I’ve yet to see Mission Impossible: Fallout, but I’ve heard so many good things about it that I’ve decided to rewatch the Mission Impossible movies in sequence. The last few I saw have kind of blended into one for me, which isn’t helped by their generic titles (seriously, I still had to keep checking which order Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation came in the series) or the fact that almost every film in the series sees Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt – and various bit part players, some recurring – disavowed.
Given that Tom Cruise has co- produced the Mission Impossible films from the beginning, it perhaps shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the movie franchise became The Tom Cruise Show so quickly – but the trailers, opening credits and even the casting of the first film pointed to it being an ensemble flick. There’s some masterful misdirection in the first movie, as well as some truly iconic, brilliantly edited action sequences (and one major sequence that really hasn’t stood the test of time at all).
Still, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
The pre-credits sequence establishes a number of details very quickly – this is a team who work quickly and efficiently under pressure, with a few reckless and perhaps irresponsible moves made in order to get the job done, which also demonstrates the lengths the sometimes need to go to in order to do what is necessary to succeed (it’s literally a scene that’s set here, unbeknownst to their somewhat hapless target). Not only that, but the opening scene soon establishes the precedent for supposedly uber-convincing face mask disguises – which are a series staple.
There’s a hint of romance between Cruise’s character – Ethan Hunt – and IMF colleague Claire. As we soon find out, however, that romance is somewhat off the cards, at least initially.
The opening credits are fantastic. Urgent, quick cuts showcasing upcoming scenes – not with enough time to digest them properly – all set to a new orchestration of Lalo Schifrin’s iconic theme, which is almost certainly the best theme tune a TV show has ever had. It has definitely stood the test of time in this regard.
Immediately post-credits, we’re on a plane with Jim Phelps, the team leader from the original TV series (here played by Jon Voight), who receives his briefing on a tape from a stewardess, following a subtle keyword exchange. You know the drill; the tape self destructs (it’s jarring to see a character smoke in a blockbuster film right now, but here it’s used to mask the smoke created by the self-destructing tape).
Then we’re into the team briefing; a great cast has been assembled here – Emilio Estevez and Kristin Scott Thomas among others. We’re taken through the mission prep, with further character beats dropped in – and then it’s off to a grand event in Prague for the mission itself.
This sequence was probably the biggest shock of all upon release, given how early it arrives in the film.
The mission goes wrong, Hunt ignores orders to abort and ends up as the last agent standing when his colleagues are taken out one by one by mostly unseen and unknown forces. Hunt calls in to debrief, talking to Kittridge – Phelps’s superior (Phelps himself having been offed here too).
Hunt meets with Kittridge who almost immediately reveals that the operation was a mole hunt – and that suspicion has now fallen on Ethan as the only survivor of the mission. Ethan escapes thanks to Estevez’s now-dead, Q-esque hacker character, who gave him a number of useful spy gadgets in the preceding briefing.
Going into hiding, Hunt then decides to find the mole and clear his name, despite now being a wanted man.
We’re introduced here to another few big name actors who come along for the ride (and Emmanuelle Béart’s Claire is revealed to have also survived the team’s massacre at the beginning of the film). Ving Rhames – the only actor besides Tom Cruise to have reprised his role in every Mission Impossible film to date – and Jean Reno make up Hunt’s impromptu, replacement team on their mission to root out the mole.
The CIA vault infiltration sequence that we get here, with Hunt accessing a standalone terminal with numerous OTT security measures in place, is a classic for a reason – despite a few leaps in logic, it’s masterfully shot and edited, with an incredibly palpable sense of tension. Though the tech involved may now seem quaint in some respects (this applies to much of the tech involved in the film), it remains an absolute masterclass in cinematic tension.
Time has been far less kind to the climactic action scene, however. Once Jim Phelps has been revealed to be both alive and the mastermind behind the failure of the mission in the first act, we move swiftly into a reasonably tense sequence on board a train bound for France, which soon devolves into a Scooby Doo-esque mask reveal and an absolutely ludicrous helicopter chase inside a rail tunnel. Though the initial chase on the train itself is well done, particularly in dealing with the effect of the speed of the train on someone who isn’t tethered to the outside of it, it still feels somewhat artificial.
The helicopter in the tunnel is a step too far, despite the leaps in logic and realism we’ve been expected to swallow up to this point, and the effects here really do stand out – not in a good way. What was fairly impressive on the big screen in 1996 is laughably bad in the present. Still, the Mission Impossible theme is deployed to good effect here once more at least, as is the return of a familiar piece of spy kit from the beginning of the film.
Despite this, the film wraps up nicely with a pardon for Ving Rhames and a potential new mission on the cards for a newly-cleared Hunt. Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr’s take on the Mission Impossible theme then gets its chance to shine over the end credits.
Despite the dated and sometimes laughable treatment of technology that peppers the film – as an example, upon learning that his best chance of clearing his name will be to find an arms dealer known as Max, Hunt accesses the internet and types in ‘max.com’ – there’s still enough here that’s held up to make Mission Impossible a convincing spy thriller.
There was outcry back in 1996 at the fact that Jim Phelps was revealed as the mole, but given that the Cold War had come to an end between the TV series and the movie, his motivation – if not his methods – does seem to be sufficiently justified. Not only that, but I recall being satisfied that I was blindsided by this twist; it’s not often, even now, that you’ll go into a blockbuster and have a reveal like this without any prior signposting.
The same can be said of the opening sequence, in which the team is bumped off – placing high profile, recognisable actors in the team meant that it was a huge shock to see them dispatched so quickly and is still effective even knowing it’s going to happen, because they’re set up so well in the context of the film too.
Despite the huge number of TV-to-film adaptations that made their way to cinemas in the 90s, Mission Impossible stood out for being ballsy enough to follow on from the narrative of the show as well as do something huge with the original protagonist. Though out of character somewhat, I stand by the fact that the Jim Phelps twist works to give the film a satisfyingly unpredictable narrative, despite the fact that bit annoyed fans of the show and even the show’s cast, who hated that Phelps made a heel turn here.
So, one down and five to go. I seem to recall the second film being a crushing disappointment – especially given the talent involved (John Woo directed Mission Impossible 2, for one thing). It’s a long time since I’ve seen it, but I remember enough to think that I’ll still hate it. Will that still be the case though?
Who knows when I’ll find the time to rewatch Mission Impossible 2. When I do, however, I’ll be sure to get my thoughts on here, so stay tuned!
This blog post definitely won’t be self-destructing in five seconds or anything, by the way.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this – or any of my other content – it’d be much appreciated if you’re able to share this article via social media. I’d also be forever grateful if you’re able to support me via: Ko-Fi.com/geekmid – which would assist me in writing even more content just like this. Above all else though, thanks for reading – I truly appreciate it!