Mission: Impossible (1996) and Ranking the Franchise

I revisited Mission: Impossible (1996) after seeing De Palma (2015), the documentary on Director Brian De Palma, who worked beside but more so under the shadows of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola back in the prime of American filmmaking – the 70s. To me, De Palma has always been an intensely average director, pumping out films in greater quantity than quality yet remaining true to organic, tangible camera techniques we rarely see these days. (Long, Steadicam shots, split screens, and uncomfortably close Dutch angles are his bread and butter.)

Other than Carrie (1976) and The Untouchables (1987), which are genre-based masterpieces, De Palma pushes the sexualized, drugged, and massacred over semblance of context and character development. (I’m sorry, but Scarface is a primitive movie of blood and bullet spray for the mere statement of “organized crime is bad.”)

Back to the Mission: Impossible (1996), I gave this probably my third viewing in my lifetime mainly because I recalled it being “intensely average” in the past, and I wanted to see if I felt the same way today.

I did.

It’s interesting how the 3.5 billion-dollar action-adventure series began with Brian De Palma’s Hitchcockian touch and probably the most emphasis on espionage than any of the other movies in the franchise. Unfortunately, it ended up reeking of an expositional steam pile with whodunits abound. The plot evolves into silly, convoluted territory, especially during the melodramatic box car scene that De Palma apparently wanted to cut. But, when you work with two prominent Hollywood writers in Robert Towne and David Koepp with two opposing conclusion ideas, you’re in for a mess of “ah-ha” unmaskings (not to mention a lot of dialogue explaining what just happened and what’s going to happen).

On top of that, this was Tom Cruise’s first attempt at a gigantic action series as Ethan Hunt, and with his name and wallet attached to the production value, Brian De Palma became one-third of the movie’s vision. Whether or not that made the movie better or worse, we will never know.

However, we do know that the best scene in the movie – the silent catapult vault scene – remains ingenious, almost perfect, and an icon for the rest of the series to follow. The bead of sweat dripping on to Cruise’s glove as his muscles ache for one more second to be pulled away from a temperature-induced alarm system is still jaw-dropping, De Palma-constructed, and the reason to see this movie today.

Well, the wick to the infamous title sequence bomb has been lit (enter familiar “Mission: Impossible” theme), and I figured it was time to look back on the series and rank the franchise from worst to best. This is my concise evaluation (let me know what you think):

6. Mission: Impossible II (2000) ** Slo-mo shots of Tom Cruise’s long, luscious hair blowing in the wind to slo-mo shots of over-stylized violence only pretentious Director John Woo knows best: This is the essence of the second installment of the series. By far, I consider this the worst one. It is pretentious muck with actually very little action and a whole lot of unintended laughs.               

5. Mission: Impossible (1996) *** As stated above, I consider this to be an “intensely average” contribution to the series, but the occasional De Palma touch, dispersed creative control, and vault scene make it worthy of another watch.

4. Mission: Impossible III (2006) ***1/2 Philip Seymour Hoffman as the soulless villain and the quest to humanize Ethan Hunt are two good reasons to enjoy the new flares and vision of Star Wars-beloved, Director J.J. Abrams. It’s dark and puts Ethan in tight spots that seem impossible to get out of, bringing back the traditional promise in the title.  

3. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) ***1/2 The Burj Khalifa scene. Simply awe-striking. Director Brad Bird of previous animated hits (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) has Tom Cruise hanging off the world’s tallest building in vertigo shots that induce out-loud gasping. Oh, and add an epic dust storm in there for good measure! The sidekick camaraderie of Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg is refreshingly funny, but this chemistry doesn’t take off as lithely as in the next two installments.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

I have to admit, these two flipflop on me, and it’s interesting to see how other blogs, film critics’ lists, and rankings have these two battling it out as well. They are the latest in the series, methodically written and visualized by Christopher McQuarrie, who douses more action on the espionage, knowing fully well this successful formula will produce the box office numbers, popcorn, and riveting entertainment for the big screen. I bite every time. They are both downright fun spy-action flicks with likeable characters to root for.

Fallout **** proves that the older Tom Cruise gets (56 at the time) and the more he does his own stunts, the more he and his franchise can defy gravity. From doing all the helicopter flying, abs ripping, and rooftop leaping, Tom sacrifices his body, including an ankle injury that delayed filming production for six weeks. Fallout tends to wear emotion on its sleeve as if it is the last of the series, but we know that won’t be the truth.

Rogue Nation **** introduces us to the slick femme fatale of Rebecca Ferguson, a slimy villain in Sean Harris; it places Tom in an underwater file chamber sequence that couldn’t go any more oxygen-suckingly wrong (I made up a word there), and it includes the riveting Vienna State Opera scene where Ethan Hunt (quietly) takes down an assassin with a bass flute sniper rifle to the climax of Puccini’s Turandot’s “Figlio del cielo.” Film composer Joe Kraemer even intertwines the “Nessun dorma” motif into the score throughout the movie. Brilliant! As of now, Rogue Nation is my #1.

