When we first met Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in 1996's Mission: Impossible, he was a gifted Impossible Mission Force (IMF) agent who held his own in the field, but won the day with smarts, wits and problem-solving. In the disappointing Mission: Impossible II (2000), Hunt was an almost superhuman, James Bond-like action hero who couldn't be stopped. And now, in the best film of the franchise, Hunt is both the brilliant agent and the capable soldier while finally gaining an important missing asset: a life.
When J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost) took the director's chair for this sequel—becoming the third director in as many films—he said his goal was to flesh out Ethan's character. As a co-writer for this film, Abrams wanted to show Ethan not just as an agent in the field, but as a man. And like Abrams has done with Lost and early Alias seasons, providing characters' real lives to the events around them adds spark, heart and intensity. It raises the stakes. Now, the risk isn't just the release of foreign operatives. Or the spreading of a virus. What is at risk is a person. Ethan has a home, a steady love and even a dog. He has passions, regrets, and—most importantly—he has things to lose.
When an action script successfully gets you to care about the stakes, it doesn't really matter what the threat is. It doesn't really matter what the bad guy wants. M:I3 knows this. And it works. The plot is bare bones: Bad guy wants something. Good guy doesn't want him to have it. What that something is and why it is desired is irrelevant. The bad guy is just there to set the stage. Instead, the human drama takes center stage. There's very little plot or commentary to the film other than simple survival and getting the job done. ...1