Early reviews for Mission: Impossible – Fallout have been stellar, increasing my anticipation for it to sky-high levels. It’s improbable to think that the sixth entry of any series could be the best yet, but we shall soon see if that’s the case for Tom Cruise‘s signature spy saga. In the days leading up to its release, I’ve been revisiting the past entries, and with time limited to really pour into full reviews, I hope to do some quick “mini” reviews here that give my overall impressions of the series thus far.
Directed by Brian De Palma and starring Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, Henry Czerny, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jean Reno, Emmanuelle Beart, and Vanessa Redgrave.
Mission: Impossible, upon release, ruffled a lot of feathers with its liberties taken with characters from the original TV show. That said, there isn’t much to tie it all to its namesake (a trait that holds true for the entire series). I’ve always said the film property has taken the framework and some distinguishing details (i.e. self-destructing messages, disguises galore, etc.) from the TV series, but little else; that all came as a result of this film. Watching it now in 2018, the film plays very conventionally, almost too much. Boring is too strong of a strong word, but it doesn’t have as many exciting moments for current film audiences or as mixed of a genre feel. That said, there is intrigue here for any newcomers who aren’t spoiled on the plot coming into it, all these years after release. Humor isn’t a strong suit here either, but it effectively sets up Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as an agent on the run, bravely capable of forming a team to get missions completed, all essential aspects of the character. His chase to keep the disclosure of the CIA’s non-official cover (NOC) list from being revealed lends an effective backbone to the chase of it all. That said, Ethan isn’t terribly interesting as a lead here, but that all comes in time with more films. Brian De Palma films the whole thing very traditionally with how he composes shots, whereas that isn’t always the method of direction with this series, as you will soon read. There are some standout action sequences, and that’s what really makes it worth a look back beyond the plot (namely the wire-drop and train sequences). This film did its job and got the ball rolling, but other than having a full knowledge of how Ethan’s history with IMF and how he met Luthor (Ving Rhames), there isn’t too much here to recommend today. Still, it isn’t the worst of the series.
Directed by John Woo and starring Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Richard Roxburgh, Brendan Gleeson, and Sir Anthony Hopkins.
What can I say? I never enjoyed Mission: Impossible 2, now or then. When it came out, I really enjoyed Metallica‘s “I Disappear” and Fred Durst‘s reworking of Lalo Schiffrin’s classic theme in Limp Bizkit‘s “Take A Look Around” (honestly, one of the best things they ever did). I think they are the two best things to come out of the whole production. John Woo‘s signature style is all over this thing, and that may be why I don’t like it as much. That isn’t meant as a slight to the director; it’s just that his vision is more interesting than the story in this film. The entire film feels like stylized action sequences laced together with a paper-thin plot. Luthor returns alongside Ethan, but with little to no reference to the original in this film, it creates the pattern that holds true for most in the series: vastly different directors lending their particular styles to the spy genre, each to varying results. Here, the zoom close-ups and differences in image fidelity that shows up in between shots all prove very distracting and don’t help the longevity of the film at all, making it feel very dated. The race to stop the spread of a biological weapon (and antidote) doesn’t prove as interesting as it should. No doubt, Woo can set up great shoot-outs and motorcycle chases, but the script doesn’t give us much reason to care about any of it with little humor and no romantic chemistry between Thandie Newton and Tom Cruise. Ethan Hunt, as a character, does very little in the way of growth here, and in my opinion, this is the easiest entry to discard. Sir Anthony Hopkins is brought into the series and opens the revolving door for IMF directors; Ethan may always endanger his own job with each mission, but his superiors never seem to keep theirs. Dougray Scott makes no real impression as the villain here, and in hindsight, his portrayal is far more interesting in consideration that he gave up the role of Wolverine in X-Men to star in this. My mind ran with “What-Ifs” about that film the entire time, rather than find much worth investing in here. Watch it for completionist-sake or because you want to see what allowed Hugh Jackman‘s fame to get its start, but in a series with very self-contained entries, it isn’t really necessary or recommended.
Directed by J.J. Abrams and starring Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Crudup, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Keri Russell, Maggie Q, Laurence Fishburne, and Simon Pegg.
After its release, Mission: Impossible 3 is the film in the series that hooked me. Finally, we have a personal interest in Ethan Hunt, and while J.J. Abrams doesn’t have a perfect record, he really cleaned up this series with this film. This feels like an ending, even though we now know there is more to come. Coming off of Alias, Abrams understands the espionage genre, and I was riveted in theatres and in my rewatch. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a very effective villain, and you can feel Cruise gritting his teeth in disgust at him, because you are doing it too. In fact, much of my impression came with how despicable Hoffman comes across in his performance. Films of this ilk often come across with little relatability, and while Hunt makes dangerous choices to afford the audience relatability, it all works. His new role as a field trainer for IMF affords him the relaxation to explore life like most people, and while I didn’t buy any attempts at romance in the first two films, there’s something about Michelle Monaghan‘s Julia that makes you believe Ethan would risk all for her. Ethan and Luther are joined by several in the mission’s team, including Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Maggie Q, and Simon Pegg; this works wonders for enjoyment, tying it to the feel of the original TV show, and just in creating interest in the film’s missions. Now, as is common with these films, the team feels like a revolving door with some featuring in a film and never being mentioned again; thankfully, Pegg jumps on the series here and hasn’t left yet. My critiques lie with handheld camera work that wobbles all over the place. It was popular then, but it is in overload here and needs to go. Also, the music isn’t that interesting, and whereas the previous film was helped by it, here, it does nothing for it. Whereas the plot seemed like an afterthought in M-I:2, here, I was invested from start to finish. There are reasons covert operatives live lives of secrets, and this effectively shows why. It’s a route not many espionage films even hint at, and here, it is the focus, which is unique. While “The Rabbit Foot” that Hunt is tasked to chase down proves to be as MacGuffiny as MacGuffins get, it’s the relationships and crafted actions sequences that kept me glued. It’s not perfect by any means, but hands-down, this was the best entry of the first three to me; still, things get even better.
