Series Review: Mission: Impossible

Based on: Mission: Impossible (TV series) by Bruce Geller

Created by:  Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner

Directed by: Brian DePalma, John Woo, JJ Abrams, Brad Bird, Christopher McQuarrie

What sets it apart:

  • Top quality action, with Cruise constantly one-upping his always impressive stunt-work
  • Considerable intelligence for blockbuster Hollywood films
  • A playfulness that sets it apart from the likes of James Bond
  • It’s inability to be classified. When creating the series, Cruise actively sought out a new director for each installment so that each film would have its own unique feel. This has led to various inconsistencies in terms of tone (MI2 for example), but the series is still contained enough in terms of its cast that it holds together

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE

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The Story: Set up for the murder of his team on a mole hunt involving a fake list of IMF operative names, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) agrees to steal the actual list for an arms dealer named Max in order to confront the actual killer, with the help of a disgraced computer hacker (Ving Rhames), a shifty French pilot (Jean Reno) and the wife of his former team leader (Emmanuelle Beart).

Strengths: Fronted by a strong performance by Tom Cruise and with an excellent turn from Jon Voight as Ethan’s mission leader, Mission: Impossible is a thriller that doesn’t apologise for its own intelligence. It also holds up to multiple viewings, mostly because of the labyrinthine script by Robert Towne (of Chinatown fame) and David Koepp, but also because of Brian De Palma’s distinctively paranoia-inducing direction, which is best encapsulated in a conversation between Hunt and the head of the IMF, where suspense is generated primarily through the unusual but fitting camera angles, and the famous “vault break-in” scene, executed with almost no dialogue and no music.

Weaknesses: N/A

* * * * * (Great Movie)

Note: I have not included a trailer due to extreme spoilers.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II

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The Story: Ethan Hunt must track down a rogue IMF agent (Dougray Scott) with the help of professional thief Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton) before the agent uses a biological weapon called Chimera.

Strengths: While the first film prioritised suspense over action, MI2 goes completely in the opposite direction, shooting ludicrous, over-the-top action scenes with a clarity and professionalism rarely seen in contemporary action films.

Weaknesses: MI2 tried too hard to be a James Bond film (with one car chase practically lifted from Goldeneye), replacing the suave coolness of the first film with accidental awkwardness; none of this is helped by John Woo’s excessive style, which teeters between awe-inspiring and comedic. On the whole, MI2 is a musical-comedy going through an identity crisis, but is still a silly good time in its own right.

* * *

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III

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The Story: Hunt must save his wife from weapons dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) by stealing a coveted weapon called the Rabbit’s Foot, all while evading IMF agents who are after him for executing an operation without approval that left plenty of casualties.

Strengths: Considerably darker in tone than its predecessor, MI3 benefitted from Abrams’ strong direction (which included an interesting change of chronology for the film’s opening), more “realistic” action, the addition of the ever charming Simon Pegg into the recurring cast as tech whizz Benji, and a surprisingly chilling performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Weaknesses: Though he had directed several episodes of Lost and Alias, MI3 was Abrams’ debut and it is clear he was still cutting his directorial teeth. Though his action scenes are effective, his tendency towards improvised cinema-verite visuals often renders the action incomprehensible (a complaint applicable to all his films). However, MI3 served as a welcome antidote to the stupidity of MI2 and allowed room for the series to move around in.

* * * *

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL

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The Story: After a terrorist attack on the Kremlin, the IMF is disbanded, and a ragtag team of former operatives led by Hunt must avert a nuclear war.

Strengths:  With animation director Brad Bird bringing his characteristic wit and visual flair to his first live-action feature, the film’s breathtaking speed is never sacrificed for flow. The action scenes are executed with such masterful clarity, and the cast are so well used (particularly Cruise and Pegg, whose role was substantially increased for this film) that the preposterous story and frequent cliches are immediately pardoned. Those who claim Mad Max: Fury Road to be the first film in the current Action Renaissance obviously missed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Weaknesses: Above mentioned cliches. But hey.

* * * * *

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION

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The Story: After the IMF is dissolved due to its controversial methods, Hunt is on the run from the CIA as he tries to uncover an international terrorist group called the Syndicate with the help of Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and treasonous MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).

Strengths: MI:RN is something of a minor miracle. The film moves so fast you’d swear it was sped up in post, but writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (most famous for writing The Usual Suspects), wisely taking cues from Brad Bird, organises the action with clarity and a certain baroque grandness which can be clearly seen in such great set pieces as a fist-fight in the wings of an opera house and a high-speed motorbike chase.

Weaknesses: The film moves too fast to enjoy the complex plot, and there are very few moments to take a breather, making for an experience that is quite exhausting, but still exhilarating.

* * * *

Conclusion: Though not the most revolutionary or popular series ever, the Mission: Impossible series overcomes its own inconsistencies by consistently providing excellent action, (mostly) intelligent stories and an all-round exciting time that sets it apart from other self-serious tent-pole productions

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