"No one does anything to harm the brand"
I became an instant fan of Mission Impossible when the first one came out, likely because I never really saw the TV show. The original actors all hated how it was handled. Brian De Palma even told the guy who directed the most episodes 'don't bother to hang around, this movie isn't going to be anything like the show'. Considering the vast majority of the IMF team is murdered in the first few minutes, it's no surprise that the original crew thought that was bogus.
After all, they were about getting in and out without ever being there. IMF in the movies is just a hyper version of a spy agency, doing Fast and the Furious style stunts with an ounce more credibility (actual training that didn't involve 'the Street'). Still, even with that, Mission Impossible truly is just another super hero movie series that didn't come from the pages of DC or Marvel and while that part is neat, there are some problems that have have come along with it.
You know it's a comic movie when a guy can fly a helicopter that's tethered to a speeding train through a tunnel and survive. Some maniac in Brazil flew a helicopter through a tunnel after the movie came out, just to see if it was possible, but that story didn't mention the train being involved. It's almost like the filmmakers are inspired by James Bond movies and want at least one silly thing to happen (semi-truck wheelie from License to Kill anyone?).
I always liked the fact that they were going to have different directors each time to sort of create a different feel. The first three movies do a fantastic job of that. Brian De Palma to John Woo to JJ Abrams, you get some diversity there. I thought that was intentional but it turns out Brian De Palma was offered the opportunity to direct the sequel and turned it down. John Woo is the only guy not to be given the same offer (probably because he complained about working with Tom Cruise).
After Mission Impossible 2, the series changed tone so dramatically, that I lost some of my initial fandom. Specifically, I despised Mission Impossible 3. To the point that going to 4 required someone to really convince me to even try it. It almost couldn't have been worse than 3 for me so I ended up really liking it. 5 I barely remember and having just seen 6 last night, I've detected a trend with these films that compelled me to write this.
I'm going to go through the movies here and talk about each one. My impressions, along with what I think the aggregate scores SHOULD have been, will accompany each.
I love spy movies. My parents got me through all the Bond movies and once I consumed those, I dove into others, finding the more 'realistic' ones. Some of the 'recent memory' spy movies that I've really loved: Ronin, The Bourne Identity, Taken, Atomic Blonde, and plenty of others. I like the small team or lone agent on a mission behind enemy lines (though I'm not bound up in them being as dangerous as they get in Mission Impossible. Mission Difficult is cool with me).
Mission Impossible: "Traditional" Spy Movie
Rotten Tomatoes: 63% (Considered Fresh)
What I thought it deserved: 80%
I graduated high school three years before MI 1 came out. I loved it. A friend of mine saw it first and ranted about how they framed the action sequences. He thought it was a 'smarter' James Bond kind of movie. I would agree for the most part. All around, I really liked the movie but you'll notice that I didn't breach 90% with my feelings. It was a great introduction to Ethan Hunt and it was a beautiful movie. There were some problems that are (almost) unforgivable.
Killing Phelps off as an antagonist was pretty insulting. The TV show was on for 7 seasons and according to IMDB, James Phelps showed up in 143 episodes. It would be like Captain Kirk being the villain in the next Star Trek movie. Why even bother? Just make a new guy. It was pretty silly and you don't have to look very hard to find the original actors trashing the movie along with plenty of other people raging over the decision.
This begins a long term problem with Mission Impossible. IMF is supposed to be mythical but the way they treat them in the films, they're just crazy ass maniacs willing to take on assignments with no real chance of success. I guess they figured that, while the TV show was in a time that was okay, it wouldn't work as well for modern audiences. Never mind the fact that Bond was doing it for years (pretty much alone). They wanted to show some fallibility.
Mission Impossible 1 has some of my favorite action sequences. There are only 5 gunshots in the whole movie and most of them are 'faked' by the evil Phelps. That made it pretty amazing. I mean, most of these movies are nuts when it comes to this type of thing (with the notable exception of Diamonds Are Forever, which didn't have the budget for shooting guns). It was brave to take the action away from gun battles.
