IMF superspy Ethan Hunt is engaged to be married to nurse Julia, who of course has no idea about his real vocation. Although Hunt no longer works in the field, content now to instruct new agents, when he gets the call to assist in extracting one of his former trainees he is drawn into a dangerous confrontation with elusive weapons dealer Owen Davian.
Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible was an artfully plotted and visually stylish action thriller inspired by the cult TV show. The undercover assignments of agent Ethan Hunt continued in the disappointing sequel directed by John Woo that, in a reaction to some criticisms of the original, dumbed down the plot to little more than OTT action scenes interspaced with people continually removing rubber masks. This oft-delayed third instalment arrives courtesy of J.J. Abrams who appears to be the ideal choice, having mixed convoluted spy shenanigans with character driven drama in telly show Alias. However he isn't as successful with his big screen directorial debut which is a decidedly mediocre affair.
Opening with our hero and his fiancé captives of the sadistic Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) ranting about the location of the elusive Rabbit's Foot – the film's MacGuffin around which the thin plot revolves – the audience is then taken back to a more sedate, domestic scene in which Ethan and Julia are enjoying their engagement party. Of course its not long before Mr Hunt is drawn back into active service and Abrams quickly gets stuck into the first set-piece, a rescue mission which culminates in a visually striking helicopter chase through a wind farm. The man responsible for telly phenomenon Lost can certainly handle such scenes but shoots his blockbuster bolt too early with an impressive bridge set action scene that appears midway through the film and is never bettered, resulting in a rather flat third act.
The narrative is extremely basic, a technical by the numbers exercise in plotting rather than an engaging story. Indeed, it seems to exist for the sole purpose of serving Tom Cruise's ego as he takes centre stage at the expense of the likes of co-stars Ving Rhames and Maggie Q who do little more than sit back and watch him run around. Philip Seymour Hoffman does what's required as the villain of the piece, acting suitably aloof when not planting bombs in people's heads. Although his character gets somewhat sidelined for large sections of the films running time by an overly familiar twist. No wonder he, like so many other cast members, appears visibly disinterested.
A slight improvement on the previous instalment M:I:3 is still an unremarkable experience, seemingly manufactured on autopilot. It offers the usual accoutrements of the series (self-destructing mission briefings, race against time infiltrations involving dangling off ropes and the ever reliable rubber masks) without adding anything new to either the franchise or the action movie genre in general. A cynically formulaic affair that, a couple of decent set-pieces notwithstanding, fails to engage the audience not least in terms of plot and character.