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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
BvS Review, 29 March 2016

Batman. Superman. They are two of the most recognized superheroes of all time. Both have been in the pop culture psyche as far back as the late 1930s, and have remained at the top of the DC Comics food chain ever since. With regards to this film, two questions immediately come to mind: why are they fighting, and how can Batman possibly stand a chance against the Man of Steel?

The answer to the latter is painfully obvious, because it's been done before: make Superman weaker. The film's execution of this aspect is fair and makes sense in the film, trust me. It's the former question that begs the most attention, and the film spends most of its time answering it. Part of the answer is personal — during the events of the Man of Steel film, Bruce Wayne lost many employees while Superman and General Zod duked it out across Metropolis. Wayne was there to see the carnage first-hand, and like every other human being caught in the devastation he saw the potential for Superman to become a godlike tyrant with no moral regard for people. Superman, on the other hand, sees Batman's brand of justice and finds it appalling. Both heroes represent two sides of a coin — one comes from a dark world where pain and death has molded him into an uncompromising vigilante, and the other comes from outer space and is still struggling for acceptance. Matters become even more complex when a certain maniacal millionaire — Lex Luthor — purposefully sabotages events to pit the two heroes against each other. The combination of personal and social stakes escalate until an actual fight inevitably happens.

In spite of this, the film's first half is devoted to the storytelling, and the last act is entirely action. Both halves couldn't be more different. Even though there's only sporadic bursts of excitement in the first half, the film's visual style is potent and elegant, in the same way Watchmen was. Some of the most awe- inspiring scenes show dramatic heroics and surreal dreamscapes with a fantasy-painting quality, and it is often as invoking as it is gorgeous. If the film maintained this level of artistry, it could have become one of the best and boldest superhero films of them all.

Unfortunately, the last act becomes a brutal assault on the senses, where the action becomes relentless and hard on the eyes. As epic as it is, it's exhausting. Worse of all, any storytelling nuance is suddenly lost — reasons for the fight suddenly cease to matter, and the entire climax becomes a shallow spectacle. At least with Man of Steel, there was always a focus on characters — here, they merely go through the motions. The ending ultimately left me with mixed feelings — it's obvious that there will be more to come, but on its own the film felt rather bipolar in nature.

Perhaps in spite of this, the film's story feels rather convoluted. The actual sequence of events is quite loose, and the matter is further complicated by the way it shows its broad ideas rather than telling them outright. I personally value and admire the imagery at times, such as the Day of the Dead scene, or Batman's bizarre dream in the desert — images in these key moments say much more than all the words in the film combined. It also makes the film very surreal, and it demands that audiences make connections on their own. Plot issues are further compounded by various holes and stretches that might be too hard to stomach.

It is a dark, no-nonsense film. Batman is as brutal as ever, thanks not only to his merciless fight scenes, but also to Ben Affleck's convincing performance. Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, and Diane Lane reprise their roles quite aptly. I've also warmed up more to Laurence Fishburne's performance as Perry White. The real wild card in this cast is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor — he channels both Heath Ledger's Joker and his own portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network to provide a twitchy, rambling, maniacal performance. It's nothing like the classic megalomaniacs we're used to seeing out of Gene Hackman or Kevin Spacey, but I found myself enjoying Eisenberg's take on the character a lot. Jeremy Irons might be my new favorite Alfred — he inhabits the character with plenty of dry wit and class. Gal Gaddot definitely looks the part as Diana Prince. The film's writing has plenty of decent lines and ideas, but some of it comes off as blunt. This production utilizes some decent-looking sets, props, and costumes — there are plenty of cool things to behold, but very little that wowed me the same way Man of Steel did. Music score by Hans Zimmer and JXL is noisy, as expected, but the themes are quite distinctive and invigorating.

There's half of a great movie in this. If it was consistent in its style and narrative, it could have been a great film on par with Watchmen. While certain moments in BvS have captivated me, I felt lost and disconnected by the final fight. Regardless, it is a grand vision worth seeing for any superhero fans, which will elicit thought, controversy, and talking points. It might even be the start of a thrilling and bold new cinematic universe that could rival Marvel in the end.


