I can’t honestly say I’ve ever been all that fussed by the Mission: Impossible franchise. Perhaps that’s because when I was younger, I preferred the company of fantasy and sci-fi and, well, Disney. Even into my teens, when I discovered action and drama, M:I still didn’t peak my interest. I definitely saw the first movie at least once, and other than the famous dangling-Tom Cruise scene and the theme tune, I still wasn’t bothered. Every trailer that’s popped out for the four movies since the first have looked amazing, with all the action and the stunts, but still I wasn’t attracted. And then the trailer for Fallout appeared. Something about it stood out more so than all the rest. I don’t know if it was the stunts or the music or the fact that, at fifty-six years old (though a year or two younger when filming), Cruise is still jumping off of buildings and actually making it look good. I’m also thinking that if the franchise can last twenty-two years, surely that says a lot about it. Finally, the franchise has my attention. And so, my mission, should I choose to accept it, is to go back and watch all five films before the release of Fallout. Hopefully I’ll come out the other end unscathed…
Mission: Impossible (1996)
Director: Brian De Palma
Twenty-two years ago the first instalment of the M:I franchise hit cinemas. From the off it emulates the television show, with its opening titles cut into a montage overlaid with one of the most recognisable theme tunes ever composed and an introduction to an ensemble cast headed up by the one and only Tom Cruise. It doesn’t really say ‘huge movie ahead’, but as an homage to the show, I’ll let it go. It’s a good introduction to what I assume will be the basic premise to each M:I movie (Ethan Hunt always being Ethan Hunted), though I also suspect my head will continue to spin at the constant twists and turns the narratives will likely present (if Jon Voight reappears, I’m giving up). I am also hoping the films will find their own feet away from the television show – I assume this is a given, as a franchise that would continue to base itself on its parent show would likely not have lasted this long without constantly updating itself. Twenty years ago I may have scored it higher, as some shots and lines of dialogue make it a classic for a reason, but frankly its lack of action in a heavy and often confusing plot is off-putting.
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Director: John Woo
I’m already beginning to wonder what the fuss is all about with these movies. The only film of the franchise that actually features Ethan Hunt on a mission rather than being the mission (or so I’ve heard), John Woo’s offering is almost the opposite of De Palma’s: action heavy with a plot that leaves much to be desired. What gives this film any legs at all is Cruise. His screen presence and general charisma is absorbing. Some of the action sequences are also attention-grabbing, however at times they do get repetitive. The whole thing is also incredibly cheesy, from the love interest story arc to the cinematography, the editing to the score. If getting away from the ensemble-based television show and previous movie was part of the goal, then it is certainly successful, but with too much swing in the other direction.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Director: J.J. Abrams
That’s more like it! You can tell this was an Abrams production – the action, the dialogue, the direction overall. It’s now that M:I feels like it’s coming into its own. It still has its little homages to the television show, but now it’s learning to walk without a 1960’s hand to hold. Cruise is on fine form, and Michelle Monaghan provides a great (if slightly cheesy and strangely ok-with-everything) counterpart. The late great Philip Seymour Hoffman is an oddly fun villain, and the introduction of Simon Pegg provides a bit of much-needed comic relief. The ensemble aspect is back, making it feel like the team effort of old. Despite its slightly over-the-top moments, Abrams has pushed the franchise into new and exciting territory. I really hope it continues…
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
Director: Brad Bird
Well, that theme NEVER gets old. This is the film that really establishes Cruise as the American equivalent of Kenneth Branagh (produced by Cruise, starring Cruise, a Cruise film), though in a much less Shakespearean way. Abrams also continues his involvement via his Bad Robot production company. Cruise’s all-round involvement in and commitment to the franchise was clear two films ago, and as of M:I III we can see a direction that wasn’t present in the second film. With more humour and grounding injected into Ghost Protocol thanks to Simon Pegg and director (and Disney/Pixar favourite) Brad Bird, the insane stunts are placated to a lighter level than that of previous M:I films. And the gadgets. THE GADGETS. Bond would be a little jealous were he not so much a fan of the ‘less is more’ smaller gadgetry. It doesn’t quite have the kick that M:I III did, but I’m starting now to understand why the franchise continues to be popular and why Cruise insists on making sure he can do as many of his own stunts as possible – it keeps the attention of the audience and keeps us involved in Ethan and his team’s efforts.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Starting with the best opening of all the movies thus far (Cruise hanging off a plane that’s taking off, of course), here we go again with what seems to have become the established and official Impossible Mission Force team (though it would be nice if the female lead, whether on the side of IMF or not, could remain the same for more than one film. At least Rebecca Ferguson is reprising her role in the next instalment). Somehow, the stakes have gotten even higher in Rogue Nation. Where every dilemma seemed to be on a more international scale, this one feels more personal, with the IMF vs. the Syndicate. It’s like God vs. Satan. It’s a big, though perhaps not as straightforward, deal. Cruise, despite being ever so much more than twenty, is once again on top of his game, the stunts just as jaw-dropping. Perhaps it’s his familiarity with McQuarrie, this being their fourth film together, but something just feels more… comfortable, in a good way.
OK, so I can see now what I’d been missing out on. The earlier films were still finding their feet away from the television shows, but the later movies find their own personality and even inject some much needed humour. The stunt work and the writing evolves enough to keep it fresh. There are really not a lot of films out there that do what the Mission: Impossible franchise does, notably provide some actual story (mostly episodic, which helps) alongside all the manic and unbelievable stunts rather than totally rely on the visuals to succeed. Cruise’s insistence on doing these stunts himself definitely takes the whole thing to another level, allowing his directors to capture moments that otherwise may have been deemed too implausible. That’s not to say that much of it is entirely plausible, however between Cruise’s acting skills and strong stomach, and talented directors and cinematographers, something about (most of) the films keeps audiences engrossed. I’m definitely involved now, and I very much look forward to Fallout (which, by the by, is already reviewing extremely well).This article will self-destruct in five seconds…
Check out the Mission: Impossible – Fallout review here.