Some people said the plot was overly complex but I disagree. It was pretty easy to follow and since it ultimately came down to money, pretty cliche. WTF was Phelps going to do with his cash? Did he honestly think he could just disappear? It's not like there weren't other IMF agents waiting for a shot to take him down and he PERSONALLY knows that they're capable of insane stuff.
It would've been better to just make him an extremist who wanted to cause trouble (but they do that later so maybe they learned their lesson).
Mission Impossible 1 is a movie I could put on at any time and watch without complaint.
Mission Impossible 2: Action Ballet
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
What I thought it deserved: 70%
I love John Woo movies but I'm not going to lie and say they are cinematic genius. They have action set pieces that are stunning and I love the way he films a gunfight but even my favorite of his movies aren't stellar. He makes things over the top and insane, especially when he came to America (Face....off!). I think Mission Impossible 2 represents the most controlled John Woo ever has been. This film isn't a fantasy with firearms, it's grounded--and that's what Woo needed.
Though I say it only deserved a 70%, I consider this to be my favorite movie in the Mission Impossible series. First off, it's the only movie that Ethan is just on a mission. He's not accused, disavowed, or thought to be a danger by his country. It does have another rogue IMF agent, as if that's the only villain who could logically face another IMF agent, but whatever. It was only the second one and I gave it a pass.
Apparently, I'm in the minority when it comes to thinking this was any good because I've seen comments like 'this film was unquestionably awful'. That doesn't hold up with a 57% (I mean, more than half the critics thought it was at least fresh). It's important to note that movies you like aren't necessarily critical hits, commercial hits or even universally enjoyed. I talk about this when we do our horror movie selection during October.
Just because I give warlock 4.5 stars doesn't mean I think it's as good as Inception. On the scale of films that I enjoyed, I give it that based on whether I'd watch it again and if I had fun watching it. Mission Impossible 2 was and is fun to watch. But it's not without its problems. The 'mission' is particularly simple (some think that's because MI1 was supposedly complex). While John Woo was under control, he's still John Woo and there are things that come with him.
Dougray Scott. I like this guy but something happened in this movie. I'm not sure if he didn't want to do it, didn't like doing it, wasn't invested or what, but he just isn't very good here. Other people deliver 100% but he just wasn't great. He came off like a villain from an 80s action flick. Though there are moments you're reminded that he's a former IMF agent, you often wonder how he managed to succeed in that line of work.
And why he didn't keep it to the small team of 4 or 5 guys to remain within the mission parameters he was comfortable with.
The BIGGEST problem in this movie for me is him. The motorcycle sequence was silly but not totally ridiculous. The hand to hand fights were terrible (the most inefficient combat you're likely to see on the screen without turning to the original Star Trek).
If I was pressed hard to say what I like about this movie, I would say it's the style and presentation. It's pretty and looks great. The story and some of the acting, questionable. Still, it's just watchable because John Woo can create a fluid action sequence like no other. His style has been replaced by the John Wick type of violence (you can see it in Atomic Blonde as well) and that's cool too but back in the early 2000s (and earlier for those who like original Woo movies), this was awesome.
Mission Impossible 2 is also a movie I'd watch but I'd probably complain about the stuff I've mentioned above.
Mission Impossible 3: TV for the Big Screen
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
What I thought it deserved: 50% (at best)
Mission Impossible 3 was a movie that I hated on the scale of The New World and The Musketeer. It turned me off in every possible way, from the presentation to the story to the execution of it. It was the first time I really noticed Philip Seymour Hoffman and it took a while before I warmed up to him again. It also began my long term dislike of JJ Abrams and his style of writing.