It's Such A Beautiful Film, 26 March 2016

This is the story of Bill, an unassuming and lonely stick figure. His mundane life takes a turn for the worst when Don Hertzfeldt's signature craziness takes over and Bill's world spirals out of control. If you know Hertzfeldt's work, you know this film will have some episodes of freaky comedy that comes from way out in left field, with occasional grotesque monstrosities and dark wit. Some of these scenes make the film humorous and intriguing. It does a lot more though -- the film gradually becomes nuttier and nuttier, until it becomes a sobering reflection on human frailty and mortality.

But that's not the end of it. The second chapter kicks in, digging up more of Bill's past and future. Then there's the third chapter, which gives a remarkable upswing and tells a story of Bill having a reawakening. At this stage, the film becomes an inspiring and artistic narrative, suggesting that the human spirit transcends space and time.

The entirety of It's Such a Beautiful Day is a complete narrative that chronicles one man's life and drags the audience through all the ups and downs of his suffering. It leads to a wonderful payoff that illustrates the beauty of life and gives hope in the face of death.

You might think a movie with stick figure people wouldn't be elegant, but this film is a complex piece of art that incorporates minimalist drawings with raw photography and other real-life elements to paint a composite picture. It is especially notable when the film draws certain lines between the reality Bill sees and the reality he discovers, made apparent when more real-life footage is used at the end. In short, a lot of work went into bringing these stick figures to life, but the world around them is truly vivid. Voice acting and sounds are wonderful and highly effective. The music is quite uplifting as well.

It's funny at times, bleak in others, and there are crazy parts. But it delivers a cathartic experience with emotional themes that can resonate with everybody. It's a movie that tells you no matter what you're going through, everything will be okay in the end. People are wonderful. It is such a beautiful universe.


2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Man of Steel Review, 26 March 2016

Superman has always been one of the most quintessential superheroes of comic-book lore. It's hard to top a man who can fly, zap things with his eyeballs, see through walls, move faster than a speeding bullet, jump over buildings, survive just about everything, and live for centuries. On film, the Man of Steel has been treated with varying degrees of class and cheese — Richard Donner's films are iconic in themselves, and Bryan Singer's film has its moments. Given the success of The Dark Knight trilogy, it was only inevitable that filmmakers would try to put a more earnest, serious, heavy-weight spin on the saga of Superman.

Unfortunately, this is still not a perfect adaptation. Many critics and film-goers have written this film off as stylistically gaudy, crammed-full of gargantuan action scenes with one too many camera zooms and shakes and a wonky narrative. It has become the biggest love-it-or-hate-it film of 2013.

I, for one, love the film, despite all its excesses and problems. The action continuously blows me away — its sheer scope and velocity blows most other superhero films out of the water. It's relentless as superpowered characters slam into each other at rocketing speeds, blasting entire city blocks in their wake. In some of the most gut-wrenching scenes, alien machines pummel huge parts of Metropolis to a flattened ruin. It is rather exhausting, but this is the spectacle I always wanted out of Superman: an epic and highly-destructive clash of menacing, otherworldly forces.

A lot of the film's momentum can be attributed to its narrative, which is purposefully mixed-up so that it doesn't waste that much time covering old ground. The relevant parts of Superman's origins are covered in flashbacks inserted at key moments. This does create a jarring shift that may throw viewers off, but I feel the pacing is perfect — the drama never overstays its welcome. What really matters are the characters, which are at their strongest. The film intimately explores the title character, not only through the snippets of the origin story, but also in exploring him as an outcast full of emotional vulnerabilities. The film shows what he learns from living among humans, the importance of moral strength and moderation, and his struggle to find his place in the world. There are also some deviations that I think benefit the story (Lois Lane is no longer a total ditz, General Zod has phenomenal motivation that makes him a villain to sympathize with, and there are no more silly games being played with secret identities).

