In MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III, IMF's erstwhile top agent Ethan has taken up training new recruits to prepare for doing the unthinkable: marrying a civilian, nurse Julia (Michelle Monaghan), who believes her fiancÚ works for a much more mundane branch of the government. Coming clean with the about-to-be-missus is an issue right up there with obtaining a mysterious device known as "the rabbit's foot" that may be capable of destroying the world.
The film opens with a sequence depicting Ethan and Julia in dire straits at the hands of arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), then flashes back to show us how things reached this pass, then charges forward through the finale. Director J.J. Abrams, who cowrote the screenplay with Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci all three collaborated for years on the Abrams-created series ALIAS takes welcome time for grace notes, bits of humor and banter that give us a breather from the deafening, metal-shattering action and also provides a reason to actually care about what's going on, rather than (as, for instance, in M:I I) watching some incredibly grumpy, annoyingly self-serious people go about trying to achieve their solitary ends. In some ways, M:I III feels something like ALIAS, which in turn borrows a lot from the original M:I TV series it has a blast with the gadgets and disguises and getaways, and also with the griping and advice (there's a memorable chat where Ving Rhames, returning as Ethan's teammate Luther, quizzes Ethan about his relationship with a younger female agent). There's also at least one show-stopping costume Maggie Q, as IMF agent Zhen, wears an outfit to a Vatican function that may cause some viewers to at least temporarily forget the plot. (The idea is that it will be plausible to the villain's henchmen that their busy boss will be attracted to her we have no questions on this score.)
Cruise is solidly in his element, running, base-jumping, punching, shooting and occasionally even crying persuasively as our hero. Hoffman avoids the temptation to overdo it, playing the villainous Davian as a man secure in the knowledge that he's in control at all times, no matter how things may look at the moment he also has fun with the bits where ... well, this is a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie, after all. Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Laurence Fishburne and Billy Crudup all provide strong support and Simon Pegg (of SHAUN OF THE DEAD fame) is one of the most enjoyable assets here, injecting the particular humor of British office anxiety into the mix. Monaghan makes the most of the love interest, who is refreshingly written as a reasonable person rather than the screaming ninnies that tend to occupy this story function.
Abrams has recruited a lot of his ALIAS team here besides Kurtzman and Orci, there's production designer Scott Chambliss, composer Michael Giacchino and even actor Greg Grunberg in a cameo. (Keri Russell, star of Abrams' earlier series FELICITY, also does well in a key supporting role.) Chambliss does a sumptuous job of moving us with the characters around the globe and Giacchino works greatly in the spirit of Lalo Schifrin, whose MISSION theme is surely one of the best-known riffs on the planet. Despite the huge scope of the film, there is a slightly television-esque quality to it, with lots of close-ups and frenetic cutting, even when the action and location seem fully able to withstand more leisurely examination. On the other hand, the willingness to not try to turn MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE into something it was never designed to be allows it to concentrate fully on all the things that are fun about the premise. Abrams and company, Cruise included, seem to love the whole playground here and show that they know how to run the game vigorously and unpretentiously.