Tom Cruise is no mug. When he picked JJ Abrams to cover his back for another sally through his Big Franchise, he was knowingly hiring pop-culture’s golden child. Abrams’ hip TV jinks have stirred global water-cooler conflabs tracking the fathomless trails of his twin peaks: Alias and Lost. For his part, Abrams wanted to accomplish two things with his turn as Missionary. First, make it a personal story, to find what lurks behind the glacial features of Ethan Hunt, the superspy guy who would rather hang off tall buildings than confess his feelings. Second, to regain something of the tag-team trickery and camp nuttiness of Bruce Webber’s original TV series. Something Abrams has proved adept at, given Alias was built out of Mission: Impossible’s knotty conventions.
The news is halfway good. While the personal touch struggles to be anything more than conventional, try a sequence in which the four-strong IMF team (count in Ving Rhames, an adorable Maggie Q, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers) infiltrate the Vatican. Here is Abrams’ magpie devotion fully in gear: devious, silly, perfectly syncopated with crispy-clean edits, and featuring an orange Lamborghini blown to little orangey bits and Cruise in a cassock. Once you’ve drawn breath, and that immortal theme music begins its pulsating rush, you get the urge to applaud. Mission 3 is leaps, bounds and base-jumps ahead of the turgid Mission 2, even a trick or two ahead of the convoluted original — but it’s still not entirely the film you want it to be.
What we have with this ultra-expensive, thick-sheened superstar-vehicle is cracking sequences in a ragged whole; a movie crowded with ideas, a geek’s trilling delight in envisioning gadgetry (love the brain bombs) and impossible situations (love the “fulcruming” off a Shanghai skyscraper), that keeps writing itself into corners. While Abrams brilliantly explains exactly how those feature-perfect masks are carried off, to shunt a muddled Hunt from crisis to crisis a mobile phone must conveniently ring with the plot on the other end. On the build Mission 3 is urgent and addictive, but when closing the deal it’s contrived and predictable.
For instance, a chilling Philip Seymour Hoffman skirts the temptation to ham up nerveless villain Owen Davian, a global purveyor of techno-terror, but fades from importance when Abrams starts a rather obvious game of traitor-in-our-midst. The glassy romance, that touchy-feely bit, is made sweet by Michelle Monaghan, but requires lumbering scenes of Cruise, straining at his emotional range, getting all heated and unprofessional in order to save his lady. The increasingly fraught and dishevelled Hunt, forever front and centre, remains about as clandestine as Krusty the Clown. Wouldn’t it be great to have a Mission: Impossible where no one has to go rogue and they, like, outwit the badguys?
Given all the violence meted out to women, it’s no wonder Abrams has been dubbed the new Hitchcock. He’s got a fair few of the fatman’s magic licks as well. There’s a classic macguffin called the Rabbit’s Foot that could be the “anti-God” — a hilariously lightheaded bit of conspiracy-making, about a compound that will bring about the end of mankind, delivered by a pleasingly nerdy Simon Pegg. Hitch, though, would have realised such dark-dizzy fun doesn’t need embellishing.