Yeah, if you're allergic to Tom Cruise, don't go. There are plenty of lines and situations to misread and guffaw at (like the pack of teenage asshats did in the front two rows whenever the movie leaned toward the romantic). But if you have the proper degree of maturity and want a little bang for your buck, then get thee to M:I:III, which is an old-fashioned, high-octane, relentlessly suspenseful action film which manages to be clever and compulsive at once. Thoughts:
1. Surprise, surprise! This is a D.C. movie. Ethan Hunt's cover is the Department of Transportation, and he and fiancee Julia (the unfortunately Katie Holmesish Michelle Monaghan) live in Arlington (or somewhere with a rooftop view of the Capitol and Washington Monument). Julia works at Virginia Regional Hospital, which (zounds!) is not an invention of the filmmakers but an actual place. There is also a spectacular ambush sequence on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (pictured at left).
2. Writer-director J.J. Abrams -- whom Cruise wisely handpicked and who gives the film serious panache, pacing and wit -- slips in deliciously timed digs at the nation's intelligence network. Laurence Fishburne, who appears to be the only guy in Hollywood with a real set of teeth, is given some great zingers as head of the CIA's IMF force: "I shit you not. I will bleed on the flag to make the stripes stay red." Abrams also works in a funny reference to H.G. Wells and Ralph Ellison. An Invisible Man allusion in a Mission: Impossible movie? Great stuff.
3. Abrams knows how good action films are made: by layering the suspense until it is unbearable, then relieving it, then quickly adding more. It compounds beautifully. Take the first action sequence: Cruise and company are retreating from a reconnaisance mission in a helicopter -- through giant spinning wind turbines, while being pursued and fired at -- as one of the agents writhes because there is an electronic bomb in her brain that will go off at any minute unless it is diffused with a defibrillator, which takes an agonizing 30 seconds to charge. Meanwhile, another agent is dangling out of the helicopter.
4. PSH makes for a slovenly sadistic villain. It's also nice to see Billy Crudup working. For all the lengthy delays and creative switcheroos, the film is remarkably cogent and put-together. For all the screenplay revisions and dropped directors, you might expect ground chuck. What you get is a nice juicy burger.
5. Yes, the end is a bit too cute and the whole premise is wafer-thin (MacGuffins and single-mindedness galore). And although the movie's got everything we've come to expect -- double crosses, mistaken identities, a lone man in a network of corruption, the rat on the inside, man vs. woman vs. work, gasp-worthy stunts, terrific gadgetry (Cruise's latex transformation into PSH is very cool) -- it all feels fresh, not dredged. And that's purely a function of Abrams.
In short, this third installment is clearer than the first (whose plot was Rubik's cubish) and grittier than the second (which was a tad too Woo). Now if only the filmmakers had passed on Kanye West's insipid and laughable Mission: Impossible rap, which clatters over the end credits.
P.S. I hate to feed into the "Cruise is crazy" frenzy, but this is really funny. He really made that guy's day.