REVIEWS: Rewatching the Mission: Impossible Films

I know I’m a little bit late to it, but I’m finally seeing Mission: Impossible – Fallout in theaters today. So, last night I decided to marathon the five films that came before it. I ended up taking some notes, and, in this article, I’ve presented them here as reviews or smaller bite-sized mini-reviews, along with an estimated review score for each of the previous films except for Rogue Nation, which I reviewed in 2015.

Mission: Impossible – 1996 – Brian De Palma

We’ve come a long way since Jon Voight sent Tom Cruise and Emilio Estevez among others into a mission in Prague in the 1996 Brian de Palma film. The film series has also gotten a lot better since its first couple of films, but I’ll get to that.

The thing about Mission: Impossible is that when it works, it certainly is thrilling and whatnot, but the plot is also just too convoluted — especially in this film if you ask me. It is just too much to keep track of. The good parts outweigh the confusing parts, though. It does have its fair share of memorable moments — with the masterful vault-sequence being the main highlight — but it isn’t a film that I imagine I’ll return to anytime soon.

The big finale just doesn’t look all that great anymore, and you can definitely tell that this film is — at the time of writing — 22 years old. As it is, it is a somewhat solid but dated start to the film series, but not exactly as good as I remembered it being.

6.7 out of 10

Mission: Impossible 2 – 2000 – John Woo

A slightly cartoonish and, certainly, overly stylized sequel that I remember liking when I was younger. I don’t anymore, though, and I think it may be due to the change in tone from the first to the second film. The set-up to the title sequence feels like a video game, which I’m not opposed to, but it doesn’t really fit with De Palma’s film, in my opinion. It feels so different that it’s basically whiplash-inducing if you watch them back-to-back.

There are also just too many slow-motion shots in Woo’s film. Generally, this feels more like an attempt to make an over-the-top Americanized James Bond-like spy sequel that tries to check all available spy-characteristic boxes: romance, love interests, action, and so on and so forth.

The laid-back, free-flowing, long Cruise hair is perfect for this much more romantic, cartoonish, and fun take on the series than De Palma’s film, which, by the way, had Tom Cruise in a straight-and-to-the-point hairstyle that promised no funny-business. These films are supposed to be analyzed based on Cruise’s hairstyles, right? Am I doing it right?

All jokes aside, this was the movie that made me interested in the film series way back when. This is the film I previously most associated with the theme song, for some reason, and although I think it is the series’ worst film, I still enjoy it somewhat.

5.5 out of 10

Mission: Impossible III – 2006 – J. J. Abrams

Six years after the release of Mission: Impossible 2, the series left the hands of two well-known directors, and, all of a sudden, J. J. Abrams was the director chosen to spearhead the production of the, then, newest film in the series.

Nowadays Abrams is known best for his reputation as a fanboy favorite director with his work on popular television series being overshadowed by his successful attempts to revitalize both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. In 2006, Abrams was known for his involvement in shows like Felicity and Lost, and this, Mission: Impossible III, was his directorial debut.

Right from the opening scene of this film, it feels more up my alley than the previous two. Hunt, Cruise’s character, is tied to a chair (and has been beaten) and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character — the greatest antagonist in the film series — is giving the series’ hero an ultimatum. Either Hunt gives him the location of the film’s MacGuffin or they will kill his fiancee.

Gone is the over-the-top, overly stylized slow-motion action from the Woo film. Hunt here looks broken, tired, and defeated. It is a grim and gritty scene and it works. This is a flashback scene to prepare you for a different approach — a much more serious approach to the action film series. If that uncompromising scene doesn’t grab you, then I don’t know what will.

This is a Mission: Impossible-film for the Jason Bourne era of action-thriller filmmaking, and you can feel it immediately. I don’t appreciate the look of this film, though, and that is my biggest problem with it — truth be told. With that having been said, it is a truly engaging sequel that manages to humanize the series’ central character to great effect.

Although I think this is a pretty great spy action-thriller, it does not hold a candle to the excellent Martin Campbell film Casino Royale, which was released in the same year as Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III. Casino Royale revitalized James Bond for a new audience. Mission: Impossible III did a similar thing, it just isn’t as remarkable an achievement. Abrams didn’t perfect the series or its formula, but he did bring it back in a satisfying way — and, in doing so, he elevated it to new heights in quality.

8 out of 10

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – 2011 – Brad Bird

For Ghost Protocol, J. J. Abrams handed the reigns to the franchise to director Brad Bird who, in 2011, had made a name for himself as a director of animated films. Now, mind you, his animated filmography as a director is pretty remarkable. This was the guy behind Pixar hits The Incredibles and, the far superior, Ratatouille, as well as Warner Bros.’ The Iron Giant.

Ghost Protocol was Bird’s chance to prove himself as a live-action feature film director, and, boy, did he do just that. Ghost Protocol is decidedly more fun and silly than the Abrams film that preceded it. But it deftly overcame the challenging tonal tightrope act to become a thoroughly entertaining action film.

The differences in tone are striking, but the approach is not as confusingly different as it was in the jump from De Palma’s Mission: Impossible to John Woo’s sequel. The Moscow breakout sequence in the opening perfectly encapsulates the change in approach here.

There are two comic relief characters here — a Russian prisoner that they are breaking out and the returning character played by Simon Pegg, who generally adds a lot to this film. This was, at the time of release, Tom Cruise at his most stunt-excited. He nonchalantly and without a care in the world makes jumps, swing, punches, and whatnot — and he even makes a few fun glances at the surveillance camera.

Bird skillfully balances the fun of the action-thriller film series with the serious plot that the films must carry. Pairing the Moscow breakout sequence with “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” is such a fun choice — it is perfectly tongue-in-cheek.

Ghost Protocol also has its fair share of ridiculous spy-film moments. For example, when the, at the time, newly introduced character played by Jeremy Renner is able to identify and describe the antagonist based on a sketch on Ethan Hunt’s palm. It is ridiculous, it is funny, and you let it slide because you believe there genuinely isn’t anything that Hunt or his team cannot do.

With Ghost Protocol, Brad Bird reminds us that we can have fun with this action-spy franchise. This never seems or looks like a live-action debut. This is a busy, fun, and exciting entry in the franchise that figures out exactly how these films work best. The action sequences and set-pieces had, at the time of release, never been more imaginative and impressive. We still talk about the Burj Khalifa-scene, and it will likely go down in history as the most impressive and nail-bitingly thrilling sequence in the series. Unlike with Mission: Impossible III the great action-thriller sequences are memorable here.

8.7 out of 10

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and more.

As mentioned in the article’s introduction, I have previously reviewed Rogue Nation on this website, therefore I won’t go into specifics here. Instead, you can read my original review of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation by clicking here. For the purpose of this article, though, I would like to discuss my experience in rewatching the film.

The antagonist, or villain, in these films are generally disappointing or underwhelming. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the one exception. My biggest problem with Rogue Nation was the villain, and I also had some issues with the way Hunt overcame absolutely everything.

Those are issues that are lessened by watching the films back-to-back. The villain is seldom very compelling, and the grander action sequences in the franchise are rooted in an over-the-top John Woo sequel. It isn’t exactly surprising that he overcomes everything at this point, but it can be exhausting watching him make it through it all. That said, I stand by my original score as noted in my original review.

When I have seen Mission: Impossible – Fallout and reviewed it, I will link to it in this article, and it will, obviously, appear on the site in a full review when posted. Hopefully, it proves to be even better than Rogue Nation — the film I had previously called the best in the series.

Full Review of Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

If you would you like to see more of these full series collection of sometimes bite-sized reviews, then let me know in the comments below.

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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