’s been a while since we did one of these, and you folks have asked for it so here’s a new one. If all goes well I’m going to try and do these for all the big summer releases. Hopefully we’ll also have one tag team review on each podcast starting with the 9th one. I’ll go ahead and warn you, there’s not a lot of arguing here. We all loved the shit out of Mission: Impossible 3. Here’s your tag team, folks…

Before we get to the actual discussion let me say that Mission: Impossible 3 is the best action movie in a very long time. Nearly pitch perfect and without a lot of the eye candy distractions that have dominated the genre since the mid 90’s when Bruckheimer and his cronies took center stage. Not that those movies were bad, but this is something more fluid. More alive. More muscular somehow and in the realm of spy flicks, Casino Royale has its work cut out for it after J.J. Abrams beat it to the punch. Of course, the primary stumbling block this movie faces isn’t the fact that the first two films had serious flaws or that audiences might be a little wary of another high tech thriller. It’s Tom Cruise and his off camera antics. I tend to not let that kind of stuff affect the moviegoing experience but even a naysayer should be silenced within the first ten minutes of this one. Russ?

Russ: The reason for those silenced naysayers? Pure propulsive energy. This is the movie for people who cried when War of the Worlds slowed down — it never stops. In the first frames Abrams introduces Philip Seymour Hoffman as Owen Davian, an awesomely sociopathic figure who puts every cinematic globe-trotting arms dealer/mogul/evil genius to shame. From there it’s on to a rapid fire set of conflicts, infiltrations and intrigue. The exploding bridge from the trailer is only one link in the chain of ever more ridiculous and entertaining events. J. J. Abrams prevents the insane pace from numbing us by switching his tactics and relying on a consistently high-grade cast: Keri Russell, Lurence Fishburne, Billy Crudup, Maggie Q and Simon Pegg all deliver. Oh, and I guess there’s a story in there, too.

Micah: The story’s one of my favorite aspects. After the smug “coolness” that helped mark Mission: Impossible 2 as a lowpoint – both for the franchise and for the increasingly hack-y John Woo – it’s so damn nice to get a story that feels real. It echoes Licence to Kill in how it makes the stakes personal for our heroic agent. It feels real in the locations, stunts, and tone. Every one of these set pieces – though absurd in terms of intensity and build – are plausible, engaging, and kickass. And most impressively, the supporting cast feels real rather than archetypal. Instead of just playing “the black guy” yet again, Rhames gets to play on his history in the series with Cruise. Their casual banter punctuates some of the most intense mission moments and gives you a real sense of camaraderie that you didn’t get before. And everyone else from Fishburne to Simon Pegg to Maggie Q get some scenes to be more than just “the tech guy” or “the sexy distracter” or whatever slot they’re slated to fill. Even Michelle Monaghan shines as “the girlfriend,” a thankless role in these films if ever there was one. Taking this large cast and making each and every one of them count is just one of the many invaluable skills that J.J. Abrams brings to the table. Lost in the discussion so far is Cruise himself. To say that the man gives it 120% is an understatement. Yes, he’s the producer and yes, he needs this film to be huge in light of his offscreen bullshit, but there’s no denying his ability to be convincing as an action hero yet again. Without John Woo’s camera trickery or Brian DePalma’s efforts to use the frame like Rube Goldberg, Cruise excels in Abrams’ old school action storytelling. This is meaty stuff where you see the action without whip pans and CGI sleight of hand doing the nasty work for you. In fact, one of my favorite moments is a long tracking shot of Cruise’s Ethan Hunt hightailing ass down a busy Shanghai street. It reminds me of Die Hard and Lethal Weapon in its ability to be thrilling and suspenseful but not at the expense of the bottom line. There’s actual ACTION here. The rest of the cast is very good, and Maggie Q gets to be a character rather than just a pretty face, body, and everything else. That said, that little moment where she reaches under her dress to reveal a lot of her is breathtaking. I think Pegg was misused, actually. I think a lot of our love for Pegg in the movie is our love for Pegg on Earth. He’s given nothing to do and though he was fun he felt like a trimmed down version of Alias’ Marshall Flinkman.

