The Films Directed By J.J Abrams – Part 1 of 5: Mission Impossible III (2006)

Ethan Hunt has retired from active IMF duty. He spends his days training new IMF recruits. Engaged to the beautiful Julia – he is content to live the quiet life and put his days of combating international espionage behind him.

Much to his chagrin – he is reactivated when his protege Lindsey Farris goes missing behind enemy lines.

Hunt gets his crew together to rescue her, but the mission is a failure.

Farris’ captor/murderer is Owen Davian. A ruthless arms dealer devoid of compassion or remorse. He is intent on selling a deadly superweapon known as “The Rabbit’s Foot”.

When Team Hunt’s mission to capture him is unsuccessful – Julia is put in the firing line.

Hunt must break every rule he’s ever lived by in order to keep her safe and stop Davian.

I’m expecting this series to divide a lot of my readers. Abrams’ career and the films he’s made seem to have polarised the internet. Talkbackers have heated discussions lasting days that debate his merits or lack of.

Well – I’m going to come out and say it. I’m a fan of Abrams. For the most part I enjoy his movies and honestly believe that he is a very talented filmmaker.

I think Mission: Impossible III is one of the most accomplished and confident directorial debuts I’ve ever seen.

Being familiar with Abrams five films to date as a director – it’s interesting to look back on this one with that accumulated knowledge. The emergence of what would become known as his directorial trademarks are fun to spot.

  • Night time scenes are all shot in a similar way, harsh grainy light contrasted with inky darkness.
  • There is a specific “Macguffin” which the protagonist must acquire or protect. Often the object has the potential to cause widespread destruction.
  • The lead protagonist always has a team of allies. He/she may already have them as the film begins or will acquire them along the way. These allies each have specific talents which aid our protagonist in achieving his/her goal.
  • The villains are TRULY ruthless with little or no virtues.
  • Slusho – a fictional soft drunk – is mentioned.
  • Michael Giacchino always provides a FANTASTIC score.
  • LENS FLARES!!!

These little details are now typical of Abrams in identifying him as an auteur. Whilst his choice of projects may be populist – there’s no denying that he is a filmmaker who puts his own unique stamp on his work.

Out of all the Mission: Impossible movies to date – this one has the best cast. It’s always great to see Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell – Hunt’s trusty sidekick (and the only character/actor other than him to be in all of the movies). Jonathan Rhy Meyers and Maggie Q also provide solid support as the other secret agents who make up the team.

Phillip Seymour is evil PERSONIFIED as the pitiless Owen Davian. This film wastes no time in setting him up to be most terrifying villain that Hunt has ever faced. We see his malevolence illustrated perfectly in the harrowing pre-credits sequence that opens the movie. A sequence which draws us in within seconds.

Once we’re in – that’s it. This film just doesn’t stop. I noticed how quickly the title sequence flies by. It’s like the film is in a hurry to get going. Time is an important factor in the story being told, and Abrams expertly uses it to stimulate our adrenal glands. A film so tense there is hardly a minute where we aren’t squirming in anticipation of what ever plot twist will be thrown up next!

This is a film where the final battle has our hero fight the bad guy knowing he has a bomb in his head that’s going to explode any second. It’s tense stuff.

Everything is just brilliantly done. The character moments between Hunt and his fiance’/wife Julia are affecting and believable. Especially a poignant scene in the beginning where due to the secrecy of his work, a grieving Hunt is unable to confide in her.

A fun aspect of this entry is how we see the inner workings of the IMF. There’s a bravura sequence where Hunt and his guys must break into the VATICAN to kidnap Davian. We are finally shown how the masks they use are created.

There’s also a brief moment where we get to see how truly great an actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman was. There’s a sequence where Hunt is supposed to be disguised as Davian – and Hoffman mimics Tom Cruises facial expressions and body language to a tee. It proves how much a chameleon he was – and is a sombre reminder of how the acting world is a little less of an interesting place without him.

The action sequences are a sight to behold. When Davian is rescued from the IMF by his henchmen on the bridge, it’s an exercise in nerve shredding tension. Bombs, guns, drones, helicopters – you name it.

Just as you think the film can’t get any more tense it does. When Hunt has to rescue Julia from Davian and is told he has only 48 hours to do so – he’s hit with the sudden complication of being arrested by his own agency!

You don’t get the chance to relax. It holds you in it’s grip right until the end. And the humorous use of Sister Sledge’s disco classic “We Are Family” in one pivotal scene further drives home how much Hunt needs his colleagues in order to defeat the bad guy, save the woman he loves… and the rest of the world at large.