MI movies are not about succeeding at everything the characters try. MI1 starts with them losing team members right off the bat in a botched job. Ethan screws up plenty of times during the story but there are enough successes to keep the movie from being depressing. In MI2, there are some pretty big mistakes, including when Nyah gets infected with the disease. Somehow, they manage to make these things not flat out depressing.
Mission Impossible 3 is simply a depressing movie. For whatever reason, they decided taking Ethan out of the field and making him a trainer was a great idea. He gets pulled out of this semi-retirement to save an IMF agent who was captured (I guess the whole moment of 'if any of your team is caught or killed, the secretary will disavow...didn't mean much in this case). Thus begins a story that should've been exciting but ultimately just feels...stressful.
The problem comes from the way it's filmed. There's a pall over every scene that gives it this washed out, sterilized look. I've heard from people that it feels like an Alias movie with Tom Cruise instead of Jennifer Garner. I'm glad I never tried Alias if that's the case because I couldn't take the pacing. Abrams seems to be able to take capable characters and make them seem like they suck regardless.
Star Trek is a great example. The first half hour of the movie, he spends time telling you how amazing Kirk is. Then, you commence to watch him get his ass beat and fail at half of what he tries. When he does succeed, it's not skill but pure luck that gets him by. Mission Impossible 3 has its moments where the team pulls off what they're trying to do but they are always two steps behind and that's kind of a problem.
As the world's most elite secret agents, you'd imagine they would be a little more in control. I think the writers of Mission Impossible forget sometimes that these characters aren't just trumped up CIA agents but the best of the best taken from all over the world to form this group. I'm all for them being challenged and meeting threats that they have to take a step back and assess but this time out, Ethan's clearly outmatched by an arm's dealer (who shockingly was NOT IMF).
I did like Simon Pegg and some of the action sequences were pretty intense. It's impossible to forget Tom Cruise running around with the G36 rifle being thrown into that car and the glass breaking. Super hero moment.
Regardless, I hated Mission Impossible 3 and I would not watch it willingly again.
Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol: Disavowed. Again.
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
What I thought it deserved: 75%
Please note that I don't think that any Mission Impossible movie is cinematic genius. Certainly not on the level of Apocalypse Now (96%) or The Godfather (98%) or Citizen Kane (100%) or The Wizard of Oz (99%). These higher than 90 ratings that MI movies started getting with Ghost Protocol are insane. Are these movies fun? Yes. Are they well made? Absolutely. Do the actors do a good job? Yes. So why do I say they are not 90% films?
Because they are not particularly memorable. With the exception of 1 and 2, it's hard to relate specific events throughout the movies. 3 has a few iconic moments. When the first agent dies from the micro explosion in her head. When Tom Cruise is thrown against the car. Holding Hoffman out the airplane, threatening to drop him. When Tom Cruise has the defibrillator used on his head to save his own life...I didn't like the movie, but I didn't have to remind myself what it was about.
Mission Impossible 4 really brings home the disavowed plot. It makes you wonder why they didn't just start calling it 'Disavowed: A Mission Impossible Story'. In Ghost Protocol, the IMF is shut down because they clearly decided to go insane and blow up the Kremlin. And I guess that's not a huge stretch. In the first movie, Phelps turned on the agency. In the second movie, Ambrose turned on the agency. In the third movie, Ethan gets arrested.
By the 4th movie, they have to be wondering why they have these highly trained loose cannons running around the world doing whatever they want. The director does secretly give Ethan his mission but to all important parties, IMF is no longer a thing. I didn't think it was a huge stretch to get them in trouble anyway but nice that their boss didn't believe the BS. From that point on, they go on a mission to stop a fabricated nuclear war between the US and Russia.
This is also the movie where all the gadgets break. Nothing really works so in a way, it has that extension from MI3 where failure seems unavoidable. The characters struggle to get anything done, even turning to a little infighting when a few things don't go their way. I will say that while I enjoyed the movie okay, it wasn't the best experience to get through. There's a type of formula at work here that involves extreme action, generally unfavorable consequences.
