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Mission: Impossible III

(2006, Abrams)
The third part on a film franchise

"What I'm selling and who I'm selling it to should be the last thing you're concerned about... Ethan."

In 1996, Tom Cruise took on the role of Ethan Hunt for the first time. A highly skilled spy that ended up on the wrong end of a conspiracy that framed him for the death of his whole team forcing him to go rogue to clear his name. 10 years, one sequel, and numerous production woes later, Cruise would take on the role once again in what would end up being a very different film; one that would change the course of this franchise for good.

Mission: Impossible III features a semi-retired Hunt, who is now a trainer of new recruits while enjoying "normal" life with his fiancée Julia (Michelle Monaghan). Unfortunately, when a young trainee (Keri Russell) ends up captured, Ethan is pulled back into action; first to try to rescue her and then to try to stop Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the notorious arms dealer that had captured her. And it is at the hands of Davian that the franchise introduces a concept that seemed foreign to this franchise: a real threat and a real vulnerability to our "hero".

Ever since I first saw this, it has remained as my favorite of the franchise. Director J.J. Abrams and his team of co-writers do a great job of subtly introducing a certain level of intimacy and closeness to the interactions that make everything feel personal, as opposed to the detached "uber-coolness" of the previous film. You feel it in Ethan's interactions with his trusted right-hand man, Luther (Ving Rhames) or in his brief interactions with Director of Operations Musgrave (Billy Crudup), or in other small things, like him knowing the names of Julia's friends and co-workers. There's a familiarity to everything that makes you feel less secure than if it this was some other Bond-esque action film.

But the biggest way we feel that threat is through Davian himself. Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers what is probably the best antagonist performance of the franchise. His Davian is ruthless but without veering too much into "moustache-twirling". There's more of a banality to it, an "I don't care" vibe from him that I just find chilling. The above quote is one of the many threats that he throws at Ethan after being captured, and the way he pauses and enunciates Ethan's name is just one of many ways in which he signals to him "I know who you are now. I can get to you."

But aside from that, Abrams and company do countless other things to make the film feel more grounded and less exaggerated and ludicrous. From the way they coordinate infiltrating the Vatican or a corporate building in Shanghai to how they come up with their iconic masks, everything feels real. Even the action setpieces, all of which are great, feel more organic and grounded in reality than the ones in M:I-2 or in future films, regardless of how cool or great they are. To me, the ambush at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge remains one of the most thrilling and exciting action scenes of "recent" years.

Finally, the other aspect of the film that makes it my favorite of the franchise is the team aspect. To me, this is the first film of the franchise where the team actually feels like *a team*. In the first one, it's understandable because Ethan is just assembling a team of rogues he doesn't know, but in the second one, you just have Luther and some random guy in a helicopter. Here, you get that sense of purpose in each member of the team, plus that sense of camaraderie between each of them that makes it feel more like a team film instead of the Ethan Hunt Show.

All of those advantages are things that they've managed to maintain through all the other sequels. Like I said before, this is the one that changed the franchise, and the success of the other films is anchored to what they built here: from the team rapport to the character of Julia and his relationship with Ethan, and it has worked incredibly well.