The Mission: Impossible Franchise – Hazy Reflections

Tom Cruise spy Ethan Hunt Mission Impossible film series
Tom Cruise is spy Ethan Hunt accomplishing lots of
impossible missions

With a fifth Mission Impossible film coming out it’s only natural for movie fans to reflect on the previous entries of Tom Cruise’s spy franchise.

This is exactly what I was doing with a friend and thought my ridiculous hazy memories about each individual film was amusing enough to share. It became clear very quickly I don’t remember much about them – other than a handful of scenes. It’s usually just some action setpieces that I can recall, but have no idea how Cruise’s Ethan Hunt got there or why.

This isn’t to say I hate these flicks. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the last two, but the story, characters, even just a general broad plot synopsis – that stuff just floated out of my head as soon as the end credits rolled.

Probably the most confident and accurate description I can give about each individual film is that each was directed by a different director – Brian DePalma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird and Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt – a character who is a spy. They could just save us the time and call him Agent Tom Cruise. Anymore than that and I’m going out on a limb.

Now granted I haven’t watched any of these films since they first came out and I never felt compelled to rewatch them. I didn’t want to re-familiarize myself with anything about them and cheat or refresh my memory before writing this blog. Maybe I’ll revisit them at a certain point, but at the moment I still don’t feel that’s necessary.

So before Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation hits here’s my hazy reflections on each Mission Impossible film. I have to warn about potential spoilers, since I might have some things right, but don’t expect all of this to be accurate. I freely admit I probably have no idea what I’m talking about and am about to embarrass myself with fans of this movie series.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Tom Cruise Mission Impossible 1996 stunt

The old classic TV spy show gets the big-screen treatment (during a time when it seemed every old TV show was getting one).

A mission goes bad for secret agent Ethan Hunt and his spying team, which includes Emilio Estevez. They are all killed, but Cruise escapes. Agent Cruise finds out he can’t trust his government bosses after one tries to kill him when he meets up with him, but Cruise escapes again, this time by blowing up a giant fish tank with explosive chewing gum.

Luckily Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) is Cruise’s mentor and whom Cruise can trust. Phelps is the only character connected to the TV show, but we do also get the theme song, the ‘if you choose to accept this mission’ tapes and rubber masks. So Cruise sporting some pretty short hair in this one, has to break into CIA headquarters to get a disc or file or something. Ving Rhames, Leon and the first in a line of forgettable IMF leading ladies helps him.

Mission Impossible 1996 Tom Cruise hanging

They put some stuff in this computer guys drink to make him have diaharrea so Cruise can lower himself down into the secret room where he can’t touch the floor or make a sound. Here’s the big action setpiece I remember from the movie. They make sure they’re quiet enough and check the sound levels by saying the word “Toast. Toast.” into the microphone. I don’t know why I always remember that part.

Cruise gets the file, Leon gets scared by a rat in the vent and almost drops Cruise. They go somewhere in Europe to meet up with Phelps on a bullet train where we learn he’s really a bad guy. I think Cruise uses a rubber mask somewhere in here. There’s a fight on the train with some silly explosions. Oh and Leon flies a helicopter and tries to use the blades to cut up Cruise who’s hanging on the outside of the train.

The bad guys are taken care of and Agent Cruise is proved innocent or something and goes back to work ready for his next mission.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Mission Impossible 2 Tom Cruise mountain climbing

I remember being surprised when I heard Cruise was going to do a sequel to Mission: Impossible. That never seemed like his thing, but the first movie was a hit and the series would become a steady popular money-maker for him to always go back to. Ironically, number two would be the least successful entry both critically and commercially of this franchise.

Agent Tom Cruise has longer has long hair this time and is doing some pretty cool mountain climbing stunts. He puts on his sunglasses and is given his mission. Ummm….I’m going to take a stab at it. A bad guy stole something and is trying to sell it so Cruise has to stop him? Maybe he’s a former IMF agent who is a traitor and used to be Cruise’s friend. I’m guessing here.

Dougray Scott is the bad guy. I only remember him being in this because he lost out the role of Wolverine in X-Men because filming went on too long in this. He must hate thinking about this movie. Thandie Newton is the IMF leading lady. She’s the only Mission Impossible gal I can name. I remember she was one of the current young, attractive up-and-coming actresses at the time.

I think Rhames is in this, but I can’t be sure. He was probably doing his thing at a computer talking with Cruise at some point.

Mission Impossible 2 Tom Cruise motorcycle chase

Action fans were hoping for a lot of cool John Woo action, since he dominated the 90’s with all his distinctive slo-mo/explosive flair – but I don’t remember what the action was in the movie.

There was definitely some slo-mo, since I remember Cruise kicking in slo-mo and Thandie Newton disappearing behind blowing curtains in slo-mo. There might have even been some changing speed rates, going from fast to slow since I sort of recall when Cruise is wearing the shades getting his mission the camera zipping around his head. The film also looked much different than DePalma’s cool, bluer film. This one was much brighter and orangey-ier.

There was a motorcycle chase. I know there was that. There were explosions and there must of been some slo-mo during some of it. I’d be really shocked if I rewatch it and don’t see some of slo-mo. The climax is when Agent Cruise and Not-Wolverine speed towards each other and collide in the air in a crazy motorcycle jousting thing. A fight occurs on the beach with Cruise getting a knife blade coming really close to his eyeball (something I read they did for real). Somehow Cruise kills the bad guy and I guess the file or secrets are safe. Cruise is set for his next mission. Oh and they did use the mask trick again.