At some point, they should probably learn that if their subject is on foot or in a car, just don't bother chasing them. For the sake of the civilian population, just let them go and catch up later because in Mission Impossible, they NEVER catch who they're after once a pursuit begins. It's just set piece action and a baffled look of 'how the hell did I lose them AGAIN!?'
Ghost Protocol is a better film than MI3. It's more entertaining and there are a couple of memorable moments. Climbing around the building in Dubai. The dust storm. Jeremy Renner was nice addition. The Kremlin blowing up also looked neat. But really, the events of the movie are a lot more ambiguous and become hard to differentiate between them and what happens in 5 (and now 6).
I wouldn't leave the room if MI4 was on but I wouldn't watch it on purpose again.
Mission Impossible Rogue Nation: What do you remember?
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
What I thought it deserved: 65%
Rogue Nation brought The Syndicate to the big screen, the villainous group that the IMF fights in the TV show a whole bunch. Ethan is on the run because the IMF has been absorbed by the CIA (they're destructive, insubordinate, etc). He wants to bring down The Syndicate though and no one else believes him so he's clearly gotta ya know...go against the grain. So begins another episode of Ethan Hunt: lone super hero.
He eventually has to get his team back together to do the real work. Ultimately, they do a bunch of stuff and save the day and my lackluster explanation is about how I feel when it comes to this movie. It's just not that exciting. The idea was cool and the trailers made it look like a thrill a minute but what you really get: set piece action with some plot stuff tossed in just so you don't feel like you're watching a music video.
This movie compelled me to avoid the next Mission Impossible movie. (I clearly didn't because I'll be able to speak to it in a moment). It wasn't because this wasn't competent. It just wasn't interesting. You rely on the charm of the people to get you through the picture while wondering what insane stunt Tom Cruise will perform next. I've put some thought into why these movies are not as endearing as James Bond and I think it's Ethan Hunt.
Bond is a compelling character, even if he is a bit two dimensional. Multiple people have played him, bringing different types of swagger to the role. Somehow, that works great and they've made 26 films. Hunt, on the other hand, has his moments where he's either funny, charming or compelling but for the most part, he's a vehicle for action. Maybe it's because Bond holds an air of coming out of novels by Ian Fleming while Hunt was pretty much a cinematic creation.
There is a sense that Bond is more than the sum of his two dimensional film representations where Ethan never seems to rise above it. It is a good thing that Hunt is altruistic because there's no real other reason for him to be doing what he does. His organization craps on him every chance they get regardless of his previous successes (though to be fair, by the end of this movie, he does have the unwavering support of the secretary. Finally.)
The Syndicate is one of those cheesy SPECTRE kind of organizations that has minions who are supposedly as well trained as IMF dudes but ultimately get taken down like mooks in a John Woo movie. They would've been a good idea if the IMF EVER pulled off a mission without looking like amateurs but upping the difficulty of their villains is like sucking at normal mode on a video game and saying 'screw it, I've got this' and ratcheting up to nightmare.
Rogue Nation is pretty much Ghost Protocol again with a new name, new locations and different actors as the villains. I wouldn't say it's great, it's not terrible. It's a movie that you might not feel like you wasted your time on. The fact that both of these movies got a 93% says to me that someone was confused when they were offering a rating OR everyone gave it a 60% and to Rotten Tomatoes, that's a notch of fresh so it pushed up to the 90s.
That's pretty much the only explanation because quite honestly, these are not nearly memorable enough to get out of the 60s.
I would probably ask to watch something else if MI5 was put on and I wouldn't watch it on purpose again either.
Mission Impossible Fallout: Set Piece Spectacle
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%!!!!
What I thought it deserved: 65%
Dude. Fallout is supposedly on par with some of the greatest cinema of our time. I'm going to assume this is on a different scale than those movies. I'm going to suggest that this 97% is on the scale of other Mission Impossible movies? Or just wild action movies of this type? Maybe it's like my horror scale? Or maybe it's like I said above, lots of people gave it Fresh so it cranked it up to near 100%. I'm here to tell you flat out that this is not a high 90s movie.