There you have it. Those are my Mission: Impossible series rankings. How would you rank them? What’s your favorite Mission: Impossible? Thank you for reading and keep watching those movies!

Best, Reely Bernie

26 thoughts on “Mission: Impossible (1996) and Ranking the Franchise

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  1. The second film turned me off of the series so much. It was all about Tom Cruise and his ego. I’ll have to revisit the series sometime though, now that I’ve begin writing again. I do love both Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg.

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  2. I have only watched the first one…I did like it. Something about Tom Cruise makes it hard to watch. I did like him in Born on the 4th of July and A Few Good Men.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I do respect him…I got say that Bernie. YES…I didn’t want to say it but yes…willies is a good word.
        How did the end of the year go at school?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We have our last big end-of-the-year meeting online today. The bummer is that we are planning a hybrid online/in-class system for August, and the challenge will be to get all my choirs and band in a room for rehearsals at some point. This thing has gotten old fast. Other than that, we’re good and ready for the summer. How about you guys?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. We are doing ok. I went back to the office and I’m the only one in IT right now…the rest have been furloughed. It’s peaceful and quiet and I come in contact with no one…while I love the peace and quiet it sucks.
            A hybrid? That is odd. Bailey was told they are going to try to have classes in the fall. We will see how it goes.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Gosh, I hope we get into the classroom at least by Sept. Colorado is improving, but this thing will continue to have bursts of outbreaks. Glad we all still have a job, at least 🙂 My best student is going to Belmont next year. I can’t remember if you’re a close-to Nashville resident…

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Yes I’m 30 – 45 minutes out of Nashville. Belmont is a great school. A great school with a good baseball program.
              I know this thing is so unknown right now.

              Liked by 1 person

            3. Good to know. He’s a composer, theorist, and all-state choir finalist. Belmont has the most appealing music program for him. Yeah, that’s the thing with COVID – you just don’t know what the plan is a week, month, or year out.

              Liked by 1 person

            4. My co-worker tested positive for it. He got it from his son. I haven’t seen him since March…he was the only one but me not laid off. He battled it for over a week but is ok now thank goodness.
              He has to get a clearance of course before he can come back. The numbers are starting to go down.
              I wish him all the luck…I think he will be happy here.

              Liked by 1 person

      1. You have to give it to Cruise in terms of his influence on the movie industry despite whatever prejudices we might have about his personal life. Ever since I saw Jerry Maguire I knew he was outta this world. Nobody could kill that role like he could. I’ve gotta say he’s about the only person who has given ‘Scientology’ a good name if indeed that was possible.

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  3. Interesting exercise. I’d be tempted to flip your list. I recently went through the series. I thought the first film held up well. Part II not so much. But they were the only two movies that had any individual sense of style. What you got was a De Palma movie and a John Woo movie, for good and ill.

    The rest of the series I couldn’t separate in my head a week after seeing them. There was one where Cruise climbed a skyscraper and another where he held on to a plane that was taking off. But if you put a gun to my head I wouldn’t have been able to tell you which was which. Slick examples of blockbuster filmmaking, and fun for as long as the ride lasts, but just too generic for me. So I guess if I was rating them I’d put the first one first, then parts 3-6 tied for second, and Part II last.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good points, Alex. I think it’s a question of director style and genre sincerity, and then you have to consider execution. True, De Palma and Woo remained true to their style, but did it enhance or distract the genre? And, speaking of genre, the espionage/spy focus clearly evolved into action/adventure throughout the Mission: Impossible series. I had more fun with the latter, but does that make me less a fan of the “spy movie?”

      What are your favorite “spy movies?”

      Overall, without question, the Mission: Impossible series succeeds as the summer blockbuster ticket, best viewed in the theatre.

      Taking it down a notch, I think of North by Northwest, The Lives of Others, or The Conversation when it comes to my favorite “spy movies.”

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      1. I just finished writing up my notes on North by Northwest last night! Don’t know when I’ll get around to posting them. Definitely a movie that has a lot to answer for.

        I’d have to pick one of the Bond movies to be on a favourite spy movie list, and I’d probably go with From Russia with Love. The ones you mention are good. The Manchurian Candidate. Eye of the Needle was interesting. Three Days of the Condor and Parallax View. Most of these are kind of old, but so am I.

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        1. Those are all great. Goldfinger was my favorite Bond. I look forward to your North by Northwest notes. It’s been a while since my last viewing. I recall it losing steam after the infamous crop duster scene, but I had less of an attention span back then…

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    1. I could see that for sure. Except for II, they’re all exceptional in their own way. I’m not a fan of Tom’s personal life, but I give him kudos for his 110% dedication to his craft and sacrifice to this franchise.

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