Credit: Mission: Impossible III: Stephen Vaughan

Impossible may be a tad too strong a word, but getting the third installment of Tom Cruise’s superspy series onto the screen has not exactly been a Mission: Piece of Cake. Paramount originally intended to release the follow-up to the $215 million-grossing M:I-2 in May of 2004, but that goal soon provedâ?¦well, you know. First, director David Fincher (Panic Room) left the project. Then Narc writer-director Joe Carnahan was brought on board, only to leave due to creative differences. Cast members Scarlett Johansson, Kenneth Branagh, and Carrie-Anne Moss came and went. For a while, the project seemed to be stuck in a state of limbo. But through it all, Ving Rhames, who reprises his role as tech whiz Luther Strickell, never lost faith: ”These movies make so much money, I knew it would happen.”

To reboot the project, Cruise zeroed in on J.J. Abrams, whose work on the TV series Alias and Lost suggested he might be able to breathe fresh life into a 10-year-old franchise (40 years old if you count the original TV series). At first, Abrams considered the notion of taking responsibility, as a rookie feature director, for the world’s biggest movie star’s action vehicle ”truly ludicrous.” Nevertheless, he quickly set about revamping the project, placing a new emphasis on the inner life of Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt. ”The first two movies never seemed to concern themselves with who Ethan is as a man,” says Abrams. ”I wanted to make sure the stunts were serving the story, not the other way around.”

To ratchet up the stakes, this Mission pits Hunt against an arms-trading baddie (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who places Hunt’s girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan) in peril. ”You’re more invested because you see Ethan’s vulnerability,” Monaghan says. ”He’s just like the rest of us.” Buying that Tom Cruise is just like the rest of us — there’s your mission, should you choose to accept it.

Mission: Impossible III
  • Movie
  • 126 minutes