Mission: Impossible Quintet

"Your mission, should you chose to accept it..."

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).

For the uninitiated, here's a brief overview of what the franchise is about. Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, a Tom Cruise-ish international superspy who isn't as cool as Bond or as interesting as Bourne but is the equal of both when it comes to running from his own government and performing outrageously over the top stunts (all without the aid of stuntmen). Watch as he is forced to relive the same plotline over and over again, wherein he is framed by a one dimensional villain played by an actor who deserves better, and forced to go rogue so he can chase after the one dimensional villain played by an actor who deserves better and stop him from getting his hands on some vaguely defined MacGuffin and prove his innocence all with the aid of a team of interchangeable IMF agents, but mainly Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames.

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.


Gracie said...

Nice review. And appropriate, since there really isn't enough content in these five movies for individual analysis. :) And now I'll have the theme song stuck in my head for the rest of the day!

You made me think about the original Mission Impossible television series from the late sixties, which I loved when I was a child, even though I don't remember any individual episodes now. It always opened with Jim Phelps and the tape of the mission, which destroyed itself after it played. Then Phelps would go through a file of photos of possible team members. Then they'd all meet in Phelps's study, which was in black and white, and the team would also be dressed in black and white. It was so elegant and classy. All of the episodes seemed to feature some high tech gadget that would be woefully old fashioned today, I'm sure, plus high tech make-up so that team members, usually Martin Landau or Leonard Nimoy, could masquerade as someone else and use an outlandish accent. In the end, as soon as they got the goods, they'd all drop everything and walk away.

It was such a great show. Not surprising that it's not being watched today, though, because as I said, woefully old tech. Thanks for that little trip down memory lane. :)

Billie Doux said...

I've seen all of these movies, except for the one currently in the theaters, which I'll probably see on DVD. They're fun popcorn movies for sure, although I don't remember the plots of any of them very well. :) I enjoyed your review, Mark.

J.D. Balthazar said...

I was tempted to review the latest installment because I absolutely loved Furgeouson, she and Simon Pegg stole the show.

Jess Lynde said...

I barely remember the first three Mission Impossible films, but I really enjoyed Ghost Protocol, so I'm glad to hear the latest installment is in that vein. I'll look forward to it on DVD!

Mostly, I wanted to chime in with Gracie's love for the Mission Impossible television series. I was crazy about the remake they did on ABC in the late '80s (still with Peter Graves, plus Greg Morris's son, Phil) and was later really delighted to discover the original in reruns when I was in college. So much fun! I ended up liking that series even better. I don't remember the individual episodes either, but I really enjoyed that team. Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, and Peter Graves were great, plus Martin Landau! Leonard Nimoy! And I remember my mind being blown when a very young Sam Elliott popped up for a few missions. Like Gracie, I think the gadgets and the masks that let team members transform into other people were my favorite. Definitely a fun one to catch in reruns, on streaming, or a in a marathon, if possible.

"This message will self destruct in 5 seconds."

Lamounier said...

"I'm not sure if the film was being clever or incredibly lazy in not revelling what the MacGuffin actually is."

Considering it's J.J. Abrams, I'd say it is laziness.

Josie Kafka said...

I just watched Rogue Nation and enjoyed it more than I thought I would, which is exactly the same emotion I had about the first and fourth films.