With out Bond’s charm , Bauer’s brawn or Bourne’s grit, what exactly is agent Ethan Hunt’s USP? The answer? Tom Cruise. As lead, he packs enough moviestar power to outshine his rivals. As series producer, he’s been loose enough with the reins to allow three directors to make a trilogy that comes up with something new each time. Lighting the fuse with style, Brian De Palma’s opener morphs a ’60s spy show into a modern thriller.
Dark, Hitchcockian and really confusing, M:I brings together a weighty cast including Jon Voight, Kristin Scott Thomas and Vanessa Redgrave for spy games in which Cruise’s Hunt must race to clear his name. The CIA break-in remains the standout scene; Cruise silently suspended on a wire, centimetres from disaster, has become almost as iconic as Lalo Schifrin’s theme tune.
With a soundtrack from The Cranberries, top-secret floppy discs and an explosive finale in the newly opened Channel Tunnel, it all looks very 1996, but still holds up as the smartest of the bunch. Swapping Britpop for Limp Bizkit and shadowy Cold War conspiracies for loopy Brosnan-era Bond plot holes, John Woo’s 2000 follow-up feels like the last blast of silly ’90s action cinema.
Complete with slow-motion hair tossing, clouds of white doves and invisible wire martial arts, Hunt is given a bold, if slightly incongruous, Hong Kong makeover. Sublime and ridiculous, Woo makes the mistake of stripping away everything that made the series unique – including the rest of the IMF team and their arsenal of cool gadgets.
Bringing back the team, sharpening the dialogue and packing in more relentless set-pieces than the other two combined, M:I III gets everything right. Between Philip Seymour Hoffman’s chilling performance as a sadistic arms dealer, an ambush sequence on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Simon Pegg giving directions to Cruise as he tears through Shanghai, there’s almost too much to love in J.J. Abrams’ assured feature debut.
Commentaries, featurettes and tributes are all well and good, but this ‘extreme’ edition is just a slimmer re-release of the Blu boxset already out – minus the M:I III bonus spinner. Long-term fans may want to wait for the quadrilogy release when Ghost Protocol hits disc next year.