Mission: Impossible III is an explosive yarn about the super-secret-agent adventures—biffs, bams and booms—of one Ethan Hunt. It's based loosely on the Mission: Impossible TV series, but if you missed the first two Mission: Impossible movies and you didn't even know there ever was a TV series by that name, it won't matter at all. Biffs, bams and booms don't require much explanation or setup.
Here, Ethan, a veteran of the Impossible Missions Force, has retired from active duty to a position training new IMF agents. The sedate life agrees with him and he decides to settle down with his beautiful fiancée Julia, leaving all the globetrotting spy stuff to a new generation of spooks. However—like Michael Corleone in the third Godfather movie—just as he gets out, they pull him back in.
A bloody horse head never shows up in his bed, but the danger feels just as real when a female agent goes missing and is believed held by a ruthless black marketer (of what, we never learn) named Owen Davian. The ever responsible Ethan can't say no to the rescue mission, and when their effort goes south, he is forced to stick around a little longer to clean up the mess.
The murderous Owen is negotiating the sale of a deadly device called the Rabbit's Foot. (Again, we never find out what it is. Hey, it's an action movie. It's not the whats and whys that are important, it's the biffs, bams and booms.) So Ethan reluctantly rallies his IMF team, including good friend Luther Stickell (the only other character returning from the other two movies) and embarks on yet another impossible mission.
In the midst of all the explosive demolition and flying bullets, Ethan is ultimately trying to do what is right. He has found a woman he loves, and he is determined to set the violence of his past aside and enjoy the normalcy and loving support of marriage. Luther questions Ethan's ability to get married and leave a life in the IMF. Ethan assures him that it's his greatest desire, "What I see in Julia is life before all this. And that life is good."
Thus, he makes a great sacrifice to go out into the field again to try to save another agent's life. To allay his fiancée's fears that his unexpected leaving is his way of backing away from her, he begs her for her trust, then rewards her affirmative answer by whisking her off for an impromptu wedding. Later, when Julia is kidnapped, he repeatedly risks his life (leaping from skyscrapers and facing armies of enemies) to save her.
During a missile attack, Ethan's first concern is for the innocent civilians in the area. His team springs to their protection and Ethan fights off the attack single-handedly.
Two of Ethan's fellow agents are anxiously awaiting his return from a dangerous expedition when one bows her head. Her partner asks, "What are you doing?" She explains that when she was little she had a prayer with which to pray her ever-straying cat back home. She was praying that prayer. He asks her to teach it to him.
At the Vatican, Ethan disguises himself as a priest and uses a cross with implanted technology as a homing beacon. Ethan and Julia are married by an Episcopal priest. A technician at IMF headquarters speaks of his fear that someday someone will create a technology that will "eviscerate the world." He calls it the Anti-God.
It's implied that the engaged Ethan and Julia live together. Once, they're seen lying in bed—he's naked from the waist up and she is covered by the sheet up to her shoulders. After the ceremony, they share a passionate embrace and begin undressing each other before the scene cuts away. Later, in a drug-induced hallucination, Ethan sees foggy images of himself and an underwear-clad Julia clutching and kissing.
Julia and a few other women wear dresses and tops that reveal cleavage; a female agent dons a very slinky dress to complete her part of an undercover mission. And as part of her ruse, she suggestively invites Ethan back to her apartment. A joke is made about incest.
Dozens of scenes feature kidnappings, deaths and bombastic violence. And they're bookended with torture. The constant air-full-of-bullets shootouts are gore-less, but the close-in fights and torture scenes are much more bruised, bloody and visceral. And it's not just the bad guys who engage in torture tactics, either.
In our review of Mission: Impossible 2, we praised Ethan for resisting the temptation to murder "people unless it is an absolutely necessary act of self-defense" and for exercising "restraint when subduing his mortal enemies." Avoidance and restraint dive headfirst out the window in M:i:III. Among other things, Ethan indiscriminately takes down opponents with his pistol and he plants explosives knowing they will kill. While manhandling Owen in an effort to extract information from him, Ethan goes so far as to dangle the man out of an airplane.
For his part, Owen openly enflames Ethan's fury when he brags about causing an agent's brutal death and says, "That was nothing—that was fun." He also uses descriptive language to threaten Julia's safety and life.
[Spoiler Warning] One of the movie's more disturbing moments comes when Ethan tries to disable a small explosive that has been inserted up through the nasal passage into an agent's head. Before he can disarm it, it detonates and kills the agent, distorting her features horribly. Also, Owen kills a bound woman, execution style, with a pistol to her temple. We don't see the bullet being shot, but we hear the gun report and see Ethan's look of utter horror as he witnesses the murder.
In typical over-the-top Hollywood fashion, a disabled Ethan is severely beaten (one of the most vividly violent scenes in the movie), thrown through glass windows and eventually electrocuted by an open cable connected to an electrical fuse box.
A helicopter explodes when the giant blades of a wind turbine slice it in two. Air-to-ground missiles make short work of a long stretch of bridge, on which there are many cars. Ethan takes down a jet with his machine gun. He and his comrades set numerous explosive charges to blow up cars, trucks, buildings and people.
Crude or Profane Language
More than two-dozen profanities. The s-word appears four or five times. "A--", "d--n", "h---" and "b--ch" make up most of the balance of foul language content; they're joined by one derogatory reference to women's breasts, two uses of "g--d--n" and a handful of other exclamations of God's name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
At Ethan and Julia's engagement party guests down beer and mixed drinks. Julia's brother approaches Ethan and is obviously inebriated. An agent purposely spills a glass of wine on Owen's tuxedo shirt at a Vatican event.
Ethan plunges a syringe full of adrenaline into a woman's heart. And while trying to rescue Julia, he is forced to drink a vial filled with some kind of drug; he quickly passes out.
Other Negative Elements
Ethan doesn't just evade Julia's questions about his mysterious comings and goings, he lies to her.
Action thy name is Mission: Impossible III. From that perspective this film strikes an almost flawless balance. The world created is a glittering gem exploding around us, but we believe. The villain is an evil blight we know nothing about, but we don't care, we know pestilence when we see it. The hero is impossibly determined, but we love him for it.
If we strip away the cinematic limelight shining on this tale of Ethan (good) vs. Owen (evil), though, what do we really have? A story about two men, each of whom will kill anybody who comes between him and his goal. One may be considered noble while the other scum, but in both cases, a lot of people die. And just how many torture scenes and cold-blooded killings are acceptable in healthy entertainment—100, a dozen, five, one?
Mission: Impossible III isn't interested in answering that question. It's more interested in, well, biffs, bams and booms. We ended our dissection of 2 with this note: "Let's hope for a little more Cruise control in M:i:III." As it turns out, that wish was the real mission: impossible.