Once scene that particularly impressed me is when Hunt has to steal the “Rabbit’s Foot” from a high rise building in Shanghai. We see him get into the structure but we don’t see what happens inside. We then cut to the other members of his team waiting for him to gain the device. Then suddenly Hunt bursts out with it. Without us knowing how he got it!

Any other director would make a big deal of showing us how the hero did that, but not Abrams. When the hero is finally obtaining the object he’s needed throughout the entire film… it’s then we have a moment or two with the supporting cast!

Come on guys – love or hate Abrams… that’s BRAVE. 

And it’s not like we even get a chance to notice – as almost immediately there’s a bone crunching car chase through the streets that rockets the film seamlessly to it’s STUNNING climax!

Of all Tom Cruise’s performances as Ethan Hunt, this one is my favourite. We see him hurt, we see him bleed, we see him grieve and we see him love. For the first time in these movies he actually seems human. 

The more human a hero is, the more I can buy a story no matter how much outlandish shit it throws at me.

And if all that ain’t enough – we get a blistering performance from Laurence Fishburne as Brassel – Hunt’s abrasive and very funny boss.

Mission: Impossible III is a superb action thriller. Sure the plot might crib a little from True Lies and other great secret agent movies, but when it’s done this well – who the hell cares right?

The Man Who Saved Movies. There’s A Charge In My Head. I’m Going To Die Unless You Kill Me. 

 

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  • The Magic Hunter

    Good one, Stu! Count me in as a fan of Abrams, going back to “Alias” (which had all the hallmarks you mention). I guess, if you realllllly stretch this series out, you can end with “Star Wars: Episode IX.” I think it’ll be called “Sidney Bristow on Hoth.”

    For the record, though, my favorite “MI” movie is “Rogue Nation.” The action was a straight up roller coaster.

    • My favourite out of all of them is the first one. Nostalgia reasons as well as being a great film!

      • I thought it wasn’t bad, but I never got why they killed the whole team in the first five minutes. Then they spent 20 years building the team back up. The rest I haven’t seen.

        • They’re worth watching Dude…

          • I don’t like Simon Pegg all that much outside comedy, but I have heard they’re basically the better versions of the Bond films. What do you think?

          • I don’t think they’re better than Bond…

          • Stalkeye

            Nope, not at all.

  • Not seen it but gonna start sharpening the axe now.

  • Social Justice Kaiju

    I remember catching this in theaters and boy oh boy did that opening sequence put me on the edge of my seat. That scene where Tom is threatening, then offering, and finally breaking down and begging Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP) as the other guy just looks at him impassively, showing no hint of anything, not even glee as he pulls the trigger. All the reasons you mentioned why MI:3 works are what I love about it. Here’s a superspy who is trying to settle down and is yanked back into fray. I think for this is when the franchise kicked into overdrive.

  • Social Justice Kaiju

    I came in late on as Abrams fan but this movie, along with Cloverfield (producer I know but I still consider it his baby) that cemented him as someone to keep an eye on.

    • Agreed. Loved Cloverfield. Didn’t include it here because he didn’t direct it – but I’ll talk about both those movies closer to the time that the third one comes out. Next year I believe…

      • Antonio_Bangbareass

        Cloverfield had some of the best audio i ever heard in a theatre. The bass rumble in some scenes literally rattled your teeth.

  • Jack’T’Colton

    I haven’t watched this in ages but I recall it taking itself very seriously and I found that scene you mentioned between cruise and his wife laughable. His silence and stony face went on too long it was almost like a parody I felt.

  • I_am_better

    I enjoyed the hell out of this one, even though the over-reliance on close-ups takes some of the thrill out of a few action scenes (the helicopter chase, for one)

    • Bop

      That close-up addiction of Hollywood really annoys me. It’s part of the movie you can forget because you don’t know what is going on at all. I wish they would film action scenes better.

  • Stalkeye
  • Bop

    I watched this only once. Really couldn’t get into it. Don’t know why.

  • King Chubasqueiro

    I’ll always remeber M:I:3 as the first theatrical movie made for pre-binge TV: it’s edited to have commercial breaks and all and other than the late Hoffman it was kind of – something. I can’t remember much about it.

  • Antonio_Bangbareass

    I honestly forgot that JJ directed this.

  • Kinda bad.

  • Jack Shepherd

    I’m 50/50 on Abrams, but I’m definitely a fan of M:I 3. When I first saw it, I definitely thought it was one of the best action films I’d seen in YEARS. I’ll have to revisit sometime soon.