DOC RANKS THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLES, FILMS 1 TO 5

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Of course they’re neither horror nor cult [though the very fine TV series can probably be classed as the latter], but any frequent reader of this website will know that it’s roughly 50% horror and 50% other stuff, and the reason it’s that way is because this reflects our taste. We’d all go mad if we watched the same kinds of films all the time. So, with the sixth installment just out in cinemas, and inspired by our very own David Smith’s rankings of three other franchises, here’s my personal ranking of a series that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed up to now, and my review of the newest entry will be up sometime next week. And while I’m at it  – Paramount – thanks for giving us these films which I watch quite often, but it would be nice to have proper Blu-rays of the first three films one day then just you releasing what are basically upscaled DVDs yet again!

SPOILERS!

 

5/ MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2 [2000]

Bio-chemical expert Dr. Vladimir Nekhorvich is forced by his employer, Biocyte Pharmaceuticals, to develop a biological epidemic to profit from its remedy. He arranges to meet with IMF [Impossible Mission Force NOT International Monetary Fund!] agent Ethan Hunt to deliver the Chimera virus and its cure Bellerophon, but the IMF send agent Sean Ambrose instead. Ambrose kills Nekhorvich and steals Chimera and Bellerophon. IMF Commander Swanbeck sends Hunt to recover virus and cure, and has him recruit Nyah Nordoff-Hall, a professional thief presently operating in Seville, Spain. The two have an affair, but Nyah is also Ambrose’s ex-girlfriend so Hunt reluctantly convinces her to spy on Ambrose….

There wasn’t really any way that this wasn’t going to be number five, though to be fair it’s improved for me over the years and is actually pretty good dumb fun if you don’t attempt to take it seriously. It’s an odd film in some ways. Much of the first half is a virtual remake of Notorious though with less of its suspense and hardly any of its emotional complexity, and the thrill scene is Cruise’s real climb up a mountain, with a heart stopping bit where he jumps from one cliff edge to another. Then around half way through it suddenly turns into a watered down version of an older John Woo movie with some of his familiar stuff like doves and the firing of two guns while jumping, but replacing extreme bloodshed with utter ludicrousness including complete defiance of the laws of gravity. The highlight is perhaps the bike chase, both exciting and hilarious what with things like everything Ethan shoots at exploding but his bike failing to blow up even when his gas tank is hit. Throughout all of this Cruise is made to look as cool as possible, though at times this also creates chuckles like when he appears out of a cloud of smoke proceeded by a crappy CG dove, while the teamwork aspect important to this series is largely ignored, with Luther Stickell [Ving Rhames returning from the first film], Billy Baird and Thandie Newton’s Nyah being given very little to do. Nyah’s first meeting with Ethan is simultaneously tense, funny and sexy, but the film never tries to be like that again.

A major silly highlight is when Hunt painstakingly infiltrates a building by bungee jumping down a giant ventilator shaft while Ambrose and his private army gingerly stroll through the front door of said building, though this is immediately followed by stupid Ambrose starting a shoot out inside a research lab containing deadly chemicals. On the other hand I always find it strangely moving when Nyah swallows the virus – though how the hell is she fine at the end? The script by luminary Robert Towne is crammed with idiocy, with no attempt at the intelligence and complexity of the first one unless you count some really ridiculous use of masks which are employed just to provide a surprise, though it does have some good lines and is self aware enough to give Ambrose two quips about Cruise’s way overused grin. Woo certainly made a great looking film here, deliberately glossy and bright and colourful in contrast to the first one, in some ways like a Michael Bay film, though he way overdoes the slow motion. Definitely the ‘guilty pleasure’ of the series.

 

4/ MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3 [2008]

Ethan Hunt has retired from field work for the IMF and trains new recruits while settling down with his fiancée, Julia Meade, a nurse unaware of Ethan’s true job. He’s approached by agent John Musgrave about a mission to rescue one of Ethan’s protégés, Lindsey Farris, who was captured while investigating arms dealer Owen Davian. Hunt and a team complete the mission in Berlin and take two laptops, but Lindsey is killed. Data recovered from the laptops reveals that Davian will be in Vatican City to obtain a mysterious object called the “Rabbit’s Foot”. Ethan plans a mission to capture Davian without seeking official approval….