There are still a few nitpicks that even I can't shake off, however. I never did get used to the notion that Superman can be seen as a threat to humanity (perhaps because I've been spoiled by the older films, where Superman saves people and is cheered — here, he saves people and gets into trouble). The fate of Jonathan Kent is a rather manipulative scene that I feel is quite daft. The most critical viewers would also make the same complaints as with Zack Snyder's other films: too cold, not enough depth. Although I can understand the same complaints for Sucker Punch and Watchmen, I feel that Man of Steel is the warmest film Zack Snyder has made to date. It does succeed in achieving the right level of pathos to make the audience care for the main character (something that other Snyder films always struggled with).

As mentioned before, the photography can be rather gaudy, with frequent use of zooms, some camera shaking, and some scenes with bright flashing lights. Personally, I never found it all that problematic — most of the film still looks pretty solid, and I think the drama scenes boast some of the best shots, with intimate close-ups of specific characters and objects. Editing is pretty interesting, for better or for worse. Acting is a surprising treat: I think Henry Cavill is superb as the title character, and everybody else is pretty decent. Michael Shannon and Russell Crowe steal the show repeatedly — Shannon is especially menacing and intense, for perfect effect. I appreciate Amy Adams' and Diane Lane's performances. Didn't mind Kevin Costner — I can take or leave Laurence Fishburne playing Perry White. For some reason, I'm enamored by Antje Traue playing Faora — she's wicked and intense enough to put Ursa from Superman II to shame. Writing gets the job done — there are some good lines, but some of it feels rather blunt to me. This production has great-looking sets, props, costumes, and locales — it's especially cool how organic and unique all the Kryptonian technology looks. Special effects are plentiful, some looking phenomenal and others looking a little too glossy or cartoony. Hans Zimmer's score, much like the film itself, has been criticized for being too much shallow noise, but I personally love the music for its simple themes and powerful spirit.

In fact, that pretty much sums up my stance on Man of Steel: it's noisy, but I still find it moving. It may not be a perfect film, but it does pack a heck of a punch in many ways. It has power not only in the action scenes (of which there is plenty), but also in the characters and their struggles to find strength and a place in the world.


2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
OHMSS Review, 21 September 2015

Of all the classic Bond films, this one represents the most drastic deviation. It's a darker, more serious adventure that takes the character to more profound levels of peril and tragedy.

Right from the start, the film differentiates itself with its dreary imagery and a hard-hitting fight scene on a beach. Then there's a long, winding series of fights, deception, and intrigue. A good chunk of the film is devoted to a lengthy chase across Switzerland, which includes a ton of skiing, a huge avalanche, and a car chase. It eventually builds up to an all-out battle in the mountains. Then there's the ending, which is the one thing that pushes this whole film above and beyond the normal levels of a Bond adventure. It is a dramatic and profound turn for the character, and it has to be seen to be understood.

The story's generally more of the same: Bond has a mission to find a bad guy, reveal the evil plot, then take him out. He spends most of the time undercover, so the thrills and intrigue are much more grounded. The actual plot that's revealed is as outlandish and weird as they come. What matters the most are the characters: Bond is still the man, but the love interest provides a touching flourish that gives the story more weight.

Most of this film features good photography, but some shots are a bit hectic. Editing is very punchy, to the point where shots become compressed to mere seconds, and it almost appears agitating (though not nearly as bad as most modern movies, like the Bourne series, or Quantum of Solace). For a film from the 60s, it's pretty wild. Acting is quite the mixed bag. I was never a fan of George Lazenby, but the more I watch the film, the more forgiving I am of him - he embodies the voice and swagger of the character well enough. I'm still not a fan of Telly Savalas, whose portrayal of Blofeld feels very odd and foreign to me. I do love Diana Rigg in this film. Writing is okay. This production has good-looking locales. Some of the sets, props, and costumes are a bit gaudy and weird, and most special effects look kinda bad. John Barry's music score is superb - his main theme is so dramatic, it's chilling. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of Louis Armstrong's love theme.

