Mission: Impossible III
Luckily, this great action series was able to bounce back here after the John Woo disaster. J.J. Abrams, in his first outing in the director’s chair, takes the idea back closer to its roots. It is full of the usual well-done action scenes, but I must admit to you that it’s been about a month since I saw it, and my memory for plots and stunts has never been good, so I won’t try to quote many examples. There are good scenes of breaking into the Vatican (!), and of the virtual destruction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which must have startled moviegoers who planned to drive across it on the way home. Just believe me when I say I had a swell time.
There is one scene I’d like to single out. And there will be SPOILERS, so you have been warned.
It is the last action scene. It’s in Shanghai. The traditional Damsel in Distress is tied to a chair. Ethan arrives, frees her, but a bomb implanted in his head (!!!) is triggered. (Naturally it’s on a timer; all bombs in movies like this take time to detonate.) He has only minutes to figure out something to do. That turns out to be electrocuting himself and then relying on her to bring him back with a defibrillator. Before doing that, he quickly teaches her how to fire a pistol, which she has never done. So the Bad Guy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, one more victim of the syndrome that seems to dictate that along with success goes a drug addiction, in this case, heroin) arrives and she point the gun at him. As usual in a scene like this, he smiles, condescendingly. “You don’t have the nerve to—” Bang! Bang! Bang! Center mass! He looks puzzled … this ain’t supposed to happen! … and falls down dead. You can’t imagine how much I value a scene like that! For once, the final showdown doesn’t go the way a million others have gone.
Must add, though, that the only reason Bad Guy arrives at all is that Ethan violated Varley’s Rule #1 of dealing with a “dead” or unconscious guy who you really have to kill. He left Bad Guy on the floor and ran off. Finish the job! Never assume anything! Take three seconds, shoot five or six rounds into his head until important pieces of it begin to come off. Then go rescue the Damsel!