It’s kind of hard to believe but the Mission: Impossible film franchise is nearly two decades old. While it doesn’t have the amount of entries as James Bond or the box office of a Marvel movie it has etched out a nice little niche for itself. A mix of spy thriller and action movie it has grown to be one of my favorite series of films. But does it hold up? While I’ve seen Ghost Protocol multiple times thinking back I only saw the first three films when they were released. For whatever reason I never did come across them again. That’s about to change though. With Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation just around the corner I have decided to take a look back at the movies that came before it.
Mission: Impossible (1996)
First and foremost, sweet Jesus does Tom Cruise look young. I realize it was 19 years ago but I figured he was one of those dudes that doesn’t age ala Paul Rudd. As for the movie itself, holds up pretty well. It’s definitely the most spyish (I’ll assume that’s a word) of the series. The action scenes are less about explosions and more about espionage and it totally works. Not only does it help keep it from looking dated but director Brian de Palma (Scarface, Carrie) is able to ratchet up the tension in each of these scenes. De Palma actually gives the movie a pretty unique look. Using his more Hitchcockian style he plays with angles the way the other directors haven’t done. While not the best of the movies it did set a template for the other movies and is well worth watching again.
Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
A Mission Impossible film directed by John Woo (Hard Boiled, The Killer) sounds like a pair in action movie heaven. One of the biggest spy franchises and one of the best action directors in film sounds perfect. It sounded too good to be true. As it turns out, yeah, it is too good to be true. If I had to point out one main problem to M:I2 it is how poorly the two styles melded. Instead of having the movie being about IMF as a group like the first film he tried to make it into Ethan Hunt: Action Star. While there’s no doubt that Hunt is the main character the missions always felt more like a group effort. When done like this it feels more like a generic action movie. There’s also how old the whole movie feels. Maybe it was the Oakley and floppy hair combination. Maybe it was the nu metal version of the MI theme. Maybe it was every Woo-ism (again assuming this is a word) feeling like a parody of itself. Whatever it was the whole movie felt really dated. Which is a bummer because the action scenes aren’t bad. Scenes like Ethan sneaking into the Biocyte building make for fun set pieces. Looking back though, I’ll just tell people that Face/Off was my first exposure to John Woo.
Mission: Impossible 3 (2006)
After 6 years (the longest time between films) J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8) made his feature film debut with Mission: Impossible 3. While I had never seen any of his shows Abrams certainly lived up to the hype. Taking the spy plot of the original and the over-the-top action of M:I2 Abrams melds the best of both into the perfect summer. More importantly we get something we had yet to get thus far, a memorable villain. Portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman arms dealer Owen Davian. Hoffman is able to portray an enemy that is not only calculating but also intimidating. He slower, more thought out way Hoffman speaks works like a charm. We even get to see him (well his stunt double anyway) do some action thanks to some IMF masks. I have some minor nitpicks with the movie like some of the green screen being a bit too obvious for my liking but for the most pat this just might be the best Mission: Impossible movie.
Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol (2011)
I say might because I really do enjoy Ghost Protocol. Like the last movie director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Tomorrowland) blends spy thriller and big action beautifully. While the villain isn’t as strong (sorry Michael Nyqvist) this is made up with some of the most fun action scenes of the past decade. Scenes like Ethan Hunt climbing the Burj Khalifa are just as exciting as they were the first time I saw them. Sure it may be improbable but the scenes are perfectly crafted set pieces. The other big plus to the movie is the more comedic tone the film has. Not to say it’s a comedy but the more lighthearted feel brought by Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner add an almost Indiana Jones-like sense of fun the other movies generally lacked. While it might not be as complete (for lack of a better term) as a film it makes up for it by being a pitch perfect summer blockbuster.