of on disc one, meaning there is some overlap on these featurettes, but not a great deal. Inside the IMF (21mins) is the first and most vomit-inducing of the lot as the cast and crew discuss the characters and the wonderful job done in casting them. There is a level of back-slapping and insincere complimentary conversation here that suggests the cast know the last time their fellow actors had a bowel movement.
Fortunately the featurettes that follow all focus on more interesting aspects of the shoot and generally incorporate far more behind-the-scenes footage which is explained by the interviews from the cast (almost exclusively Tom Cruise given his role as producer on the film) and crew playing over the top of the on-screen action. Stunts are covered in Mission Action: Inside the Action Unit (24mins), the new pre-visualisation tool that allows the director to create a videogame style mock-up of the scenes is focused upon in Visualising the Mission (10mins) while Mission: Metamorphosis (8mins) looks at the creation of the mask-making device seen in the film. Then finally there is a look at the scoring sessions in Scoring the Mission (5mins). All of these featurettes offer the bare minimum of insight to the individual aspects they cover, with the stunts featurette for example briskly moving from one major stunt to another but still managing to prove infinitely more interesting than the Inside the IMF featurette simply because they have to include some technical insight to the process in order to make the content in any way valid. This is true for the other featurettes, as is the fact that Tom Cruise features heavily in everything right down to an impromptu visit to the scoring session where he starts conducting the orchestra for a laugh. His presence is always felt in these featurettes be it someone praising his bravery and skills as a “I do my own stunts” actor to him validating almost every creative decision made during the production.
The remaining extras on the disc are if anything, even more promotional in nature. You have a Moviefone Unscripted (8mins) piece which sees Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams interview each other on the AOL show using their own questions and questions sent in by viewers. At one point in the interview Cruise was looking so deeply into Abrams’ eyes whilst thanking him for simply being born I honestly thought Cruise was going to jump him. Unbelievably sycophantic we learn nothing from the interview beyond the depths people will sink in order to promote a product, and I sincerely believe Abrams’ at least jumped straight into a shower after the experience. Less shocking but still ultimately rather pointless is Launching the Mission (14mins), a reel from the launch events held in New York, Rome, London, Paris and Japan in which Tom Cruise travels by land, air and sea in order to meet and greet his legions of devoted fans. For all the damage he does to himself in the numerous featurettes on this set, you’ve got to at least say that he knows how to give back to the fans.
Rounding out the disc are a series of trailers (the original Teaser, the Japanese Trailer and 2 Theatrical Trailers), six TV Spots and a generic Photo Gallery whilst you will also find the Excellence in Film tribute reel which played at the 2005 BAFTA’s where Tom Cruise was awarded with the “Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film”. Like the MTV tribute reel found on disc one you literally just get the montage of clips from his various films played to music, with no sign of the acceptance speech or presentation from the actual ceremony.
There are also at least two Easter Eggs on the second disc, easily found by fumbling around on your remote control on the main menu screens. When you strike it lucky you’ll be presented with two very short video clips from the set, one showing Abrams going up in the sky with a stunt pilot and another showing the Italian extras on set dressed as priests and nuns dancing a jig and generally having a bit of fun.
All extras including the commentary are subtitled in English. Several other languages are also included for the video extras with full details found in the subtitles section in the right-hand column on the page.
The worst you could probably say about M:I:III is that it’s a safe and sometimes predictable summer action movie, but at the same time it’s very hard to deny just how well produced and executed the film is with a compelling story, a great cast and some of the best action sequences since the Bourne movies. Sure I would love to see a darker take on the proceedings, and with the setup provided by the opening scene and the menace Hoffman brings to the film it’s not hard to imagine, but at the end of the day you’d be straying from the original concept.
The film looks and sounds great on DVD but sadly the extras on this two-disc set are incredibly average, with only the commentary, making-of and deleted scenes found on disc one offering anything truly worthy of your time and even then it’s all very generic supplemental material. This is both increasingly common and very disappointing in the case of M:I:III as when you look at the volume of behind-the-scenes footage they obviously have at their disposal and the level of work that went into the production (you could do a 30 minute documentary on the bridge sequence alone) there is so much potential here for some great bonus content. As it is you’ll probably find a shortened though no less informative version of everything that is present on disc two of this set on the official website which is loaded with the kind of EPK material included here.