As the fifth installment in the billion dollar grossing Mission: Impossible franchise hits theatres today, I went back and watched all four movies, not just to hype myself up for it but also to see how the previous films have held up over the years. After all, it’s been almost 20 years since the original movie graced the silver screen, solidifying the Tom Cruise starring vehicle as a completely bankable franchise.
It seems both Cruise and Paramount Pictures have great faith in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation because they announced this morning that a sixth film has been greenlit. But before we review that movie, let’s take a look at how the other films in the franchise stand up.
Release Date: 1996
Director: Brian De Palma (Sisters, Blow Out, The Untouchables)
Stylistic Traits: Slow-burn suspense, Long shots
Pros: Subverting expectations was something that Mission: Impossible did very early on by killing off the entire IMF team except for Ethan Hunt (Cruise), turning the film into a whodunit mystery crossed with a chase movie as Ethan Hunt is framed for the murders. The plot moves swiftly and expects its viewers to pay attention to as much detail in the shots and to what the characters are saying to each other. It’s a tough movie to follow, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rarely nowadays do movie plots ever require much attention since character motivations are often spelled out for the audience through flashbacks or consistent exposition. Mission: Impossible refrains from this, but still manages to keep the tension high with minimal action scenes. This is due to the strengths of Brian De Palma, who knows how to build mystery through constant suspense.
Cons: Even if you pay really close attention, it’s easy to be confused by the plot, which is more convoluted than your phone bill. And even when things are explained, it’s hard to see how characters came to those conclusions. It’s also a really slow moving film when compared to the other M:I installments. There is little humour or charm to the characters, and while certain scenes may be incredible well crafted, they don’t always work together to make a coherent unified story.
Best Stunt: Ethan Hunt breaks into a CIA vault from a ventilation shaft that will trigger an alarm at the slightest change in weight, room temperature, or sound. It’s the second most intense scene in the entire series.
Rating: 7 / 10
Release Date: 2000
Director: John Woo (Hard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow, Face/Off)
Stylistic Traits: Two-handed gunplay, Slow motion close ups of characters staring at each other, Doves
Pros: Tom Cruise has stated that he wants each M:I film to have a different feel and style. But he threw everyone for a curve ball when he brought in action director John Woo to helm M:I 2. However, fans of John Woo could not be disappointed by this announcement. The action scenes are as stylish as anything the filmmaker has crafted thus far, focusing on large scale shootouts and motorcycle chases reminiscent of Hard Boiled. The plot of the film focuses on a virus that is being sought after by a rogue IMF agent to unleash upon an unsuspecting Sydney in order to profit from selling its cure. This allows for some neat scenes between characters double crossing or trying to save each other. Either way, the film is a ton of fun. It’s also the highest growing Mission: Impossible movie to date domestically.
Cons: The problem with this sequel is twofold: 1. It turned Mission: Impossible into something of a poor man’s Bond film. From Thandie Newton playing a standard Bond girl role, a one-dimensional villain, to a smooth talking ladies’ man going from stunt to stunt of a main character, M:I 2 borrows heavily from the 007 series to the point of plagiarism. 2. It completely isolated its initial audience by heavily dumbing down the plot while ramping up implausible scenarios and overly stylized stunts in equally overly stylized action scenes.
Best Scene: Ving Rhames saying, “Now I’m mad” then taking a rocket launcher and blowing up a car filled with baddies. Tom Cruise then drives through the flames on his motorcycle wearing sunglasses.
Rating: 6 / 10
Release Date: 2006
Director: J.J. Abrams
Stylistic Traits: Handheld shots, Intense close ups of faces
Pros: It’s hard to say if the film’s lackluster box office performance was due to the largely negative reaction to Mission: Impossible II, but M:I 3 managed to find a balance between the first film’s build-up of suspense and the second film’s all out balls to the wall action. It introduces the audience to Ethan Hunt, semi-retired IMF agent and soon to be husband to a beautiful nurse (Michelle Monaghan). This setting created extremely high stakes, particularly in the way that the film opens – the best opening of the series so far. M:I 3 is the best acted film in the series. Philip Seymour Hoffman is absolutely incredible in this film, coming off his Oscar win with a villain who is ruthless and terrifying in every sense of the word. It also gives Luther (Ving Rhames) a larger role, which makes up for how underused he was in the previous installment.
Cons: Those who love to make fun of Tom Cruise’s running will rejoice when they see a ridiculous and unnecessarily long scene of Cruise running through a market. It’s easy to see that the shot was meant to be serious and stylishly thrilling, but instead it felt unintentionally hilarious. While the first two films had distinct styles to them, M: I 3 feels largely bland, with every scene coming off as “been there, seen that before,” and even more so if you are a fan of spy thrillers. There’s nothing in this movie, save for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting, that wasn’t done better in The Bourne Supremacy.
Best Scene: The opening sequence
Release Date: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
Stylistic Traits: Huge set pieces filled with subtle but breathtaking special effects, Humour, Creative Camera Angles
Pros: With Ghost Protocol, the Mission: Impossible series finally managed to carve its way into the pantheon of great spy films. This film was suspenseful, action-packed, and simply jaw dropping from its opening frame to its cliffhanger conclusion. Tom Cruise dangling from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was not only incredibly well-crafted it was actually performed on location with the actor dangling on the outside of the building. This scene is a testament to Cruise’s commitment to the films he makes, a commitment that is yet to be bested by any working actor in Hollywood today. From a finale set in a revolving car park to a sandstorm to some of the best hand to hand combat scene in a movie that isn’t part of the Bourne franchise, Ghost Protocol is an incredibly exciting action picture that never once forsakes its story – which is complex yet able to follow – or its characters – this is the most relatable team in an M:I film yet – for the sake of entertainment.
Cons: If there is any con, it’s that the film doesn’t make reference to what happened to Ethan Hunt’s previous team members from both M:I 2 and M:I 3. Perhaps a little more development on Michael Nygvist’s character would have been more welcome as well, but it isn’t really necessary. And who wants a cliffhanger ending, especially when it’s unclear if a sequel is going to happen?
Best Scene: Ethan Hunt has to climb 11 floors of the Burj Khalifa to install a program that will enable the team to bypass the building’s online security, the most intensely nail biting scene in the entire series.
Rating: 9 / 10
Stay tuned for our review of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation on Monday. All of these films are available on blu ray or on iTunes. So check out whichever ones you haven’t seen yet and get to the theatres this weekend as Rogue Nation promises to be the best M:I film yet!