Though there was only six years between film two and film three, watching this one almost immediately after the previous one is quite strange because in that six years action cinema changed quite a bit and it almost feels like a movie from a different era. I don’t think that faster cuts, shakycam and lots of usually very obvious CGI amount to progress, though fortunately director J. J. Abrams doesn’t go totally over the top with these things. In contrast to Mission: Impossible 2, Mission: Impossible 3 is one which I loved at the cinema but which has fallen in my estimation since then. As with Star Trek, Abrams, who also co-wrote, thinks that the key to updating an old TV show is to throw loads of action at the viewer and sod things like logic, subtlety, or indeed any attempt to be like the original series. The aim here seems to partly be an attempt to combine aspects of the first two films [mole in the IMF, villain with a destructive super weapon, Hunt as rogue, etc], though in the end this one ends up being just as daft as the second, such as a helicopter chase through wind turbines where nobody thinks to actually fly above them, or when Ethan’s heart stops beating and is re-started by an electric jolt whereupon he’s immediately able to fire a gun with accuracy – something he’s also able to do whilst sliding down a skyscraper. But unless you really are a Cruise hater you cannot deny the coolness of when he runs through over Hong Kong rooftops and through streets in extended long takes, and he’s given more of an opportunity to act in this one too.

The opening of Hunt and Julia tied up and threatened with death by Davian before we flash back to happier times is a great idea, and later on hero and villain share an excellent scene where Hunt interrogates Davian and almost kills him but Davian remains in control all the time and, when he threatens Hunt and his fiancee, he’s truly chilling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman brilliant as always. Licence to Kill and True Lies may have inspired parts of the plot which doesn’t really hang together, and which has a twist that’s extremely predictable, but the mysterious Rabbit’s Foot is the most wonderfully pointless  ‘macguffin’ since Pulp Fiction’s briefcase, and there’s much more team work this time around even if it’s still basically an action movie hurling set piece after set piece at you. On that level, this one does work, and it also has a tougher edge to it than any Mission before or later.

 

3/ MISSION IMPOSSIBLE [1996]

Jim Phelps and his team of secret agents attempt to retrieve the CIA list of all covert agents in Eastern Europe from the American embassy in Prague, but all the team are killed except for Ethan Hunt. In fact it was all a set-up by IMF director Eugene Kittridge to lure out a mole, believed to be working with an arms dealer known as “Max” as part of “Job 314.” Suspected of being the mole by Ketteridge, Hunt recruits a new team and sets out to find who set him up and to clear his name….

There are many who still consider the first movie in the franchise to be the best, and it’s easy to see why. Less reliant on big action sequences than its successors, for quite a bit of the time it’s closer to being a more traditional spy thriller of the old school, the kind where the twists of the plot, things like uncertainty over who’s working for who, take precedence over explosions and gunplay. Deception and surprise dominate in a film that opens with a bogus kill and a bogus questioning in a bogus house, then audaciously kills off half its starry cast within the first twenty minutes. There was much complaining when it came out that it was an impossible mission to follow the plot, but it just requires some concentration, and perhaps more importantly is pretty much air-tight, I looked out for gaping holes on this watch and couldn’t find any in David Koepp and Steven Zaillian’s clever script. On the other hand the film is a little chilly both visually and emotionally, the Cold War feel seeping into nearly everything, It’s confident enough to ask us to guess certain things such as what happens after Claire starts kissing Ethan’s arm, and puts its limited warmth in areas you wouldn’t necessarily expect, such as the strange chemistry between Ethan and “Max”.

Director Brian De Palma holds back his usual stylistic tendencies a little but this film could still be used as a masterclass in how to move the camera movement and use different angles for dramatic effect, while despite what many De Palma fans say, I think that this is by no means an anonymous entry in his filmography, the film containing many of his favourite themes from the unreliability of the image to doppelgangers to alternate perspectives, and he maintains a solid grip over it all. Cruise’s dangling from a wire scene still remains the very best robbery scene in the series; no matter how many times one has seen the film, one’s heart still almost misses a beat when that knife falls towards the floor. In a movie that, despite its gadgets is relatively down to earth and believable, the train climax that ends with the Cruiser actually flying almost seems out of place, but it certainly provides a cracking finale. I do feel that Tom doesn’t tend to try very hard acting-wise in these films, while the scripts seem to prefer Hunt to be almost a cypher dominated by the story lines and overshadowed by the other characters until it comes to derring-do. Here, John Voight gets perhaps the most dramatic meat, while female lead Emmanuelle Beart is gorgeous but distant – which of course may be the idea. Mission: Impossible is a tad unsatisfying perhaps because it tries to be too much, but it remains a surprisingly intelligent, even subversive, attempt at a slightly more cerebral kind of blockbuster.

 

2/ MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION [2011]

After intercepting nerve gas being sold to terrorists in Minsk, Ethan Hunt is captured by the criminal consortium the Syndicate led by former MI6 agent Solomon Lane, but escapes with the help of disavowed MI6 agent and Syndicate operative Ilsa Faust. CIA Director Alan Hunley doesn’t believe the Syndicate exists and shuts down the IMF for supposed misconduct while ordering Hunt to be hunted down. Hunt enlists Benji Dunn to help prevent a predicted attempt on the Austrian Chancellor’s life in Vienna, and while he’s there espies not one but three snipers, one of them Ilsa….