Even though there are odd things to hate about OHMSS, it is a bold film that offers an intriguing direction for Bond, and offers a little more substance to its story that gives the ending a proper punch. For that alone, all Bond fans need to see the film at least once.

4/5 (Experience: Pretty Good | Story: Good | Film: Pretty Good)

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
You Only Live Twice Review, 21 September 2015

After so many plots unraveled across four classic films, James Bond would finally reach the top and confront the head man of SPECTRE, in You Only Live Twice.

This time, Bond's mission takes him to Japan. It starts off hard and fast, as he fakes his death, and then struggles to escape death in a constant string of confrontations and encounters on foreign soil. When Bond has to infiltrate a secret volcanic lair, he resorts to the ultimate cover: marrying a Japanese girl, while learning ninjutsu and getting facial surgery. It all adds up to a big, explosive battle in the middle of the volcano. As always, there's gadgets (the biggest thing being a small DIY helicopter with loads of weapons) there's ladies, and there's danger galore.

The story follows the original novel just a little bit, but the book will always have the edge because it has one important dramatic angle that the movie misses out on: the theme of revenge. The book was a pretty intense struggle, because it follows immediately after On Her Majesty's Secret Service. If you know what happens in that story, then you know how driven Bond becomes to finding Blofeld and making him pay. Also, Bond actually became a ninja and infiltrated a castle to get his vengeance - how cool is that? The movie misses out on many of these opportunities, and instead keeps the tone light and fluffy. It takes some pretty ridiculous turns, including a useless subplot involving a rocket that steals other rockets in space. The only thing that makes this feel special is that he fakes death and assume a disguise, but it never reaches a level of significance that affects the plot much. For Bond, it's just business as usual.

This film is made with decent photography. One thing I think it weird though is that most shots, especially during the fight scenes, are taken from really really far away. Editing is okay. Acting is fine for what it is: Sean Connery seems to give a more tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Bond, but his presence is still welcome. Donald Pleasence plays the villain pretty dryly, but his mere presence and look is iconic. I have no complaints with Akiko Wakabayashi's, Mie Hama's, or Tetsuro Tamba's performances. Writing is okay, but most of the jokes fall horribly flat. This production has good-looking locales. Some of the props, costumes, and special effects appear cheap. I was never a fan of Nancy Sinatra's theme song, but the music score is alright.

You Only Live Twice is enjoyable, but also lightweight, silly, and rather shallow. The book is quite a bit better, but even by the standards of the film series, there are better Bond adventures.

3/5 (Experience: Pretty Good | Story: Average | Film: Average)

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Thunderball Review, 20 September 2015

After seeing James Bond in action in three big, iconic missions, Thunderball blasts to the scene with the promise of more action, more gadgets, more ladies, bigger stakes, more exotic locations, and so much more! At this point, the Bond formula had been established firmly enough so that Thunderball only has to follow a template full of established tropes and clichés. Many folks will say that it makes this one of the duller movies. I personally always thought it was a blast though. Among the highlights, this film follows Bond on a colorful journey to Nassau, where he has to constantly out-think and outwit the opposition. There's a lot of deceptive mindgames at work, followed by some chasing and some fighting, before a massive all-out battle underwater. It's a long film, but it is consistently thrilling and it has a satisfying payoff. Best of all, the film remains iconic thanks to the classic elements at play: Bond's classic charm, a classic villain we love to hate, and an overall sense of class.

The premise is pretty simple, generally not much different than a lot of modern action movies revolving around stolen nuclear weapons (like Broken Arrow, The Rock, Mission Impossible, you name it). It follows Ian Flemming's novel practically word for word (which is unsurprising, since it was based on a screenplay to begin with). What makes it so fun is that it's twisty and complex, but not impossible to follow. Each new scene offers something that's either thrilling or alluring. The characters are as endearing as ever.

