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The next chapter in the life of Ethan Hunt. Brian DePalma and Jon Woo have headed the first few installments, J.J. Abrahms (LOST) helms this ship.

Mission: Impossible first burst onto the entertainment scene as a movie back in 1996. Tom Cruise was at the height of his popularity, mostly because we had know idea then what a lunatic he was. Scientology really wasn’t even on the radar. Directed by the great Brian De Palma, the smart, spy thriller received mostly positive reviews and respectable box office gross. Little did we know then that aside from an erotic lesbian sex scene in Femme Fatale, De Palma would never make anything good ever again.

The TV to movie adaptation’s success and the willingness of Tom Cruise to continue guaranteed the film a sequel. Enter action director John Woo, and his own unique style. Woo took over for M:I:II and though the film was a massive financial success, audiences were beaten down by Woo’s proclivity for excessive slow motion, flames, and the random appearance of doves. Critics hated it, but Cruise loyal audiences attended anyway. Its $215 million domestic gross was kicked off with a $57 million grossing weekend, though you’d be hard pressed today to find many people willing to admit they were there paying for it. Most M:I:II fans are appropriately ashamed.

But the third one made money, and so did Tom Cruise. More than enough to justify yet another sequel, only this time without the cranial beating machinations of John Woo. Paramount has turned things over to the genius of J.J. Abrams as the third film’s director and writer of record. J.J. is the hottest thing happening in television. He’s the man behind shows like “Lost” and “Alias”. Though this is his first time directing a feature, Abrams has had plenty of practice in television. If you’ve ever seen the original “Lost” pilot you know that though Abrams works on the small screen, he doesn’t direct small. His shows are huge events, with the scope and style of a movie. Anything he’s done, television or not, would be pretty comfortable right up on a theater screen.

If you’re Paramount, the thing that has you worried about Mission: Impossible: III isn’t its rookie director. It’s the film’s veteran mega-star, who hasn’t exactly fared well in the press. Cruise is of course, about as dependable a performer as there is. He’ll deliver. But are audiences sick of him? Last summer media pundits were ready to predict doom and gloom for his War of the Worlds based on how tired America was of Cruise and his crazy antics. Believe it or not, Tom Cruise’s profile has since then gotten even worse. In a recent poll he was hated more than Saddam Hussein, which to me seems a bit extreme. Then again, I hear that in person Saddam is pretty likable, so maybe that’s not a fair comparison.

Whatever the movie’s eventual box office, with Woo gone and "Lost's" J.J. Abrams in charge, there's hope for a return to the solid beginning set up by the first one. The almost overly-all-star cast makes me nervous, but people like Laurence Fishburne could fit really well into this universe if it's done right. Mission: Impossible 3 looks well on its way to being good.

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