First line: “We’ve put an explosive charge in your head.” BOOM! Ten seconds of titles. A few stabs of theme. Aaand we’re in... None of yer fancy, farmed-out, Bond stylings here. It’s an urgent, practical, bunny-shag of an opener; a perfect oil-up for the movie’s lean, supreme, action machine.
Abrams’ no-flab style - honed from US TV’s strict ad-break rhythms - meshes thrillingly with Cruise’s twitchy stamina. Pummelling pace, dead-on action-to-chat ratio, kissy-kissy limited to a quick one up the wall in a hospital store-room… Sure, the ending’s a bit syrupy and there’s maybe too much of the Parkinson’s-cam and Rhames/Cruise mid-mission banter, but Abrams clearly has no intention of just trousering his cheque as jobbing franchise director. He’s blazed into contention by making the series his own - stirring clarity into De Palma’s murky blueprint, stiffening up Woo’s flaccid sequel with flickers of sex, clatters of close-up violence.
But despite the city-hopping, chopper-chopping, missile-dodging, bullet-ducking and explosion-surviving, nothing in the film is bigger than Cruise himself. The posters feature his name almost as big as the title. That’s because he is the movie. Support - particularly from Fishburne, Pegg and Monaghan - is solid, but they’re basically there to bask in the glow of Tom’s mighty star. His stark, staring, blaring screen charisma simply doesn’t spare anyone acting oxygen. He runs, leaps, jumps, shoots, fights and acts ‘em all into next year.
Here he is, reverse-abseiling up a wall… taking on an oncoming fighter plane with a machine-gun… bound and weaponless, biting and elbowing and head-butting his way through four burly guys - in a lift.
There he goes, shinning up an elevator cable… base-jumping off a skyscraper… skittering down a slope… scampering over rooftops… running, running, running - arms pumping, face a rictus gurn of feral resolve. A pack of adrenaline-addled cheetahs couldn’t catch the bastard.
And he doesn’t skimp on the quiet, still stuff. Look out for the wonderful sequence with Monaghan, where he has the acting audacity to hold ten seconds of screen-time with absolute silence.
Naturally, Oscar Boy Hoffman runs him close. In the Bin Laden age, bad guys have to be both bad and elusive (“He’s the invisible man!” bleats Fishburne. “We can’t find him!”). Hoffman’s Owen Davian is indeed, always one step ahead, and a very, very, very bad man. “I’m gonna make her bleed and call out your name,” he informs Ethan, of his wife. He’s like a Bond villain without the cartoon distancing. More Satanic than psychotic.
Inspired by Bourne (crunchy punching), Bond (check the Q-style tech) and Bauer (Ethan vs Jack dust-up, anyone?), M:I:III re-sets the bar for all of the upstarts. Cruise is still the daddy.