Caught in epic widescreen photography, this film boasts plenty of bright and colorful scenery. Most of it looks great, especially with some steady and well-choreographed underwater photography. Some scenes, especially during the parade scene, are a bit rough around the edges. Editing can be nutty, as some dialogue has been cut, dubbed, and recut for various versions. Scenes usually transit well regardless. Acting is great: Sean Connery is still the man, and I always enjoyed the performances of Adolfo Celi, the lovely Claudine Auger, and the lovely Licuana Paluzzi. Writing is okay - the plot unravels well, and the dialogue is usually good, but some of the jokes can be a little goofy. This production uses great-looking locales, and lots of fine-looking sets, props, and costumes. John Barry's music score is as good as ever, and Tom Jones' theme song is hip.

To me, Thunderball is one of the most perfect Bond adventures. It has all the right signature elements we know and love, but with tons of thrills and action. It is a long adventure that might strain the patience of many viewers, but I think it's classy, sexy, exciting stuff.

4.5/5 (Experience: Perfect | Story: Good | Film: Very Good)

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Man from UNCLE Review, 20 September 2015

Even though this is a Cold War thriller, this is not a movie you'd want to see for action. Sure, there's a couple of big chase scenes and some shooting in the middle, but most of this film is all about the characters. On one side, you have the suave, skilled, confident American thief who struck a deal to work for the CIA. On the other side, you have the strong, blunt, rigid Russian superspy who suffers from some anger management issues. Put the two together on a mission, and the sheer chemistry really makes the sparks fly.

What the film lacks in actual action or setpieces, it makes up for tremendously in the characters. All of the film's fun is in watching the sharp banter between the two polar-opposite male leads. The dialogue alone is often witty, amusing, and shows great color and personality. Best of all, it's brought to life vividly by the actors, who offer top-notch performances. To say nothing of the female leads, who offer even more dynamism to the plot.

Fortunately, the plot is pretty interesting and solid too. The actual mission the characters go on carries over a lot of familiar tropes and elements you might see in other spy movies - dense conspiracies, elaborate games of deception, megalomaniacs, torture, etc. The characters are very well-developed and their volatile relationships keep the pace rolling for the whole runtime. Unfortunately, all the color seems to get sucked out in the last big chase, before the endgame rolls out. The last few scenes tie together some pieces of the plot that you'll never even notice throughout the picture, before its reaches a strangely short ending. It's more of a punchline than a climax.

One more thing that makes this movie shine will be its production and style. Filming looks fantastic, and it is edited in a fairly flashy way. There is a ton of really great, hip music throughout. If it was any flashier, it would feel like a Tarantino picture. Performances are awesome by the whole cast: Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer are both great in their roles, and they play off of each other very aptly. Alicia Vikander is just as fun to watch. Elizabeth Debicki is especially entrancing to watch - her performance is like the antithesis to Audrey Hepburn (same sense of fashion and everything), and it's all the more effective that way. This production uses very good, real-looking sets, props, and costumes.

I have no idea how good of an adaptation this movie is to the original TV show, but I love it for its style, its playful tone, and its characters. If that appeals to you, then the film is certainly recommended. If it's action you crave, better go watch Mission Impossible instead.

4/5 (Experience: Good | Story: Good | Film: Very Good)

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Mission Impossible Rogue Nation Review, 16 August 2015

In Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, there was a brief mention of a new mission, before Ethan disappears into a cloud of steam. In his fifth adventure, Ethan would go face-to-face with the "Rogue Nation," a Syndicate so threatening that it threatens the world powers and forces Ethan and the team to face their toughest challenge yet.

This mission has its share of incredible peril. Once again, the entire IMF is rendered useless (this time out of political squabbling among the Intelligence Community), forcing the heroes to go off on their own off the grid to find the threat and use their limited resources to stop it. In their struggles, the characters have to infiltrate an impossibly secure facility, which involves Ethan swimming through a water-filled computer core. Given the physical threat and the physical feats involved, this scene is genuinely gripping. There is a pretty cool motorcycle chase in the middle of the movie. There are shootouts and fights. It all amounts to a complex cat-and-mouse chase, in the same vein as Skyfall, but with a bigger emphasis on deception. The push and pull and mindgames may need some suspension of disbelief - it seems as though Ethan can somehow plan for the most incredible of plot twists in advance and always come out with an even more elaborate plan - but it is fun to watch it all play out.

