‘Mission Impossible 3’: A Low Point in the Franchise

With the charm of Tom Cruise and the thrills of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), the Mission Impossible films are universally loved. But every adventure has its peaks and valleys, and the Mission Impossible series is no different. Out of the six action-packed films, Mission Impossible 3, sadly emerges as the franchise’s weakest link.

Rabbit’s Foot and the Ill-defined Villain, Owen Davian

From the outset, one could tell that the third installment was a marked departure from the previous films. At the center of the plot is the Rabbit’s Foot, a mysterious artifact whose significance is unclear. It’s the classic MacGuffin – an object of great importance that motivates the characters and advances the plot, but its actual nature is vague. Unfortunately, this narrative device felt far too generic in Mission Impossible 3.

Enter Owen Davian, the villain portrayed by the outstanding Philip Seymour Hoffman. Despite Hoffman’s commendable performance, Davian is disappointingly two-dimensional. As opposed to the well-crafted villains of other Impossible films, Davian seems more like a flat character from a second-rate thriller than a worthy adversary for Ethan Hunt.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mission Impossible 3.

JJ Abrams and the Television Effect

At the helm of Mission Impossible 3 was JJ Abrams, known for his work on popular television shows like Felicity and Alias. This was Abrams’ first foray into directing a major motion picture, and it was clear that he carried over much of his TV show sensibilities into the film. The result? A movie that felt more like an extended episode of a WB show than a blockbuster film.

In many ways, Mission Impossible 3 was Abrams playing it safe. Elements that worked in Felicity and Alias were liberally sprinkled throughout the movie, but the balance seemed off in the world of Mission Impossible.

One of the most glaring examples is the inclusion of Keri Russell — the lead character in Felicity — as Lindsey Farris, an IMF agent. Her character’s death early on in the movie feels more like a convenient plot device to stir emotions — a move that was often employed in Abrams’ television shows.

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Tom Cruise and Keri Russell in Mission Impossible 3.
Tom Cruise, Keri Russell, 2006. ©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

Likewise, the overall narrative prioritized personal drama over action and espionage, mirroring the feel of Abrams’ TV shows. Instead of missions, we were served with a surplus of relationship drama — Ethan Hunt dealing with his fiancée, Julia (played by Michelle Monaghan) and his old friend Luther (played by Ving Rhames).

Cheesy Moments and an Unfulfilled Trip to Shanghai

When it comes to cheesy moments, Mission Impossible 3 has its fair share. From the sentimental dialogue to the overly choreographed fight sequences, many scenes reek of stilted artificiality. It feels reminiscent of campy, formulaic ’80s action film, rather than a sophisticated spy thriller.

Case in point: the over-dramatic Vatican scene. This sequence, where Hunt and his crew infiltrate the Vatican, is littered with clichés. From Luther playing the tech geek with stereotypically bad timing to the exaggerated Italian accents, it’s an unfortunate detour into the realm of cheesy.

Then there’s the Shanghai sequence. The Mission Impossible franchise is known for its exotic locales, but the Shanghai mission falls short. Instead of leveraging the city’s unique landscape for an adrenaline-pumping chase sequence, we get a curiously flat trailer of a scene.

Musgrave, Cameos and the Distracting Cast

One aspect that amplifies the film’s weakness is the lost potential of certain characters and moments. Musgrave (Billy Crudup), for instance, could have been a compelling character. His plot twist, revealing himself as the bad guy, could have been an engaging turn of events. However, the underdeveloped character and lack of buildup to the twist rendered this moment forgettable.

And let’s not forget about the distracting cast. On one hand, you have Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames. On the other, there’s a surprising number of actors known primarily for their TV work. This creates a peculiar tonal imbalance, further enhancing the feeling that you’re watching a glorified TV movie.

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While it’s clear that Abrams tried to introduce new elements into the Mission Impossible franchise, it seems he relied too heavily on his TV roots. This resulted in a film that felt more like an episode of Alias than a Mission Impossible movie. This was a misstep that arguably made the film the weakest in the series.

Turning it Around with Subsequent Installments

At the end of the day, Mission Impossible 3 had all the ingredients to be another memorable installment in the franchise. It had an accomplished cast and a promising director in JJ Abrams, but a mix of underwhelming plot choices and a lack of the usual death-defying action sequences, resulted in a film that felt undercooked.

The charm of the original films lay in their ability to blend high-stakes action, thrilling espionage, and just the right amount of personal stakes. Unfortunately, Mission Impossible 3 lost sight of this successful formula.

So, while we appreciate Abrams for his commendable work on the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, his approach to Mission Impossible 3, was a swing and a miss. But hey, every movie series has its ups and downs. The Mission Impossible franchise has more than redeemed itself in subsequent films.

To his credit, Abrams went on to produce (not direct) the next three installments of the franchise, under his company, Bad Robot Productions, with incredible success. Despite Mission Impossible 3‘s shortcomings, every mission, even the less successful ones, are part of Ethan Hunt’s impossible journey.

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