To be honest, I had trouble deciding which of these films to place as the highest, because in terms of quality the fourth and fifth entries are virtually equal. After some thought I went with Ghost Protocol as number one because I enjoyed it a little bit more, but there’s no doubt that Rogue Nation is cracking stuff. For a start we have a great twisty spy thriller plot of the old school which is something we haven’t had since the first film, and for the first time Cruise allows a female lead to really share the spotlight with him, Rebecca Ferguson managing to be beguilingly mysterious throughout as Ilsa and being allowed to majorly join in with the action without losing her femininity. Her and Cruise actually share some chemistry too and you really want them to get together even though it’s more appropriate that they don’t. Making Simon Pegg’s part larger again after Ghost Protocol also works, allowing among other things for some well placed chuckles during tense moments that actually increase, rather than decrease, the excitement. I don’t know how much writer/director Christopher McQuarrie was responsible for this because the big set pieces for these films tend to be thought up before a full script has been written, but he, Cruise and the other creators have also finally found a way to make the action thrilling yet relatively believable. Compare for example the bike chase here to the one in Mission: Impossible 2, this one’s just as exciting yet nowhere near as silly. And of course Tom is in the thick of it. I remember some folk saying how the opening sequence wasn’t as impressive as similar scenes in other movies, but those ones didn’t actually have their star clambering over the moving airplace without the aid of green screen.

McQuarrie gives us the nicest looking entry since 2000 and shows his growing expertise as a director with a fantastic section in an opera house full of suspense and surprise, while you can imagine him almost writing himself into a corner yet also having huge fun with questions like: how do I think up an even more impossible place for Hunt to break into, and how can I have Hunt capture Britain’s Prime Minister? This one does suffer a little from having most of the major highlights in the first three thirds, and chasing around in some nighttime London streets makes for a curiously low-key climax. The plot probably winds up the way that it should, but the powerful, deadly Syndicate does seem absurdly easy to defeat. Nonetheless, this manages to be a really good melding of espionage puzzler and action thriller, and proof that big summer movies can still have a brain and not be reliant on computer graphics.

 

1/ MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL [2011]

In Budapest, assassin Sabine Moreau kills IMF agent Trevor Hanaway and takes the file containing Russian nuclear launch codes he’d stolen to give to someone known only as “Cobalt”. Meanwhile Ethan Hunt, also investigating Cobalt, escapes from a Moscow prison with Bogdan, a source of information on Cobalt. IMF orders Hunt to infiltrate the Kremlin to gain more information on him, but a bomb destroys half the building, Hunt is blamed, and the IMF is disavowed, but the IMF Secretary secretly orders Hunt to continue to pursue Cobalt….

It doesn’t feel that odd to claim that the fifth in a film series is the best considering that the best James Bond film was the sixth, but it sure feels odd loving and praising a Brad Bird film so much after my huge irritation with Incredibles 2, but then again it was only two films ago that Bird, director of two of my favourite animated films ever, decided that ham-fisted messaging was the order of the day. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is just about as satisfying a big blockbuster as you can get these days, providing just the right balance of intrigue, suspense, action and humour, the latter something which is slightly more prevalent in each successive film and is here largely because of the beefing up of the screen time of Simon Pegg’s tech expert Benji Dunn, a more humorous replacement for Ving Rhames’s Luther Stickell. The basic plot is basically Thunderball for the umpteenth time made to seem a little more complex, and the occasional absurdity still appears like a face being unscathed when it hits a steel bar after falling at least ten feet, while the main villain is a tad dull. But Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec do their best to wring some variations on the formula while still giving us what we want.

This time Hunt is far from the cocky, super confident person we’re used to, while for much of the time he and his team royally cock things up. Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt gets to do the ‘hanging on a wire stealing something’ bit, though Cruise still gets to climb up and swing around the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai in what may be the defining image of the whole series. A fight in an automated car factory and a chase in a dust storm prove that original action scenes can still exist, while the two female leads Paula Patton and Lea Seydoux get the best fight – though the highlight may very well be the brilliantly clever and tense, yet slightly comic, sequence where the same meeting occurs twice with different characters in different rooms as part of an elaborate ruse, it’s genius – in an entry which at last feels able to really draw out the suspense like the first film. And then the movie is brave enough to finish with a tug at the heartstrings, giving us a married couple who can never be together for safety. Dare I say that I nearly cry when Hunt observes Julia with another guy from a distance, and then when the two briefly see each other? This really is the top Mission for me – though I think there’s a good chance that the sixth entry will top it!

Dr Lenera
About Dr Lenera 2427 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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