Your enjoyment of this series will most likely depend on how much you can tolerate Tom Cruise, as he is the dominant feature of the entire franchise. There's barely a scene in any of the five films produced so far that doesn't feature him. I'm indifferent to the man, I neither love nor loathe him, but will admit that, as an action star, he rarely ever puts a foot wrong (probably because it would cost him his life, crazy stunt lover that he is).
What the Mission: Impossible series lacks in originality it makes up for in thrills. This is one of the most dependable, consistently good action franchises going. Out of the five films produced so far there has only been one true failure. That is an impressive track record for any franchise as old as this one. One of the things that has helped keep the franchise fresh over the decades is the revolving door of talented directors, hand-picked by Cruise himself, who have all brought their own distinctive style to each instalment.
Mission: Impossible (1996)
Unlike most films in the series, Briann de Palma's original is a spy thriller first, action film second. There is really only one big action set piece (the final fight on top on the Eurostar) and it has not dated well. What has stood the test of time, however, is Hunt's iconic CIA break in, a sequence that is just as tense today as it was 19 years ago. What lets the film down is a plot that isn't nearly as clever as it thinks it is, clumsily handled twist, and some poor underwritten supporting characters. Mission: Impossible is a perfectly decent thriller, with its leading man on top form, but the more you watch it the harder it becomes to ignore its faults.
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
For all its faults, the first Mission: Impossible is a absolute masterpiece compared to the film that followed it. Mission Impossible II is like someone decided to do a parody of OTT action films, but forgot to include any jokes. They then gave that film to John Woo and told him to make the most John Woo-ish film he could. The result is, unsurprisingly, a complete mess on every level. Worse still, someone thought it would be a good idea to get Limp Bizkit on the soundtrack. For that alone, this film deserves to be banished to cinema purgatory for all time.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
J.J. Abrams took over directing duties for the franchise's third outing and produced what is essentially a big budget episode of Alias (the opening scenes of this movie and the pilot are almost exactly the same). This is not a bad thing, as Mission: Impossible III is one of the series' best films, but a lot of the time it does feel like you are watching a J.J. Abrams greatest hits package, which also means enduring many of the director's more annoying traits (Yes, that means you, pointless lens flares). The film is also plagued by many of series' recurring problems. The villain, although the series' best, is still weak, the supporting characters are mostly forgettable (I can't for the life of me remember the names of Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Maggie Q's characters), and I'm not sure if the film was being clever or incredibly lazy in not revelling what the MacGuffin actually is.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)
From its opening jailbreak, set to the sweet sounds of Dean Martin, it is clear that Ghost Protocol is going to be fun. Brad Bird brings some Pixar sensibilities to proceedings, such as solid story structure, creative set pieces and strong character work (Hunt's team in this film is the best in the series). Ghost Protocol is the franchise in its purest form, bringing together everything that worked about the first three films, although still struggling to fix everything that didn't. The film's villain is almost an afterthought, and Mrs Ethan Hunt is hastily written out, although mercifully the series has abandoned any further attempts to make Hunt another Bond by saddling him with a new love interest. Now in his 50s, Cruise shows no sign of slowing down, or being tied down as he once again battles Ethan Hunt's true arch nemesis, gravity, and scales the tallest building in the world in a sequence that would give Spider-Man vertigo.
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)
In terms of style, Christopher McQuarrie's Rogue Nation is the least distinctive of the five Mission: Impossible films. It feels very much like it was cut from the same cloth as Ghost Protocol. Again, this isn't a negative, as Rogue Nation is the second best film of the franchise. The structure mirrors that of the first film, but without all those silly twists. The first act is a game of cat and mouse in a Vienna opera house that is pure Cold War thriller. The second act features a tense, elaborate break-in followed by a high speed bike chase that puts Woo to shame. And a third act showdown with the bad guy is okay, but feels like a letdown after everything that came before it. The film's trump card is without a doubt Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust, a mysterious double agent who spends almost the entire film saving Hunt's ass. She's the franchise's best female character so far and it would be a crying shame if she wasn't brought back for Mission: Impossible 6.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.