Directed by Brad Bird and starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Lea Seydoux, and Josh Holloway.
Brad Bird blew everyone’s minds with how adept he moved from animation to live-action here in Ghost Protocol. The same precision he used in The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 is all here with living, breathing actors, and while the third film made it all dark and personal, this film, thanks to some incredible special effects sequences in Dubai, elevated the series to new heights of epicness, while utilizing a brighter color palette and thankfully keeping the camera mostly static. It’s an incredible thrill-ride from start to finish. Granted, the film sets up some plot points early on that are not explained until the very end, so while the film featured great on IMAX screens and had people coming back for repeat viewings to see all the crazy stunts that Cruise did, there is an aloofness to the plot in places that brought the series back to more standard-issue spy films. Of all the films in the first five entries, this is probably the most fun, thanks mostly to Simon Pegg earning a more central part in the cast (but Luther takes a back seat). Jeremy Renner joins the cast here, and he plays a part that we never really know where he stands for interesting reasons. Paula Patton plays her part well, but as is sadly typical of women in these films, she’s a one-and-done. Villains never get much in the way of memorable impressions to be made, but everything felt more organically tied together, instead of just action scenes with a story barely there. This is also the last of the “auteur” features, as once Christopher McQuarrie directs the next feature, he hasn’t left the series yet (which is also a great thing in its own right). All in all, this film, despite turning away from the personal angle, makes an interesting and fun team on the run (again), trying to save us all from nuclear annihilation. It’s the best popcorn flick of these five films, and all-in-all, it’s my favorite of the bunch, thus far.
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie and starring Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, and Alec Baldwin.
Finally, after all these films, we start to see some carryover from one to the next with Rogue Nation. Plot seeds scattered at the end of four all manifest here, and they will continue in Fallout. While the individualized entries were unique early on, modern audiences expect story payoff from a series, so now that we are getting it, it really elevated this film. In theaters, I thought it was perfectly alright as a film, but now that I watched it again in sequence, I was much more impressed with this film because of the ties to the last and set up for the future. Ethan and crew are tasked with dealing with a task force made up of disavowed agents that are affecting the world from the shadows. The Syndicate, as they are called, make an incredible foil, even if there is little personal connection (yet) to IMF. Meanwhile, Alec Baldwin stars as a bureaucrat asking the question of why agents like these are allowed to function today. This film feels the most tied to the real world, and it subtly allows audiences to think about the implications of intelligence agencies globally. While the underwater sequence is exciting and the film literally begins with an incredible sequence of Hunt hanging from the side of a plane, it was a tall order to follow up the Burj Khalifa climb in Ghost Protocol. As a result, everything here suffers by comparison, even as Christopher McQuarrie nails everything in the direction. I like this film more now, knowing that he is at the helm in Fallout and seems to be bringing things forward in it. Rebecca Ferguson is a great addition to the cast and ably keeps us wondering about her intentions throughout. Sean Harris has a voice that chills, but mostly as a villain in the shadows, it will likely be Fallout before he truly makes the deepest of impressions. Luther is brought back as a full cast member, and what a treat! I think he is why I love this series so much. We don’t get to see Ving Rhames in much, but at least, he gets out to make these every few years. Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg round out the main cast, and for a film that started with Tom Cruise largely alone, the team dynamic, honed even more here, is why we love it. This is a definite watch before Fallout, as are Mission: Impossible III and Ghost Protocol.
When it comes to content for all the films, they fit firmly in the PG-13 rating. In the second, third, and fourth films, there’s mild sexual content, but nothing that pushes into overly mature content. Rogue Nation features a character changing clothes that counts as partial nudity in the MPAA rating, but you only see her bare back. Language is fairly consistent in all as not overly used, which is nice. When jokes are made, they aren’t sexual in nature, so all in all, it’s fairly tame entertainment. Violence isn’t usually extreme, but there are moments of intensity and limited shots of gore; that said, there is little to push it beyond PG-13.
The first film’s plot heavily centers around the Biblical character of Job and a Gideon Bible, but beyond that, there is nothing explicitly Christian in any of the films. If one were to look for Christian themes, I would say that the series has shown Ethan, who has been given every reason not to trust or care for others, increasingly rely on the company of others in his life and work. The friendship and comradery that emerges in the films show that trying times can draw people together, and it’s interesting to see that these are the things that give a man peace and happiness, amongst the cold treachery of espionage. I enjoy the films, each for their own reasons, but cumulatively, they show this fellowship that is a joy to watch and see develop.