At this point, the impossible mission may be finding some way to make this story work once more.
That Lalo Schifrin score still jumps and in this version there is a propulsive shot of percussive adrenalin. The idea of super-spies who speak every language, are in superb condition, and know every aspect of spycraft from shooting to fighting to explosives to computers to physics to finding the coolest sunglasses — that still works pretty well, too, and it’s always a treat to see who the new bad guy will be. But making it more than ever-bigger explosions and chases? That’s where this mission self-destructs long before it’s over.
This time, it’s personal — the script tries to turn up the heat by giving the hero a love interest and the movie begins with both of them tied up and man threatening to kill her if Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) does not give him something called a rabbit’s foot. She is Julia (Michelle Monaghan), a nurse. Flashback to their engagement party, where he is explaining his boring job with the state Department of Transportation monitoring traffic patterns.
The men find him snoozerific, but the women in essence, say, “Hey, he’s Tom Cruise! We’d marry him even if he jumps on sofas.”
Hunt has given up spying for love, and now has a nice, safe, teaching job underneath that boring Transportation Department office building. But his best student (“Felicity’s” Keri Russell) has been captured, so he’s quickly back on board with old friends (Ving Rhames as computer whiz Luther) and new ones (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Maggie Q).
The bad guy at the center of all this is Owen Davian (“Capote” Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman). And that rabbit’s foot is some kind of end of the world device (“the anti-God”) locked away in some kind of impenetrable building blah blah blah. And maybe one of the good guys isn’t good all the way through. And maybe there will be some of that face-and-voice switching we always expect from the MI series.
That’s the problem. It’s just what we expect. It’s been a long dry stretch since last summer’s bang-bangs, and all those months of Oscar-bait dramas and winter doldrum leftovers have left audiences so parched for blow-em-ups that they might not notice the under-written script. Just don’t try to think.
The bright spots are Hoffman, who gets more out of the word “fun” than Cruise gets out of his big dramatic reaction to seeing his fiancee at gunpoint, Laurence Fishburne, as a superspy boss-man, who dryly points out that his reference to The Invisible Man is “Welles, not Ellison, in case you want to be cute again,” and the Q-equivalent, “Shaun of the Dead’s” Simon Pegg. Decidedly unbright spots are Cruise, who seems to have suffered charisma-extraction, the bantering about getting married in the middle of split-second calculations, chases, and explosions and seeing a character disguised as another doing stunts that even by the low standards of probability for this genre just seem silly.
Same with all the just-miss bullet dodging. For a bunch of characters who are supposed to be the world’s most accurate shots, they miss a lot. And with the “make the explosions really loud and they won’t notice” plot omissions and inconsistencies.
The real problem that keeps interfering with what would otherwise suffice as popcorn pleasures of the movie-as-thrill-ride is that in the midst of all the faux resolute jaw clenches and corny banter there is something genuinely troubling — the specter of torture of prisoners and Machiavellian corruption. Intended to give the movie a jolt of “Law and Order”-style ripped-from-the-headlines electricity, instead it throws the movie fatally off-kilter.
Parents should know that this movie features extensive and explicit peril and violence with many explosions and chases, torture, and many injuries and deaths. There are some sexual references and brief, non-explicit sexual situations. Characters drink, smoke, and use brief strong language.
Families who see this movie should talk about the conflict Ethan faces between doing what makes him happy and doing what he thinks is right and between telling Julia the truth and protecting her from it. They should also talk about one character’s comment that you can always tell people’s characters by the way they treat someone they don’t have to treat well.
Families who see this movie will enjoy the two earlier films and the James Bond series and Lord of War. They might also enjoy taking a look at the original television series, which is available on DVD.