M:I III – Mission: Mundane

Have you ever seen those behind the scenes, or “making of” shows, where they detail the making of a movie? In particular, if you have ever seen a montage of a director calling out “Action!” “Action!” “And…action!”, then you’ll be in familiar territory if you go to a screening of M:I III.

As with all reviews, this contains spoilers. If you have already seen the movie, or just don’t care, read on.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is retired from field work and trains IMF agents. To his fiancee (Michelle Monaghan), he is simply a longtime civil servant, toiling away at the VA Dept. or Transportation. When one of his trainees (Keri Russell) is snatched by bad guy Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) in Germany and hauled off to Mexico, Hunt’s boss Musgrave (Billy Crudup) asks him to go extract her. To support Hunt, he’s offering a team: Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames), Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and Zhen (Maggie Q, who seems to be in the movie as the token tough-guy female who can also look stunning in an evening dress). Hunt is, of course, reluctant to go, not wishing to endanger his relationship with his soon-to-be wife, but if he doesn’t, there’s no movie, so off he goes.

Got all that?

The rescue goes well until a device planted in the trainee’s head kills her, the top dog at IMF, Brassel (Laurence Fishburne) is furious at the operation gone awry, and Musgrave and Hunt get their asses handed to them – a scene that includes one of the wittiest and most literary throwaway lines I’ve ever heard in a movie. Brassel asks about being an invisible man, and says, “Wells, not Ellison”. No doubt most people either missed this completely or wondered what the hell he was talking about.

In any case, Hunt devises a scheme to snatch Davian from some black tie event at The Vatican, and we get the usual hi-tech toys, split-second timing, and a blown up Lamborghini for our troubles. Then Davian gets rescued courtesy of German paramilitary ops, who also blown the Chesapeake Bridge to smiterhreens, Hunt is thought to have information he’s not sharing and is accused of being a rogue agent, brought in, escapes, his fiancee is kidnapped by Davian who wants Hunt to bring him the “rabbit’s foot” – this film’s MacGuffin – we travel to Shanghai, get to see more things blown up and more impossible tech, the movie devolves into yet another “mole in the IMF” film, and…

Well, you get the idea.

Afred Hitchcock was a master of using the MacGuffinin in his movies. When done well – North by Northwest, or Psycho – the use of the MacGuffin can bring a depth to the story and elicit more intrigue than a straight telling of that story ever could, because we wonder about the MacGuffin, and the consequences that surround it. Consider the briefcase in Pulp Fiction: we have no idea what’s in that briefcase, and it doesn’t really matter all that much. It only matters that is is. In M:I III, the MacGuffin is neither terribly mysterious, nor do we care all that much about it. It’s simply an excuse to use the revenge model of the action movie and blow things to bits.

The movie is directed by JJ Abrams, he of Lost and Alias fame. Abrams seems to have gone to the “closer is better” school, as there are loads of too-close closeups throughout the film, and he also employs the jerky camera technique that seems to be popular for who knows what reason these days. Neither of these devices serve him well, and neither do much of anything to distract us from what is not a very good movie. Neither does Cruise’s inability to submerge himself in his character, rather than almost constantly reminding us he is, after all, Tom Cruise, or the constant outshining of Cruise by his fellow actors, even in small scenes. Although the movie contains quite a lot of action scenes, none of them match the suspense of the entry into the NOC from M:I the first.

The first installment of M:I, from Brian dePalma, had a not so plausible storyline, but was so comfortable within itself that it didn’t matter at all. The movie was fun, because it was designed to be fun, with a hint of tongue in cheek just as the original series offered up. While this third incarnation is better than the sequel it follows – since John Woo’s film was dull and lifeless despite the action going on – it pales in comparison to the first, and I don’t consider it to be anything more than mind fluff, ripe for picking during the summer movie kickoff. Like cotton candy for the brain, the details of this film will dissolve quickly, and only the most anal of moviegoers will likely remember anything of substance from it.

My rating: 2 out of 4 stars

M:I III is rated PG-13 for violence, more violence, dismal plotlines, poor character development, and extreme closeups that may induce seasickness in some viewers.

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