Mission: Impossible – The Anthology to date

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the fifth feature to bear the MI monicker. To mark its release, we have reviewed each feature in the the franchise to date. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to read on and discover how Rogue Nation compares to its predecessors.

Mission: Impossible (1996) MI 1

When a relatively straightforward mission goes sideways, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is framed as a mole; responsible both the mission failure and the death of several team members. Disavowed, Hunt goes on the run to clear his name.

A fresh faced Cruise is solid in the lead, and is helped by strong supporting cast that include Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jean Reno and Ving Rhames. Only Emmanuelle Bèart disappoints in an unconvincing role.

Despite some negative feedback (mainly due to its lack of resemblance to the television show, particularly with one or two plot decisions) Mission: Impossible is a good thriller. There are flaws, but these are mostly masked quite well by the excellent pacing and memorable set pieces. Not likely to be remembered as a ‘classic’ but certainly worthy of any action thriller buff’s collection.

3.5/5

Mission: Impossible II (2000)mi 2

Ethan Hunt is back, this time attempting to stop rogue agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) from unleashing a deadly virus into the world, the latter hoping to profit from the sale of the antidote.

John Woo replaces Brian de Palma in the directors chair for this disappointing follow-up. Gone are unique camera techniques, replaced hand-over-fist with slow motion shots. Lots of slow motion shots.

Overuse and overkill is a theme that runs throughout. If it isn’t a slow motion shot, it is what feels like the 150th use of the ‘face mask ruse’ that worked quite well in the first film. In fact, one of the few well done scenes is spoilt, because when the reveal is made it is about the fifth or sixth time the audience has seen the trick used.

Cruise is fine, but the support is weaker second time around. Scott is surprisingly forgettable as the antagonist, while Thandie Newton is equal parts hit and miss as the ally-come-love-interest.

Less plausible and less engaging, MI:II flounders as it staggers from set piece to set piece. While  technically impressive, none (Cruise’s cliff scaling intro aside) are as memorable either the vault or train sequences from the original.

2/5

Mission: Impossible III (2006)mi 3

Hunt is coerced out of retirement when his former protégé Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell) is kidnapped on a mission. The fallout leads him to form a team of his old partner Luther (a returning Ving Rhames) and newcomers Zhen Lei (Maggie Q), and Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). The target is particularly nasty international arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

M:I III is a mixed bag, but a fun one. The script is all over the place, with one particularly cringe worthy moment occurring when Hunt scales the walls of the Vatican, pauses, and utters “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall”. Hmm… At least Rhames and series newcomer Simon Pegg both inject some actual wit.

Hoffman proves to be the best villain in the series to date, oozing menace and threat in almost every scene. This is the benchmark antagonist the series needs each time around.

While not on a par with the original, the set pieces were a step up from the lacklustre second outing six year previously. Of particular note is a particularly explosive prisoner escape scene.

All in all, M:I III was a step in the right direction, with Hoffman’s excellent baddie the pinnacle of villainy in the series.

3/5

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)mi 4

When a top IMF Agent Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) is assassinated while on a mission, his team leader Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and the now field agent qualified Benji Dunn (a returning Simon Pegg) team up to break Ethan Hunt out of a Moscow prison. Hanaway was killed trying to intercept a courier in the employ of a mysterious individual named ‘Cobalt’. In an attempt to uncover Cobalt’s identity, Hunt’s team infiltrate the Kremlin. Cobalt detonates a bomb in the Kremlin, framing the IMF team. They are all disavowed and branded terrorists. Instead of turning themselves in, the team fight to clear their names.

Thought it borrows a little from the first film (seriously, just replace Hunt in the original with a three man team and hey presto, a plot appears!), M:I – Ghost Protocol is – like its immediate predecessor – a fun, if flawed film.

While not ascending to the heady heights of Philip Seymour Hoffman in III, Michael Nyqvist puts in an accomplished performance as the mysterious antagonist. Other franchise debutants Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner put in solid shifts as the franchise seems to finally finding its niche.

The script is better than in III, though the overall film feels a little light considering the seriousness of the situation the team are in.

Director Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) does a good job throughout, particularly with the framing of the film’s one big stunt – the external climbing of the Burj Khalifa. The whole sequence is great, particularly Hunt’s less than stellar re-entry that nearly kills him.

Sagging a little in the third act, and not quite nailing the tone, M:I – Ghost Protocol is still an engaging thriller, with a witty script and one or two big set pieces.

3/5  

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)mi 5

Rogue Nation sees Hunt go off the grid to try and take down an international criminal consortium named The Syndicate. Believing Hunt to either be delusional, or simply using the story to cover criminal activity, CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) attempts to call in Hunt. As we know by this stage of the series, this is not likely to end well. Hunt gains assistance from old friends (returning Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner) and a duplicitous disavowed MI6 agent Illsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).

This is more like it!

While the story is textbook espionage thriller, everything else about the film is pretty much spot on. The stunts are top notch and rival anything from the previous instalments. There are also more of them this time out. The plane sequence is truly thrilling, particularly with the knowledge the Cruise not only insisted on doing it himself with a single harness, but that he had special contact lenses commissioned so as to be able to keep his eyes open during the whole scene.

The script is likely the best in the franchise. Unlike Ghost Protocol, the humour doesn’t detract from the seriousness of their respective situations, instead providing light relief at appropriate points. Linked to this, Simon Pegg is at his best here.

Speaking of the supporting cast, this is best to date. Baldwin oozes with believable disdain when speaking of the IMF, and the swathe of returnees now add a needed air of familiarity to the series.

Specific Mention must be made of Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen, Hercules). Less of a supporting cast member and more a co-lead (see: Charlize Theron to Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road), her Ilsa Faust is the traditional femme fatale. Truly a match for our hero, she shines as Hunt’s equal, and both potential rival and ally. Think Irene Adler meets River Song, with romance replaced with an almost fraternal camaraderie. Ferguson’s Faust is a great addition to the M:I universe.

Director Christopher McQuarrie keeps the action, intrigue and zingy one liners coming. However, the London based third act does seems to sag a little under the lengthy run time (130 mins), but this cannot detract too much from what has otherwise been an exhilarating display.  

Finally, five films into the franchise, Rogue Nation has helped Mission:Impossible find its rhythm. Hopefully McQuarrie will be invited back for M:I 6, which will have a heck of a lot to live up to. The best in the franchise.

4/5

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