Why the Mission: Impossible Franchise Works
Adrenaline. Just one word to sum up the Mission: Impossible franchise as a whole. So many franchises try to crank out sequels after a successful first movie. To a few’s credit, it’s really worked (i.e. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings/Hobbit, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible). However, for most, it’s flopped. Well, maybe not flopped, but the movies certainly do not get better (i.e. Fast and Furious, Transformers, Jaws). Thankfully, this phenomena hasn't occurred with the Mission: Impossible franchise.
Let’s start out with the villains. Sure, they mostly come across as cliche, and well, that’s mostly because they are, but that’s not at all a major fault. In fact, for a franchise like this, it fits. It fits due to what each mission usually deals with, that being nuclear threats, terrorist organizations, or maybe just an angry ex boyfriend who wants a virus for profit. I will say that the standout villains of the bunch have to be Owen Davian (Mission: Impossible 3) and Solomon Lane (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation). Owen mainly stands out to me because of the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and he truly makes you fear his character each time he’s on screen.
The character himself isn’t much to talk about, he’s just an angry guy who wants to know where the damned Rabbit’s Foot is at. That said, and as I mentioned earlier, Hoffman lifts the character in a way, and whenever he’s onscreen, is he ever intense with the yelling, the angry looks, and his brutal way of going about things. Solomon Lane, however, is a little less intense. Well, at least in terms of not yelling so loudly his veins are popping out. He’s intense in a more, well, unpredictable way, to say the least.
Solomon is the chess game type villain. He’s always making sure he’s one step ahead of Ethan Hunt, or, well, anyone who opposes him I guess. We only, however, see the chess match between him and Ethan. He’s arguably a much worse guy than Owen, considering Owen didn’t take down an entire passenger plane just to bring down one person. Solomon Lane is the head of a rogue terrorist organization named “The Syndicate." That, to me, also makes him a little scarier than Owen in the long run, because, well, you know, a massive terrorist organization is quite intimidating, to me, at least. Both though, as I mentioned, stand out amongst the other villains. Owen, for his brutal intimidation, and a killer performance by Hoffman, and Solomon Lane, for his ability to outsmart and be one step ahead of his opponent.
Now onto the direction and style/flare of each film. One thing the Impossible franchise is known for is its shift in directors with each passing film. The first movie of the franchise is directed by legendary director Brian De Palma. De Palma stuck to the formula of the TV Series of the same name, and by that, I simply mean that it feels like a 60’s film. It focuses less on being an action film, and focuses in on being purely a spy-first movie. It’s so wonderfully cheesy, and at the same time, creates a great sense of paranoia. If you want further proof of it’s cheesiness, just watch the final action sequence at the end featuring the train/tunnel sequence.
The second film brings director John Woo on board, in quite possibly the most 2000s movie to ever 2000. It’s considered by most to be the weakest link in the series, and I can see why. It’s so weird and takes itself all too seriously for the first hour or so. The movie literally features dove scenes that play no important part in the plot whatsoever, and to me, that’s perfectly fine. All that said, it did bring in a different style compared to the first, and that should be respectable enough just due to the fact it did its own thing. In all fairness, Woo handled the action scenes in a very respectable manner, as many of them felt quite brutal and intense, and it deserves more recognition in that degree. Honestly though, what was with the doves? At least it made for some bad-ass shots though, so I guess that’s a plus.
J.J. Abrams makes his directorial debut with the third film in the franchise, and that alone was fresh enough. Abrams takes a much darker tone in this one, eliminating a great deal of the cheesy style of the first two. As I mentioned in the beginning, this film sees Philip Seymour Hoffman as the antagonist, Owen Davian. From the opening scene alone with Owen, Ethan, Ethan’s wife, Julia, and a gun pointed at Julia, you knew you were in for a darker, grittier ride. JJ Abrams added some serious stakes in this one with the wife storyline, and we also learn a little more about Ethan’s personal life. We were also introduced to Benji in this one, so yeah, there’s that.
Brad Bird showed off his expected fun, cheesy ride in Ghost Protocol, a film that doesn’t take itself quite as seriously as it’s predecessor. Bird returned to the roots to a small degree by having a wild, often witty, action-packed film, full of fun new gadgets, specifically the scene with the screen/cloak that made everything appear normal to the guard. You know which one I’m talking about. It was especially clear with this that Bird knows how to handle action, but we should’ve all expected that from the guy who made The Incredibles. And if you really think about it, this and The Incredibles have some similarities, but that’s another topic for another time.
We now lead on to the man who now has a very special TWO Mission: Impossible films under his belt now: one Christopher McQuarrie. McQ’s style can be summed up with this: Purely adrenaline filled action. We thought the Burj Khalifa would remain the most dangerous stunt in the franchise, but we were certainly wrong when Ethan boarded a plane in an atypical way by merely hanging off the side. McQ perfectly balanced the darker tone of the third film and the wit of Ghost Protocol in both Rogue Nation and Fallout. Not to mention he handles the action very well in both of his films, with having little to no usage of any green screen or CG whatsoever, making the action and stakes feel very scarily real. To sum it up, McQ is a mad man, which meshes perfectly with Tom Cruise.
As mentioned earlier, the authenticity of the action and the constant shift in style is what keeps this franchise afloat. I mean, 20+ years and 6 movies, without changing the lead actor? Yeah, they’re doing something right. The franchise is successful for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, and with each movie, it continues to prove itself on why it works. Audiences enjoy an authentic feel to the action, and enjoy the little reliance on CGI. Here’s to hoping this franchise continues on for years to come, and here’s to also hoping it gains even more recognition, because it truly deserves it.