Seven years on from his last adventure as secret agent Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise returns to a much-changed espionage genre. 'The Bourne Identity' and 'The Bourne Supremacy' have raised the bar for spy movies; '24' has shown how much is possible on the small screen and Bond has been rethought with a new 007 and an upcoming film, 'Casino Royale', which is said to favour character over spectacle. Plenty to ponder, and given the fact that two directors - David Fincher and Joe Carnahan - were linked to 'Mission: Impossible III' before 'Alias' creator JJ Abrams got behind the lens, perhaps some thought this would be a case of third time unlucky for the franchise. Not so: 'M:i-III' is more enjoyable than its predecessors.
The story finds Hunt retired from field operations, working as a spy trainer and about to settle down to a life of wedded bliss with doctor fiancée Julia (Monaghan). But when Hunt's former trainee Lindsey (Russell) is kidnapped, while tailing arms dealer Owen Davian (Hoffman), Hunt decides to go back into action. Reuniting with sidekick Luther (Rhames) and joined by two new operatives (Rhys Meyers, Q), Hunt travels to Berlin to rescue Lindsey - a mission that will take him around the world and give rise to his greatest fear far closer to home.
Given that it's the first blockbuster of the summer, the expectation is for 'Mission: Impossible III' to throw down the gauntlet for what follows. If what we get in June, July and August is as watchable as this we'll be doing well, although you'd like to think a bit more character and suspense will figure in the other storylines.
This is set piece after set piece, with plenty of guns, gadgets and last-second escapes as Abrams steers the story from Berlin to the Vatican to Shanghai. It's no 'Ronin', but the energy level is cranked up throughout and, as befits a man who'll earn more than all of us put together in a lifetime, Cruise throws himself about with much gusto. He has a great nemesis in Hoffman, but it's a letdown that we don't get to see more of him and further stand-offs between the two of them.
After the disappointment of the John Woo-directed 'Mission: Impossible II', Cruise and Abrams have done enough here to justify a fourth instalment. This one has little that you'll commit to memory, but it shows that Ethan Hunt shouldn't settle for a desk job just yet.