Article about the Mission:Impossible 3 Movie


John Small is a news editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper published in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. He wrote the following review of the latest MI film. It is also a discussion of how the films are not the Mission Impossible fans of the TV show fell in love with so many years earlier. Many thanks to John for giving me permission to post his article on my website. Responsible for the content and owner of the copyright is John Small.
I hope you enjoy reading it.

By John A. Small, News Editor, Johnston County Capital-Democrat

 

I REALLY, REALLY MISS PETER GRAVES

Assuming you've not yet done so but may still be
planning to over the next week or two, there are two
things I believe you should know before you make the
trip to your favorite movie theatre to see "Mission: Impossible III."

One: Reports of supposedly weak weekend grosses
notwithstanding, It is actually a pretty good movie

Two: Labels and pre-publicity notwithstanding, it is
NOT "Mission: Impossible." Not really. Nor were its
two theatrical predecessors, for that matter.

Allow me to explain my second observation before
addressing the first.
The product of an era when the success of Sean
Connery's film appearances as James Bond had resulted
in spies and secret agents replacing cowboys and
doctors as the number one heroes on TV ("The Man From
UNCLE," "I Spy," "The Avengers"), the original
"Mission: Impossible" television series stood out from
the pack by exchanging James Bond-style action and
pyrotechnics for complex, compelling plots that one
had to actually pay attention to.

The show rarely employed overt violence – especially
after its first season – and the backgrounds and
private lives of the recurring heroes, the agents of
the Impossible Missions Force, were deliberately left
unexamined over the seven seasons (1966-67 to 1972-73)
the series originally aired on CBS-TV. The success of
the series depended on its unique style and attention
to plot and detail, and fans responded in a big way –
the show outlasted those other similar shows of that
era, and its syndicated reruns continued to generate
new fans all around the world over the ensuing years.
A short-lived revival of the series that ran on ABC in
the late 1980s was far less successful, in large part
because the writers and producers pretty much ignored
the very elements that had made the original such an
important part of American popular culture in the
first place. That failed revival led at least one TV
historian to conclude – wrongly, in my opinion – that
a complex show like "Mission: Impossible" simply could
not succeed in the post-MTV era of quick soundbites
and short audience attention spans.
 

So when star-producer Tom Cruise obtained the rights
to do a film version of the series just a few years
later, he decided to update "Mission: Impossible" for
those younger viewers who likely had never seen – and
would have had trouble sitting through – those
original episodes. Just how successful his efforts to
reinvigorate the old series have been is, I suppose, a
matter of interpretation.

On the one hand, there is no denying that the films
have made a lot of money and drawn in a new generation
of fans, many of whom may never have seen any of the
original shows. On the other hand... well, Cruise has
always claimed to have been a fan of the original
series, but you sure couldn’t tell it by watching his
movie versions.

Consider: In the very first "M:I" film (released in
1996, exactly 30 years after the TV series first
debuted), the character of IMF head agent Jim Phelps –
the hero of the original series – was revealed to have
become a traitor. (Peter Graves, who had played the
role in the original show, remains angry over what the
film did to his character to this day; the role was
taken over by Jon Voight for the film.)
While this particular plot twist did inspire one
writer – Yours Truly, to be exact – to compose an
essay explaining how such a character transformation
might have realistically occurred (if you're
interested, this essay can be found on the Internet at
http://www.pjfarmer.com/woldnewton/Phelps.pdf), 10
years later it still seems an unnecessary plot device
that betrayed everything that made the TV series
great.

The first sequel, 2000’s "Mission: Impossible II,"
took that betrayal one step further by injecting a
near-lethal overdose of stunt work and explosive
special effects – particularly in the final
confrontation between hero and villain that seemed to
go on forever. The plot was pretty lame by past M:I
standards, and the villain – another IMF agent turned
traitor – was a character straight out of some really
bad 1970s Marvel comic book. (And the inclusion of a
romance between Cruise’s character and another agent
is an element that M:I creator Bruce Geller never
would have allowed in the original series.)

Which brings us at last to "Mission: Impossible III."
This third installment of the film series is a
definite improvement over its predecessor – but that’s
a little like saying that "Curly Joe" DeRita made a
better member of the Three Stooges than Joe Besser.

On the positive side, there are actually some moments
this time around in which it appears that the
screenwriters may have actually gone back and watched
some of the old TV episodes to get an idea of what
made the series work so well in the first place. This
is especially true during the sequence in which Cruise
and his team of agents actually infiltrate the
Vatican; it is a caper that would have done Peter
Graves and his team proud, and is probably as close as
any of the films have come to recapturing the spirit
of the original show.
Unfortunately, such moments prove too few and far
between. While the basic plot shows some improvement
over the previous film, there is again an overreliance
on special effects and stunt work – i.e. explosions
and shoot-’em-ups – all of it impressive, to be sure,
but terribly wrong for an M:I story. One sequence in
particular, involving a violent confrontation on a
bridge, seems particularly out of place and, while
exciting, is ultimately even less believable than a
similar scene in last year’s "Fantastic Four."
There is yet one more IMF agent turned traitor, and
the main villain this time out – played by Phillip
Seymour Hoffman, the latest in a growing line of
contemporary actors whose popularity I simply do not
understand – is the most cardboard-like of the three
films, a generic nogoodnik who seems to serve no real
function other than growling at the camera and
reminding us that he is the villain.


In short, "M:I III" is a pretty good James Bond film –
or would be, if James Bond were in it. Like the two
films that preceded it, however, it is not so much a
continuation of the original television series as it
is a negation of it. The IMF has gone from being a
small group of dedicated patriots acting in the
nation’s best interests to just one more agency
top-heavy with bureaucrats and apparently more than
its share of turncoats. And for all the modern
emphasis on the lead agent’s private life, his
character fails to generate even a fraction of the
audience empathy and loyalty as those agents in the
original show about whom we knew next to nothing.
It’s a good movie, fun to watch and full of humor and
nailbiting action. And Tom Cruise makes a better
secret agent than I might have guessed when he first
launched these films a decade ago. But it’s still not
"Mission: Impossible," no matter what the title says.
Younger viewers may argue that this is picking too
fine a nit, but that’s the modern generation for you.
No respect for tradition...

(Copyright © 2006, by John A. Small)