Paramount's mission sounded impossible. Its assignment? Resurrect Tom Cruise's lucrative espionage franchise, which director John Woo left in shambles after the overly stylish and unreasonably convoluted 2000 installment.
To move forward, the studio and star (a credited producer) looked back - past the first Mission: Impossible movie to the 1960s television program that started it all. The M:I team grabbed TV wunderkind J.J. Abrams to direct after delighting in his original creation Alias, itself a modernized reworking of the spy show. But Abrams does far more than simply reboot the machine. He provides a much-needed stab of adrenaline through the franchise's creative heart.
Action series tend to lose steam by part three, from the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard movies to Beverly Hills Cop and the recent Terminator sequel. There's no such sign of fatigue in Abrams' Mission, a bang-up extravaganza that wraps its fingers around our throat during a tightly wound opening scene and rarely loosens its grip for the two-hour mad dash to the credits.
A decade has passed since we last saw IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise). He has retired from field work to train recruits, and plans to settle down with lovely nurse Julia (Michelle Monaghan). When one of Ethan's pupils (Keri Russell) goes off the grid while tracking ruthless arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the agency implores him to rejoin the fray and complete her vital mission.
Most would agree that the first two Mission movies were impossible to follow. Not so with Abrams' nail-biter, which enjoys a streamlined plot as it puts Hunt through the emotional wringer.
While familiar faces are always welcome - Ving Rhames returns to Cruise's crew as tech guru Luther Stickell - it's the newcomers that make memorable marks. Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers contribute to Hunt's undercover cause, though the latter appears miffed that he's following up a winning turn in Woody Allen's Match Point with a summer blockbuster. Laurence Fishburne smolders as Hunt's IMF supervisor, and Billy Crudup hides secrets as an informative agent.
The key addition is Hoffman, a black-hearted foe forced to match Cruise's limitless energy with an unflinching menace. The Oscar winner makes for a tremendous villain, using cruel intimidation tactics to psychologically destroy Cruise's Energizer bunny of a hero.
Abrams' decision to stick with his tested technical crew helps him tremendously. He taps Alias writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci for an icy cool screenplay. Composer Michael Giacchino orchestrates a pulse-pounding music track, the kind he uses on Alias and the island drama Lost to help make those shows such riveting rides. Behind the camera, Abrams frames his action in tight, constraining boxes that comfortably suit the larger-than-life Cruise, making him seem more human, practically vulnerable.
Abrams walks away from Mission as the big winner, stepping up to the plate for his first feature film and bashing a home run over the left-field fences. His Mission is relentless in its task, a popcorn thriller that keeps pouring it on. The tense action sequences are intricate mousetraps of suspense that continuously stack the odds against Hunt, making us squirm as we wonder how he'll triumph. Mission is a blast, a proper kickoff to the summer season. It proves Hollywood remains capable of staging taut adventures on the big screen, though it's going to take innovative small-screen directors like Abrams to usher in the next wave of potential blockbusters.
Aka Mission: Impossible 3.
Let me rub that for you.