Movies

A Brief Recap of The Mission Impossible Franchise

I grew up watching Tom Cruise fight bad guys with the ease of an immortal god. Whether it is his earth-shattering performance in Eyes Wide Shut or his classy brilliance in Collateral, Cruise has developed a slight-typecast and a sense of intensity that beautifully lends itself to every single narrative he stars in. One of the most prominent lendings of Cruise’s energy and identity is the Mission: Impossible franchise, which exploded onto the scene and changed blockbuster filmmaking for years to come. In celebration of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, a film that is gearing up to be this year’s (or perhaps, this decade’s) most quintessential action blockbuster, let’s take a look back on the past twenty-two years of Mission: Impossible.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

With pop-culture classics like Scarface and Dressed to Kill under his belt, as well as low-key genre pieces such as Blow Out and Sisters, Brian De Palma decides to adapt the acclaimed Mission: Impossible television series into a motion picture event. With a duo-written script by David Koepp and Robert Towne that promises innovative and grand spectacles of action, as well as the highest budget De Palma has ever worked with, he creates something that truly revolutionized action cinema. His visual style appears more poignant than ever, especially when observing how he utilizes dominant/submissive and intimate camera angles. Tom Cruise, as expected, steals the show with his charmingly uncanny ability to convey the entire spectrum of emotions, all while being incredibly light-hearted in nature. It’s important to look back on cinema like this that’s essentially embedded into modern-day pop-culture because people tend to forget about how incredibly revolutionary they still manage to be and strictly focus on the popularity of it. This film was the birth of an era and what a consistently magnificent era that it turned out to be.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Common sense and simplistic attitudes take a backseat during John Woo’s explosive take on the familiar franchise. The Chinese auteur trades in De Palma’s thoughtful aesthetic for something entirely trashy and subtly genius. Within seconds, the film makes it abhorrently clear that it doesn’t care what you think about it. The whole-hearted embracement of the minimalist CGI and stylistic sensory overload create an experience that is not like any film you’ll ever see. This could’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole via writer Robert Towne plaguing the narrative with paranoid commentary. Thankfully, everyone majorly involved is cognizant enough of what they are creating that the film doesn’t compromise its tone; it knows it’s stupid, and it doesn’t want to hide that from you. The premiere Mission Impossible flick embraced the technology that it was working with at the time and ended up creating something irresistible. Woo’s contribution, however, opened up the floodgates to what everyone truly reminisces upon these films for and that is just how balls-to-the-way crazy they are with breathtaking style and unforgettable action.

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

After six years of head-scratching and confusion, J.J Abrams carries the MI torch and crafts an entry that would cause it to burn brighter than ever. Abrams boldly takes on the task of rewiring everything that made the franchise so essential without compromising its overall quality. He tackles the concept of a grounded narrative, where most of the stakes and tension originate from human empathy and sentimentality. With an incredibly talented three-man writing team of Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Abrams behind the project and the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman serving as Hunt’s moral crisis Owen Davian, this quite possibly makes for my favorite entry in the series. Letting a new-comer decide the outcome of this film was the breath of fresh air that this series needed desperately before the inevitable struck and they all became the same over-the-top blockbusters. This was a stepping stone in the right direction and even though the creativity has been plentiful at this point in the franchise, the third installment truly cemented the idea that more can be explored than courageous stunts. I have a feeling that I could truly watch this on repeat for the rest of my life and continuously unravel more of its hidden genius as I go along.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Not wanting to fall victim to the dreaded number four, Ghost Protocol goes for more of a trend that the later films would later follow along with; no longer order them by number but by subject matter. Ghost Protocol mashes together the best of both worlds in terms of emotional stakes, crafting a narrative that grossly affects the well-being of our carefully developed protagonists and creates genuine conversation for our real world. Brad Bird’s take on this subject matter follows every tip-toe made by the most major character and gives his audience a chance to create impressions on the characters without making them black-and-white. On top of this, he lends his trademark animation tactics to live-action filmmaking, creating an experience that leads to everyone with a phobia of heights sweating bullets. The trailing camerawork provides incredible detail and thorough examination of the world that Mr. Hunt fears will become far too grave for him to save one day. At the end of the day, it truly feels like a manifestation of the anxieties of what happens when a mission becomes too impossible. Maybe those failing sticky gloves were just for the sake of well-executed tension but I feel like Bird provides more depths to his narratives then just thrills.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

My theories proved somewhat correct during my analyzation into the subtilties of the series’ previous entry. Rogue Nation creates a visual representation of every Mission Impossible fan’s worst nightmare and that is “what happens when the curtain closes?” That closing curtain comes in the form of the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) being shut down, forcing our friendly neighborhood reality-defyers to go rogue in the name of justice and, ultimately, saving the world. I can certainly appreciate McQuairre’s corrosive but ultimately sporadic style, his love of presenting planning sequences in physical form with accompanied dialogue and commentary on terrorism morally inspired by power-hunger. These impressions go a long way with fans and I’m glad that his efforts truly paid off (McQuairre is returning for Fallout) but I can’t shake the feeling that these attempts at emotional tension were much more effective when they spawned from the third entry’s point of view. Credit where it’s due, a lot of the action spectacles still provide bountiful amounts of physical tension and imagination but not enough to carry it all the way home. It could be comparable to a soft drink; nothing beats those first few sips but it begins to get a tad bit old once the fizz has died down.

Be sure to check out Mission: Impossible – Fallout in theaters this weekend and stay tuned for our review.

Follow me on twitter @ScangaBen and on letterboxd @theccritic.

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  1. Excellent coverage of Tom Cruse’s film career. I for one, am looking forward to seeing the new Mission Impossible movie. I enjoyed this article, it was very thorough.