Russ: Yeah, Pegg’s appearance breaks the string of decent character writing that Micah was on about. There was definitely a ‘quirky English hacker’ spot in the script. He fills the role perfectly, but as Nick says, you’ll just like him for being Pegg. On the other hand, there are an infinite number of good things to say about Hoffman. In a jam-packed two-hour flick, Davian has about 15 minutes of screen time, and Hoffman makes him a character for the books. He exudes menace and seems more dangerous when captured, if that’s possible. This is a guy to be terrified of, and Cruise is there with the assist, crying on cue to let us know exactly how hardcore Davian is. He doesn’t wave ironically when making an escape or gloat or spout monologues detailing his plan. He makes violent promises which I was very willing to believe he could fulfill. Hoffman is good enough that I didn’t even laugh when the time came for his pudge to throw down with Cruise. Davian also makes this a much more harsh film than I expected — so much so that it’s not really a Mission: Impossible movie. Luckily, it’s such a good ride that I’m willing to let that go.

Micah: I’ll respectfully disagree about Pegg, because he’s definitely someone I’d want to see return for an M:I-4. I’ll also disagree that it’s not a Mission: Impossible movie. It’s got a much harder tone than the TV series, for sure. But every other aspect – from Michael Giacchino adding liberal dollops of the original show’s music to his own brilliant score to the method in which they deal with Davian the first time around to the usage of a team to back Cruise throughout the vast majority of the film – evokes the show wonderfully. Despite the “3” number, it’s really the only true Mission Impossible film that’s been made thus far. You have to give it to Cruise for being smart enough to see the potential for J.J. Abrams to helm such a massive film for his first feature. And you have to give credit to Abrams for “getting it.” There are echoes of Alias, Licence to Kill, True Lies and a few other films here, but it’s a Mission: Impossible film through and through, and a damn good one at that. It’s the first large scale action film I’ve come out of in some time where I couldn’t wait to see it again. If I had one complaint about the film and I want to do it without going into spoiler territory too much, is that despite all of the menace and malicious intent and battle damage (and it’s considerable) that Cruise goes through, there’s not a really high body count. There’s a lot of collateral damage but anyone who expects to see the team systematically mowed down like in DePalma’s film will be disappointed. J.J. Abrams has an obvious love for the genre and the films that make it what it is and he somehow avoids hero worship (though it does feel like a Cameron film at times) and the fanboy pitfalls that could have made this seem like a fan playing in the big boys game. Abrams proves he’s one of the big boys with this. I was astounded not only how good it looked, how seamless the editing and effects were, but in how he corralled a lot of rather big stars into a cohesive group. Any one of the set pieces could have easily been ludicrous but by just delivering the action in a direct fashion it all felt true to the story. The score, as Micah said, is terrific. Early on in the film I leaned over remarking how good the music was. It was an actual score. Not a bunch of Acid loops or cut and pasted regurgitated techno riffs but an actual score that could have easily been cliché but never was. A week after seeing The Sentinel and its subtle as a flamethrower approach to music, this was a perfect launch to the summer and proof positive that action is alive and kicking. This one’s a solid 9.2 for me.

Russ: Funny that you mention the Cameron thing — a lot of the photography was very Cameron. Blue and shiny, like the Terminator films. Anyway, my major gripe is the sound design. There’s a way to bring loud and immersive sound to this sort of film without going shrill and utterly overbearing. MI:3 doesn’t get it at all. There are scenes that really battered me with excessive noise; by contrast a movie like Die Hard has a much better sonic balance. (This doesn’t include the score, which I liked.) But that, along with other little issues (blatantly obvious plot twists and the varying vulnerability of Cruise, both of which are endemic to the genre) isn’t enough to dull my enjoyment of the film. This movie has a sequence to satisfy every variant of the action movie fan — exotic espionage, heist, vehicle chase and pure explosiveness — with a great cast to nail it all down. Abrams’ TV experience with ensemble casts pays off wonderfully. He’s able to keep the entire IMF crew balanced and working together, which lets us see much more of the guts of this mission. You’ll go through the ringer with these people and love it, which is exactly the point. That’s easily enough for 8.8 from me. I’ve heard lots of comments to the effect that the plot twists are predictable, and I say…great. The problem with too many heist and spy films these days are that they become about the twists and turns. Then, people go into the theater spending the whole running time trying to figure out the twists ahead of time for the purpose of bragging rights. There’s not a turn in this movie that you can’t figure out using the laws of movie character economy. Who cares? It would only distract from how great and rewatchable everything else is. Bottom line: Any problems are minute ones. The film racks up a solid 9.5 from me. It’s the most fun experience I’ve had in a theater in eons.