The story has its worthy moments. The premise is naturally thrilling, as the IMF team confronts great stakes once again. Ethan and the others have become a familiar family by now, and they remain endearing characters. What makes them stand out more now will be the themes of trust, especially with everyone questioning William Brandt's loyalty and what Ilsa Faust's motives are. Faust is a lovely new character caught in the middle of a tricky spy game, and her situation elicits decent empathy. Behind it all is a fairly menacing villain, who comes out as Ethan's direct foil; a mastermind terrorist who becomes obsessed with outwitting the IMF and becoming a true rogue nation.

Despite all the twists, the story does suffer a little. For a movie about a "rogue nation," I expected something bigger, like an actual nation of rogues or something. I expected the villains to have a grander level of influence and infrastructure, but they turned out to be a limited number of well-armed and well-funded men out for petty vengeance. The film ultimately doesn't reach the same level of stakes, personal or political, that were represented in MI:III or MI: GP. On top of that, the film seems to drop everything regarding Ethan's wife, obliterating any character arc that had developed. There are a few scenes that seem a little too incredible, especially in how convoluted the mindgames become. The opening sequence is too short for my liking (I actually wish the plane stunt was somewhere in the middle of the movie, so it would give us all something incredible to look forward to). Regardless, this film is a fine spy thriller, but not the all-out MI extravaganza I would have expected.

This film boasts good, but rarely exceptional, photography. Editing tends to be rather fast. Tom Cruise is still apt as Ethan Hunt. Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Ving Rhames are fun to watch. I thought Rebecca Ferguson was perfectly lovely in her role. Sean Harris is a pretty decent villain. Alec Baldwin plays a pretty grumpy dude in his role (and coming from a man who once played Jack Ryan, I find his character a bit too unreasonable and unlikable). Writing is okay. This production uses pretty good-looking sets, props, and costumes. Special effects are okay. Stunts are good. Locales are pretty good, but they don't really stand out as much as in other movies. The music score seemed really bombastic, for better or for worse.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is far from my favorite of the series. I personally wish the plot wasn't quite as implausible. I wish the nature of the "rogue nation" was different. I wish that a bunch of other little things could be altered. Despite my petty complaints, it is entertaining and worth a look.

4/5 (Experience: Good | Story: Pretty Good | Film: Pretty Good)

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"The President has initiated Ghost Protocol. The entire IMF has been disavowed.", 2 August 2015

Mission: Impossible III may be a tough act to follow, given its superb balance between action and storytelling. Who would have thought that there would be even bigger and more daring missions to come? Ghost Protocol takes the IMF team and plunges it into immediate danger, cut off from their parent agency and disavowed. On their own, without backup and support, they rely on what scant leads, tech, and resources they can to stop a bunch of villains from kick-starting nuclear war. In this mission, Ethan Hunt busts out of a Russian gulag, infiltrates the Kremlin (in the coolest way imaginable), and chases bad guys in cars and on foot. One of the biggest and most iconic scenes shows the man scaling the side of the Burj Khalifa Tower, hundreds of stories high, filmed in stunning detail with IMAX cameras. With so many stunts, so much deception, and such high stakes, the mission has never been more exciting and incredible.

This story doesn't have the same emotional heft as its predecessor, largely because Ethan's wife is out of the picture (and there is a nice subplot that explains what's going on there), and because the story's villain just doesn't have that much presence or motivation. What this film does have, thankfully, is a superb cast of heroes we love and can root for. Ethan had teams in all the other movies, but they feel like more of a team in Ghost Protocol, largely because they are all forced to work together without outside help. The conflict and banter between them allows these characters to develop their own personalities, which makes them all people we can relate to and root for. The actual plot retreads the tired old territory of "we got to stop nuclear war!!" but it does an apt job of stringing together the setpieces in a logical way, crafting a well-rounded adventure.

