Unlike most franchises, Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films appear to be getting stronger with age, like the ageless actor himself. Rogue Nation, the fifth film in the series, hits this Friday with the fifth director, Chris McQuarrie. With so many different visionaries behind the scenes, each ‘M:I’ film manages to cop its own identity while still following the adventures of Ethan Hunt. Some have been highly effective, and one in particular has become fodder.
Here are the rankings of the first four M:I films, from worst to first…
Mission: Impossible II – John Woo’s foray into the franchise four years after the original could have been enough to end things. Woo’s slow-motion addiction and dove feitsh don’t translate well to what is supposed to be a kinetic action adventure film. The action here is more an attempt to show off kickass slo-mo than to captivate audiences. There is no anchor for the action, just one chase after another, shootouts upon shootouts, and some curious moments of doe-eyed naval gazing between Hunt and his femme fatale, played by Thandie Newton.
The villain, Dougray Scott, is incredibly passive and forgettable. And the plot, about a deadly virus, is clunky and tired, pushing along vapid stunt work. Woo’s action romanticism is out of place, dating the entire picture. The hokey early 2000s hip hop drivel from Limp Bizkit don’t help the dating process either.
And the dialogue! Pitiful. At one point, Anthony Hopkins – who is entirely unnecessary to the story other than to add some Oscar cred – says “that’s why it’s not mission: difficult, it’s mission: impossible.” Meta groan.
Mission: Impossible III – These next two could be interchangeable, depending on what day you talk to me. M:I III has one major advantage over every other entry in the franchise, and that is the strong villainous presence of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman plays Owen Davian, a sadistic arms dealer who is holding Hunt’s secret spy identity over his head, and when the picture fires on all cylinders, Hoffman is on the screen.The fight scene between Cruise and Hoffman is a highlight of the film.
As for the action, J.J. Abrams handles it competently, lens flares and all. The assault on a bridge in the middle of the film, serving as an anchor, is visceral but all too brief. None of the set pieces stand out as truly special.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol –Brad Bird took over as director for the last entry in 2011. The expanding of Simon Pegg’s role, and the addition of Jeremy Renner infuse some new blood into the proceedings. And, unlike the last two, these supporting characters actually have, ya know, things to do other than sit around and gaze in wonderment as Hunt saves the day.
This fourth film was also able to inject the template Abrams laid out in M:I IIIwith a little testosterone, and added the crucial awe-inspiring action set piece. Cruise’s daliance atop the Burj Kahlifa tower in Dubai is not for the faint of heart. The only issue with Ghost Protocolis what comes on the back end, after the dizzying Burj Kahlifa sequence. I don’t remember the climax particularly, because it paled in comparison to the Burj Kahlifa scene, and even the explosive Kremlin sequence in the first act.
And let’s not forget, Ghost Protocolshowcased some of the most kickass “Tom Cruise running” moments in the actors long history of scampering across the screen. Dude outruns a sandstormand an exploding captiol building:
Mission: Impossible – Yes, the first is still the best. Way back in 1996, when this franchise kicked off, Brian DePalma directed what is still an incredibly dense, plot-packed, action-fueled suspense spectacle. The scene inside CIA headquarters, and the final showdown between chopper and train still stand out as the finest action moments in the franchise, because they have both stakes in the game and incredible physicality:
Surrounding these set pieces is a convoluted conspiracy narrative that is not too confusing if you pay attention. Making the villain Jim Phelps himself brings intimacy into the story. And much like Ghost Protocol, the team is a factor. These films are more effective when everyone isn’t sitting around watching Ethan Hunt dominate. The key to the original M:I was balance, between story and static. The tension isn’t just in those great set pieces, but in the plot itself.