Wednesday 26 October 2016

Rank the Films: Mission Impossible

As any regular reader of this blog will know, lists are pretty darn nifty. I have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that pulls apart the pros and cons of a series of films, ranking them in order of bad to good.

To celebrate the release of Tom Cruise's new movie Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the series under the microscope this month is Mission Impossible. From 1996 to present, the Mission Impossible series has covered five films and five directors, all with one indisputable star at the centre - Tom Cruise's daredevil hero Ethan Hunt.

So pull on your prosthetic mask and cling to the 40th floor of the nearest skyscraper as I list the series down from best to worst; where does your favourite rank? Give my list a read to find out...

5th - Mission Impossible II (2000)

Mission Impossible II is easily the weakest of the series so far, but I wouldn't call it a bad movie; it has it's fair share of awesome moments and is undeniably entertaining. It's gleefully goofy, more so than any of the other films.

That being said, we have to talk about why it rates lowest on this list; first of all, John Woo's kung-fu inspired direction is the definition of style over substance. It might work in other genres, but Woo's unsubtle mixture of slo-mo, explosions and destruction simply didn't mesh with the Mission Impossible franchise. More often than not, the film feels like a cartoon - I mean, what's with all the doves? Unfortunately, what seemed cool in the eyes of the filmmakers just feels like parody in hindsight - there are simply way too many jumps, flips and improbable kill shots to make this film even remotely believable. The nu-metal score that seemed cool back in 2000 just makes me cringe upon reflection.

Credit where credit is due, Mission Impossible II is certainly the most 'distinct' of the franchise. In a series that likes to make a point of switching filmmakers with each entry, you can't argue that Woo didn't leave his stylistic fingerprints all over this one. Plus, looking back, it's cool to see Cruise sort of take a backseat as Thandie Newton's vengeful thief Nyah moves into the limelight.

4th - Mission Impossible (1996)

Rotten Tomatoes: 63%

The first Mission Impossible film can be counted not as the fourth worst, but the fourth best. It's got a great director at the helm in the form of Brian De Palma, a cool supporting cast that includes Jon Voight, Ving Rhames and Kristin Scott Thomas and it brings a sense of swagger and vigour to a crusty 60's TV series that was decidedly quite cheesy.

That being said, the plot feels needlessly convoluted at times and the film does feel a teensy bit dated nowadays (though this is something that can be said for a lot of 90's action movies that riff about technology).

Cruise flexes his action star muscles solo for the first time here; without the oily machismo of Val Kilmer to back him up, this is the first time we get to see Cruise as the indisputable hero of modern action movies that we know him as today.

Slick and filled to the brim with suspenseful set pieces, the original Mission Impossible lack the bravura of the latter entries - but back in '96, it was enough to kickstart a series that audiences lapped up.

3rd - Mission Impossible III (2006)

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%

After the lacklustre second entry, JJ Abrams was brought on board to rejig the series - and, for the most part, his contribution to the franchise was a positive one. Mission Impossible III boasts a couple of things that the other movies don't; firstly, it actually gives Ethan Hunt an actual character arc with some personal stakes, and secondly, it has the best villain of the bunch who comes in the form of Philip Seymour Hoffman's calm, divisive and menacing Owen Davian.

Cruise does a lot of running in this entry (like, so much running you won't believe) but it's not the action that makes this film stand out - it's the stakes. Unlike its peers, Mission Impossible III is the most personal of the bunch, with Ethan's protege being murdered early on and his wife Julia (played by Michelle Monaghan) caught in the crossfire as a result.

This is also the first film where we see the longer lasting team start to come together; Simon Pegg's Benji pops up whilst Ving Rhames returns for a third time. Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers play team members too - but alas, they've since been sidelined through the series' rotating door of supporting characters.

2nd - Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

Under the gaze of Pixar supremo Brad Bird, Ghost Protocol saw the franchise scale greater heights than ever before - both metaphorically and quite literally, with Cruise flinging himself across the sheer exterior of Dubai's Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) for the film's most memorable action set piece.

But there is a lot more to this film than a single daredevil stunt. As brilliant as that sequence is, Ghost Protocol is pretty much perfect (albeit for one caveat I'll get to) from start to finish. The sequence where the group break into the Kremlin showcases from pretty cool (but probably impossible) tech whilst the finale where they have to hack the server of an Indian billionaire is another standout part where everything that could go wrong, does go wrong.

My only real issue with Ghost Protocol is the villain - I mean, is there a villain? Off the top of my head it's really hard to picture who or what they even look like. IMDB claims that an actor called Michael Nyqvist plays the antagonist, but they're so innocuous and inconsequential that I'll just have to take their word for it. To be honest, Lea Seydoux is a more interesting and memorable villain during the first half of the movie.

That being said, that skyscraper sequence is unreal though. It really does all come back to that. How can you watch that scene and not get sweaty palms? It's a masterclass in building suspense.

1st - Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

Few franchises can boast five solid entries, and even fewer can boast that their fifth entry is the pick of the bunch.

The most recent mission, Rogue Nation, saw the franchise once again outdo itself; not just by upping the ante (Cruise clings to exterior of a fucking plain during takeoff) but also by continuing to foreground the likeable cast of supporting characters. Benji, Luther and Brandt are all back for another rollicking rollercoaster adventure that sees the team hop from Minsk to Vienna, Casablanca and London.

Rogue Nation works so well because it gives Ethan Hunt a foil in the form of Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust, another operative caught between her loyalty to the agency and her mission. Both the characters and the audience are kept on their toes regarding Ilsa's true intentions through most of the movie, making her emotionally-involving arc the most engaging supporting character we've seen in the series so far.

Rogue Nation also proved so good that it triggered a shake-up in MI tradition; McQuarrie is set to become the first returning director whilst Ferguson will also reprise her role of Isla Faust in the upcoming Mission Impossible 6.

Which Mission Impossible movie is your favourite? Let me know in the comments section below! Thanks for reading.

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