Should I Watch..? 'Mission: Impossible'
What's the big deal?
Mission: Impossible is an action spy film released in 1996 and is based on the TV series of the same name. Directed by Brian De Palma, the film sees co-producer Tom Cruise play Ethan Hunt, a member of the IMF team framed for the murder of his colleagues, forced to cross several lines in order to discover the identity of the mole who sold everyone out. The film also stars Jon Voight, Jean Reno, Emmanuelle Béart, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ving Rhames and Vanessa Redgrave. Despite a mixed reaction from critics who focused on the often unfathomable narrative, the film was a commercial success with global takings of more than $457 million and would led Cruise to create a franchise of Mission: Impossible sequels, the latest of which Mission: Impossible - Fallout is due for release in 2018.
What's it about?
The Impossible Missions Force (IMF) are involved in the retrieval of a top secret list of CIA personnel operating undercover across the world. The list, located at the American embassy in Prague, must be recovered by Jim Phelps or any member of his team. But things quickly go south - it becomes apparent that their presence had been tipped off to forces unknown and soon, the entire IMF team are wiped out with the exception of Ethan Hunt. Attending a debrief with IMF Director Eugene Kittridge, Ethan is alarmed to find that not only is the rest of his team dead or missing but Ethan himself is believed to be the mole who sold them out.
Barely escaping capture, Ethan is forced to go rogue and recruits two former IMF agents: pilot Franz Krieger and computer expert Luther Stickell. His only lead is that the IMF believe the mole was working with an arms dealer named Max. Hunt therefore begins searching for the mysterious Max whilst trying to get one step ahead of the CIA, who now consider Hunt public enemy number one...
Kristin Scott Thomas
Brian De Palma
David Koepp & Robert Towne*
Release Date (UK)
5th July, 1996
Action, Spy, Thriller
Razzie Award Nomination
Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 MIllion
What's to like?
Assuming the original Sixties TV series passed you by, Mission: Impossible feels like an amped-up Cold War thriller designed to put Cruise through as many implausible but stylish action sequences as possible. The film revolves around its lead actor like the Earth orbiting the sun but the film has plenty for a fresh-faced A-lister to do including tense midnight chases, exploding helicopters and a mystery at the heart of it all to unravel. As a spectacle, the film works a treat and Cruise demonstrates for the first time in his career that he is a legitimate action hero and not just an enormous walking grin.
The plot, meanwhile, is just as unfathomable as you'd expect in a film full of more crosses than the Vatican at Easter. Unlike its much simpler sequel Mission: Impossible II, the film isn't afraid to let the narrative take over from the explosions once in a while. A shame that the narrative makes little sense but De Palma is a story-teller of some repute so I understand this approach. My advice is to take the film as it comes - a straight-up action film linked by faintly boring talky sections to give Cruise a rest and a chance to look handsome, which he does.
- Reza Badiyi, who directed more episodes of the show than anyone, was asked by the head of Paramount to be on set every day to be consulted. Instead, De Palma told Badiyi that the film would be nothing like the show and his services were not required. Badiyi thanked him for his honesty and never returned.
- The film proved hugely controversial for fans and even cast members of the original show like Martin Landau who disapproved of major character changes and the fact that the movie is about one man instead of a team, like the show was.
- The film began pre-production without a script in place - De Palma had a list of action scenes he wanted to shoot but neither Towne or Koepp could write a treatment to link them. In the end, De Palma worked with Koepp on the story while Towne organised a beginning, middle and end for the film.
What's not to like?
Actually, I'm being a bit kind here about the script which is borderline incomprehensible. It never stops to explain itself because, I suspect that if it did, it would quickly get tongue-tied. Why does Hunt have to suspend himself like that to check a computer? Why do the fish-tanks in the restaurant suddenly explode but not shower Hunt in a wave of glass? Nothing made sense as Cruise leapt, dodged and jumped his way around the picture like he was auditioning for the next Die Hard. This seemed a waste of the Mission: Impossible licence - this could have been any spy thriller, even a Bond film and I'd wager that it would have been much simpler to follow if it were.
The supporting cast are also wasted, although Big Man Cruise doesn't give them much time to make an impression as he hogs the limelight. I'm not a huge fan of Cruise but it almost felt like he wanted to be in a Bond film but instead, created his own franchise that would give him all the material in the world to jump off tall buildings and teeter on dangerously high ledges. A proper Mission: Impossible film would have been brilliant, a team of spies and hackers working together to get in and get out without being seen. Instead, this is a fairly generic action film with a nonsensical plot.
Should I watch it?
The film is a curious blend, full of exciting action scenes as well as overly talky bits that dampen things down quicker than a burst hydrant. As an audience-pleasing time passer, Mission: Impossible does the trick but the incoherent storyline and clash of styles with the original results in the film being little more than your common-or-garden action flick with little to remain in the memory once its finished.
Great For: Tom Cruise fans, Tom Cruise's bank balance, Tom Cruise's stunt-man fantasies
Not So Great For: fans of the show, short attention spans, American visitors to Europe
What else should I watch?
While it may be the lowest-rated entry in the series so far, I confess to having a soft-spot for Mission: Impossible 2 which was immediately improved by having John Woo in the director's chair. Full of action and slow-motion sequences that Woo is so fond of, the film is a badly orchestrated mess of action scenes stitched together with the most basic of plots. It feels even more like a Bond picture than this one does so I was mighty relieved to discover Mission: Impossible III was a step in the right direction. With a scene-stealing Philip Seymour Hoffman as a thoroughly nasty arms dealer, the film just about balances the narrative with the explosive.
I can't honestly comment on the other films in the series because I haven't watched them yet but there is a reason why. Movies have always been home to a number of spies down the years and these days, we're watching films that can easily match the spectacle of Mission: Impossible and offer a deeper, more enjoyable story as well. Daniel Craig's tenure as James Bond has been hugely successful with instant classics like Skyfall and Casino Royale reinvigorating the long-running franchise. Meanwhile, the Jason Bourne series rumbles on and even when Matt Damon isn't involved like the filler-entry The Bourne Legacy, the film offers a top-notch blend of gripping action and enthralling narrative - something every Bourne film has been able to do so far.
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© 2018 Benjamin Cox