Once again, competently made. However, if I wasn't writing this the day after I saw it, I'd have to look up the plot to remind myself of the events that transpired. Because this just came out on Friday, I won't go as crazy with the spoilers as I did above but I'm going to tell you, the stuff that happens in this movie is simply forgettable. Yes, the action sequences are neat and they're compelling while you're there but even 20 minutes away from the theater, I could only ask what was the point?
There wasn't one really. More nuclear bombs. More threats to essentially wreck the planet (in this case, they're planning on making 1/3rd of the world's population suffer). This time, at least it's about some insane idealism rather than money. I can give it that. But all around, despite the fact that you are surrounded by car chases, explosions, gunfights, and action, this movie is kind of boring.
There was something about it that detracted from the danger. Much like you know Bond is never going to just be killed, there are things that won't happen in a Mission Impossible movie. We know that because 4 and 5 were so by the numbers. At one point, something happened in this and someone in the front gasped and, with all sincerity, said 'he did it!' I hope she was just a good actor and making fun of the situation.
This movie has plenty of problems too. One character looks different from scene to scene, another character explains an event for everyone (audience included) to understand what's about to happen then he needs it explained to him a little later...97% should be near to flawless. You should have to watch it a few times before you start catching small mistakes. This slaps you in the face with them.
Fallout should've been a 65% movie. It's not terrible. It deserves people to see it. It was a fun enough ride. I laughed a few times. I like Henry Cavill (liked him better in Man from UNCLE though). I would not really recommend Fallout. It's just not worth the 2 and a half hours of your time. There's nothing special, nothing particularly exciting, nothing's 'on the line'. Now, if they would've decided to take some chances, I might change my tune but why would they?
Mission Impossible is a cash cow and they aren't going to put that beast down any time soon.
I didn't hate Fallout nor did I love it. I wouldn't watch it on purpose again.
Mission Impossible has been going strong for 22 years. Before I wrote this article, I thought 'I love Mission Impossible' but that's clearly not true. I liked the first two movies and after that, my interest dropped because they got out the paint by numbers script writing tool and went to town. Tom Cruise delivers in these movies, don't get me wrong. The actors are all great here but they're trying to elevate material that is boring. There's no simpler way to say it.
Marvel movies have an advantage here. Their characters have nearly a century of backstory. This is what Universal failed to grasp when they tried to make Dark Universe and failed. Hunt doesn't have enough history before the movies. All you know is that he's an IMF agent. Had they made him a young Phelps, you'd be better off but he was an invention for the first movie. Instead, they gave us a brand new guy.
We don't know what he did before IMF (at least with Bond, we got to see his promotion to double 0 status). We know he's got some relatives that got arrested in MI1. We know he got married along the way but there's just something missing. Bourne is another great example: you learn a lot about him during his movies (but one would argue, that's the point of those films--and that the latest Jason Bourne was kinda lame).
Maybe spy movies have simply taken a turn toward bad. Maybe there's just no more mystique behind them. It takes a lot to create a good one these days and more often than not, they are either walking simulators or over the top comic book movies. Either way, Mission Impossible has faltered into territory where I no longer feel overly compelled to see them. I hoped that Fallout would rekindle my interest but as I've said above, that rating is a dramatic fabrication.
Go into Mission Impossible with the understanding that you're seeing the evolution of a series from mildly daring to playing it safe. This isn't really worth your time if you've got other things to catch up on but if you love Tom Cruise, want to see spectacular action sequences or just literally have nothing better to do, then go for it. I'm quite certain you'd be better off watching Season 1 of Agent Carter, but if you've already done that 3 times, then Mission Impossible might be for you.
Author of several books, composer of several CDs. Please check out the rest of the site for some of my work.