April 21, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Mission: Impossible III
STARRING Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Keri Russell, Michelle Monaghan WRITTEN BY J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci DIRECTED BY J.J. Abrams

Impossible may be a tad too strong a word, but getting the third installment of 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 proved…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 J.J. project, Cruise zeroed in on 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 (Hoffman) who places Hunt’s girlfriend (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. (May 5)

X-Men: The Last Stand
STARRING Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Kelsey Grammer WRITTEN BY Zak Penn, Simon Kinberg DIRECTED BY Brett Ratner

For young superheroes-to-be, the call to greatness can come at any time. ”I had literally just graduated high school,” says Ellen Page, the 19-year-old Nova Scotian actress chosen by director Brett Ratner to walk through walls as the occasionally intangible Kitty Pryde in the third installment of the X-Men series. Page, who’d been chilling at home in Halifax for more than a year since wrapping the just-released indie Hard Candy, had some misgivings about leaping into unfamiliar super-saga territory. ”I was in the midst of ‘crazy teenager,’ you know: swimming, partying, having a great time. I was like, ‘This could lead to a lot of changes in my life.”’

Change is at the core of The Last Stand. When a cure for the genetic aberrations that grant the mutants their powers is discovered, the embattled X-Men must choose between retaining their alienating gifts and becoming ”normal” members of society. With an enormous cast that includes X-vets Berry, McKellen, and Stewart, as well as newcomers Page, Grammer (Beast), and Ben Foster (Angel), all sorts of choices can be made. And despite the finality of the title, there’s always a chance these superheroes could battle evil in summers to come.

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