Mission Impossible III (2006)

Tom Cruise Mission Impossible 3 Ethan Hunt

Tom Cruise has average length hair and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a bad guy.

The movie starts out with a cool bang as we see Hoffman kill Agent Cruise’s girlfriend in a flash forward. Keri Russell is an IMF agent who Cruise trained and is killed when a bomb in her head detonates. I guess they realized that the character of Ethan Hunt was not too interesting a guy, so they try to make him more of a three-dimensional character by giving him a girlfriend – I forget what her character or the actress’ name is. Even though we get to see him away from his spy job, there’s still nothing special about the character that stands out and he’s still just ‘Agent Tom Cruise’.

We find out Hoffman killed Felicity and they manage to capture him. Cruise gets mad at him and hangs him out an airplane. Hoffman escapes in a helicopter on a bridge in a cool action scene and goes after Cruises girlfriend.

This is where Simon Pegg gets introduced as one of the team members. I believe there is a girl agent somewhere in this, there always is, but I can’t tell you anything about her. The television series revolved around a team of agents working together, but the movies became the Tom Cruise Show.

It seemed around here they decided to give the supporting actors, notably Pegg, more of a participatory role in the missions. The most teamwork we saw in the earlier flicks was Rhames sitting in a van with an earpiece and sitting at a computer. Pegg still does that, but he gets to do some actual fieldwork too, along with providing some comedy relief.

Mission Impossible 3 Tom Cruise bridge scene

So they help Cruise….break into the…..Vatican….to capture Hoffman? I know Cruise pretends to be Hoffman because they use one of the disguise masks and it was kind of weird seeing Hoffman climbing around like he’s supposed to be Cruise. Maybe the Vatican was some other scene, but they break into this big place with a party going on.

OH, and before that Cruise breaks into a building and does a parachute escape when bad guys start shooting at him. I don’t know what he was doing there, but he must of been after something important.

I guess Hoffman escapes again and captures Cruise’s girlfriend, but Agent Cruise kills him and his gal has to electrocute him because Hoffman put a bomb in his head. Everyone is safe. Rhames shows up very briefly in this. I can’t remember if Cruise says he’s going to stay away from his girlfriend to keep her safe or just goes off and marries her.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol Tom Cruise prison escape

Let’s stop numbering these movies and just give them subtitles. I’m not sure why they didn’t call this ‘Mission: Impossible IV’, but the makers decided to drop keeping track of what number we’re at with this series of movies.

Agent Cruise has a bit longer hair than last we saw him. He’s in prison to stage a breakout for a guy and manages to take out a whole cellblock of guards.

We start to see a bit more of the ‘Bourne Influence’ on Ethan Hunt. In the past Agent Cruise would do a lot of firing of guns, performing vehicle stunts and climbing. He might have thrown a few punches at some baddies, but it’s clear he’s been doing some serious fight training since his beach fight in MI2. Here’s he’s taking out dozens of guys with his fists and moves like lightning – an ability all modern day action heroes must be able to have.

A bad blonde agent kills Sawyer from Lost and steals nuclear codes. Tom Wilkinson tells Cruise there’s some bad people in the government and before they shoot up his limo. Cruise and Jeremy Renner manage to escape. They have to break into the Kremlin with some cameras on balloons and a giant mirror.

Cruise wears a disguise but it’s not one of the series’ famous rubber masks, it’s just a little fake mustache. Actually there aren’t any of those disguise masks in the movie. I think the one that shows up gets goofed up when Pegg is making it. Anyway, a nuclear bomb goes off under the Kremlin and Agent Cruise does a nifty ‘running from a nuclear explosion’ stunt and survives. He’s taken prisoner in a hospital and slides down some telephone lines and escapes.

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol Tom Cruise climbing building

He rejoins his team who now have to goto the tallest building in the world to pretend to be buying the nuke codes and have to make copies of it with contact lense cameras. Cruise has to climb the outside of the building with some nifty Spider-Man gloves. We again get a bit more humor that runs throughout.

A sandstorm lets the bad guy escape with the codes so Cruise, Renner, Pegg and the newest IMF gal (no idea who she is) have to go somewhere else to break into a ritzy party and stop the bad guys….from uploading the codes to some cable access TV station….that sounds so wrong, but it would be cool if that was true. The agent gal seduces some bigwig, Pegg helps Renner crawl through some airducts and avoid being cut by giant fans and Cruise has a fight in a revolving parking deck with cars falling all over the place.

They retrieve the codes, Rhames makes a cameo and the world is safe again. At least until the next mission. Let’s cue the theme song!



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3 Responses

  1. Capt. Nemo says:

    Two questions.

    Did you ever see the movie that inspired the Mission Impossible series: Topkapi?

    https://youtu.be/Giv4-gNKePg

    The other question is, how would you compare Ethan Hunt to James Bond? Some would say that he is the answer to James Bond. They do have the same elements. International globetrotter, A Bit of a ladies man, And an adventurer. How would you compare that Apple to that Orange?

  2. Nick_H says:

    There is no answer to James Bond. Many have tried, none have lasted the course.

    The big difference is that you can always revisit Bond and find something new or nuanced in each one. There's a visual and storytelling style with Bond that elevates it above other action-spy movies. As was mentioned in the blog, Mission Impossible movies are fine to watch once when they come out but as lasting works they fall short. Like a soft drink vs champagne.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Yes, do yourselves a favor and watch TOPKAPI instead of the latest Tom Cruise preen-fest. And then watch the first three seasons of the original series and forget these movies exist, which shouldn't be too difficult.

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