Mission: Impossible 5 is in production, and I choose to accept it.
They won’t call it 5 of course – they don’t want to remind people that the franchise is nearing the end of its second decade, and that Tom Cruise will be 50 by the time it’s out. But I think they – he – should be proud of what they’ve made; these films are great.
Well, at least three of them are; I’ll get back to that.
Why do they work so well?
(And they do – if you don’t like them I’m prepared to bet it’s because you just don’t like TC, and that, in turn, is just based on his enormous fame – the same way you don’t like Harry Potter, or Michael McIntyre, right? Well, they all deliver the goods, you’re a curmudgeon, and that’s that).
Heroism and a heightened, cartoon version of reality, that’s what we want from our blockbusters. That’s why James Bond is still the model, followed by, improved on, by other super-human-yet-apparently-vulnerable heroes like Indiana Jones and Jason Bourne. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt can win any fight, climb any wall etc., but of course he’s vulnerable – his mission is impossible!
M:I shares more DNA with JB than most, maybe because these screen adventures were all born in the 1960s; the films bring romanticised espionage and exotic locations right up to date. Brad Bird was the perfect director for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, having made The Incredibles, which pastiches the suntanned, spying swing of the early Bonds so wonderfully.
But the films have a couple of aspects that take them even beyond Bond to create blockbuster gold. All action movies need stand-out set pieces; chases, fights, climbs, falls – moments of high drama. When these fail, it’s because they feel far-fetched, or unjustified by the story. Done right, Mission: Impossible will never fall into these holes, because the set pieces are the story, and they’re supposed to be far-fetched; his mission is impossible!
The other strength hard-wired into the format is an ensemble cast; for all their super-alpha-male protagonists, all the films I’ve mentioned here – Bonds, Incredibles, Joneses, even apparently lonely Jason Bourne – have a solid family of great characters at heart, black sheep included. IMF send Ethan Hunt a great little cast of characters along with his mission; job done! 95% of the script issues of most big films resolved in one 30-second franchise beat. This extends to the baddies, something I think J.J. Abrams was the first to spot, in Mission: Impossible 3; Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Davian has no back-story, no justification – he’s just really really bad. And that’s fabulous.
Whereas Dougray Scott in M:I 2… well, they were finding their feet. And John Woo never really got on with Hollywood. The film is definitely the weak link, but I still enjoy it, and perhaps a taste of failure spurred the team on to the bulletproof wonders of 3 and 4.
The only other quibble I have is that, for all that Anthony Hopkins (‘it’s not Mission: Difficult, Mr Hunt, it’s Mission: Impossible; ‘difficult’ should be a walk in the park’), Laurence Fishburne and Tom Wilkinson were all great, how good would it be if Hunt’s boss had been played by any one of those guys in all three of those films? Chris Cooper coming back for one line in The Bourne Supremacy, even though he died in the film before, was such a touch of class, and keeping Judi Dench on as M into the Daniel Craig era of Bond was a three-film masterstroke that pretty much all Skyfall’s greatness rested on.
So Bond and Bourne get one over on Hunt. But I think he can handle it – the next film will be great, I’m sure, because the plot’s a classic: his MISSION is IMPOSSIBLE!