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.
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