This film boasts superb photography and editing. Just about every shot is cool, without too much camera shake (like Abrams' film) and without any superfluous style choices (looking at you, John Woo). Tom Cruise is still quite the action hero, but is still well-grounded in this. I loved watching Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Léa Seydoux. Even though his character wasn't that well-developed, Michael Nyqvist was a convincing villain. Writing is pretty good. This production uses plenty of good-looking sets, props, costumes, and locales. Special effects can be a hit or a miss. Music is good.

Even though MI: III offers the best characterization and story, I favor MI: GP the most for its fabulous setpieces, while still retaining a lovable core cast and presenting a thrilling plot to bring it all together. I think it's a total blast, and one of the best spy movies in general.

4/5 (Experience: Very Good | Story: Pretty Good | Film: Very Good)

Mission Impossible III Review, 2 August 2015

For years, a third Mission Impossible movie seemed unlikely, until JJ Abrams accepted the mission to make it happen. As Abrams' debut picture, Mission Impossible III is a rip-roaring thrill ride full of color and energy.

From its first scene onwards - half of a torture scene that is ultimately revisited later in the picture - the movie sets itself apart from its predecessors. It is grittier and more violent, showing agents skirting death and disaster in the hands of dangerous villains. There are really neat scenes of infiltration and deception, including a daring operation in the Vatican and a building in Shanghai. There's also a lot of loud and frenetic action, to include a thrilling helicopter chase scene through a windfarm, a drone attacking cars on a bridge, and plenty of gunfighting.

There is plenty of action and energy to keep the film rolling at full steam ahead, without being overblown. As welcoming as the pace is, one thing keeps it from being perfect: the cameramanship. Photography is good a lot of the time, but there are a lot of scenes where the camera shake becomes erratic, and it often hinders the action more than it helps. It's not quite as awful as The Bourne Supremacy or anything, but I would have liked MI: III a grade more if the camera would settle down a bit more.

What makes this film work, thankfully, is the storytelling. It's a pretty simple and straightforward affair. The plot ultimately revolves around people fighting over "The Rabbit's Foot," the full details of which are never disclosed (although it's not too hard to figure out what it could be in the end). It's ultimately not the focus of the story; it's just a device to showcase the true conflict, which is between the hero and the villain. At this point in the series, Ethan Hunt has become a more reluctant hero, having found a woman to settle down with. When he's dragged back into action, he spurs the villain, Owen Damien, to hit back where it hurts the most. Characterization is at its best in this film; Ethan is finally given something for the audience to latch onto emotionally, and when it becomes threatened, it reveals Owen Damien to be one of the most chilling and heartless villains committed to the big screen. This simple focus on characters makes the story and action flow much better than everything that happened in the previous movies, representing a huge step-up in quality storytelling.

This film is captured with very striking photography; colors are very vivid, details are sharp, and the film looks very slick overall. Camera shake does rear its ugly head in many scenes, but for every shaky scene there's also a very good-looking scene, so it balances out. Editing is pretty sharp and concise. Tom Cruise seems to play Ethan with more maturity than before, ditching most of the cockiness and adding in a decent amount of emotional heft. Phillip Seymour Hoffman excels as the villain in a chillingly perfect performance. Michelle Monaghan is lovely in all respects, and it's great to see Simon Pegg and Maggie Q in the mix. Other actors aren't bad. Writing is pretty straightforward and good. This production uses good-looking sets, props, costumes, special effects, and some real-looking locales. Music is pretty good.

The first mission had great scenes, but came off as being rather dry. The second mission was just crazy. The third time is the charm, thanks to the focus on an actual story with actual characters worth seeing. This mission comes highly recommended, even if you haven't seen the others.

4/5 (Experience: Pretty Good | Story: Very Good | Film: Good)

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