Mission: Impossible – 1996
Directed by Brian De Palma
Starring Tom Cruise, Emmanuelle Béart, Jon Voight, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emilio Estavez, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Redgrave, Henry Czerny, Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė
Written by David Koepp, Robert Towne
Considered at the time to be a blasphemous departure to the original series is now seen as a pretty solid thriller. That is saying something with De Palma at the helm. Known for his inconsistent ability as well as his occasional genius, De Palma could have sunk this franchise before it started. Sure, he had just gotten through with Carlito’s Way, but he could just as easily turned it into Snake Eyes , Mission to Mars or, worse, Black Dahlia.
Getting rid of the entire cast in the first mission and then spending the rest of the movie with solid replacements was a stroke of brilliance. Having Henry Czerny play against cast was equally grand. The best scene, by far, is breaking into the CIA. Old computers and all, it still works. The train scene stretched credibility to the max. The twists are plentiful, and the performances are solid. As Ethan Hunt, Cruise delivers a performance intense enough and generic enough that he is able to grow into. The reveal with a half hour left is a little early. It was nice to see Jon Voight bite it, even if he was Jim Phelps at the time.
(***1/2 out of ******)
Mission: Impossible II
Directed by John Woo
Starring Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Ving Rhames, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Roxborough, Anthony Hopkins (uncredited), William Mapother
Written by Robert Towne
Taking a calculated risk for the second movie in a row, Cruise inserts noted Hong Kong director John Woo. Woo is a great choice, and he brings all of his bag of tricks to the show. Problem is, he used about 3/4 of these tricks in earlier films. The car wreck on the cliff, the gun standoff and the motorcycle stunts are all Woo standards. Still there is something intriguing about having Cruise attack those stunts. The color palate is immensely beautiful in Blue Ray, making the last 1/3 of the movie, duplicate scenes and all, remarkable as ever.
Cruise looks like he is having a ball through most of the events. The bad guy (Scott) is kind of bland, with no lasting impact, unless you consider that he gave up being Wolverine for this role. I had more of a feeling of danger with Anthony Hopkins as the head of IMF. Or the blonde number 2 guy. Thandie Newton is more than adequate as the damsel in distress.
Towne’s script presents a grim fatalism to everything. One real weakness is any real discussion about how communicable the disease Chimera is. There is a lot less tension in M:I:II than in most films involving virus outbreaks. This one makes it seem like it can be solved with hands, feet, guns and grit. Makes it feel a little insubstantial, which, of course, it is.
(**** out of *****)
Mission: Impossible III
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring Tom Cruise, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan, Johnathon Rhys Meyers, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Keri Russell, Eddie Moran
Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Abrams
Far and away the best of the series, with no discernible flaws. Taking many risks, including making Hoffman a bad guy, giving Hunt a fiancé and then marrying him all before the major mission kicks off, it succeeds in ratcheting up the tension, instead of making it goofy. The rescue mission with Russell is as awesome is it is heartbreaking. The kidnap in Rome, the double cross in the Florida Keys, the escape from the IMF, the building jump and the interrogation scene are all high-water marks for the series.
Hoffman’s belligerent diatribe as he sits there captured shows exactly what they got in this movie that the other two so desperately lacked: a credible nemesis. Every moment counts, every detail matters, and every scene leads to something. The same combination responsible for just about every classic series or movie over the last 8 years (Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman) is the driving force behind the success of the film. Making Laurence Fishburne the boss and Crudup as his buddy in the office works in many ways. Maggie Q, Rhys Meyers, Rhames and especially Pegg give Cruise the best supporting team yet.
The best thing about M:I:III is for the first time, the series feels vital. The story gives Cruise a chance to flesh out the Hunt character unlike he has ever been before. As a husband, he feels more human than he ever did as just an agent. Like Jean Reno in Leon: The Professional, he has roots. The sequels have been more a pleasant surprise to now. With part 3, we now wait in breathless anticipation for the fourth entry.
(***** out of *****)