Back in 1996, who would have thought that a movie based on a TV series from the ‘60s could turn into a box-office breaking blockbuster franchise? That’s exactly what happened with Mission: Impossible, which was revived in film form in the late ‘90s with Tom Cruise as its star.
Twenty years later the franchise is still going strong. There have been five films featuring Cruise’s intrepid spy Ethan Hunt, and there is already talk of a sixth. As the stunts get wilder and the box-office takings pile up, fans show no signs of tiring of the films – so we thought we’d take a stab at why they’re such a success, and why we keep on watching.
Breaking into the CIA on a dangling wire and blowing up gigantic water tanks in the first film, set the bar high for what fans could expect in terms of action and suspense. The following four films did not disappoint as Cruise free-climbed sheer cliffs, leapt off motorbikes, hopscotched across skyscrapers, outran sandstorms, scaled the Burj Khalifa and dangled off an airplane.
While shooting the exploding tank scene in the first movie, director Brian de Palma said the action sequence would not look convincing if Cruise was replaced by a stuntman. The actor gamely stepped up to the plate –or tank, in this case – and since then has done all his own stunts. He even dangled off that airplane for real in Rogue Nation.
The Rest of the Cast
Cruise has many detractors, and if you can’t put aside your dislike to admire his work in these films, take comfort in the parade of excellent actors that join him in the franchise. Besides Cruise, the only other actor to have appeared in all five movies so far is Ving Rhames, as loyal friend and expert hacker Luther Stickell. The runner up is Simon Pegg (appearing in three films so far) as the endearingly nervous and nerdy Benji Dunn. Jeremy Renner, as William Brandt, joined the cast of regulars in Ghost Protocol, and looks set to return with the other three actors in the sixth film. Besides these regulars, the franchise has seen the likes of acting greats like Laurence Fishburne, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Alec Baldwin make an appearance.
Although a lot of time, energy and money goes into those jaw-dropping stunts, the camaraderie and repartee between the characters remains just as important. With your body drawn tightly in suspense, thanks to the nerve-snapping tension and high-stakes action, the witty banter and well-placed one-liners allow breathing space and room for a little laughter.
Mission: Impossible may be more guns than gadgets, but there are enough clever gimmicks to make even the most die-hard Bond fan surrender to this action franchise instead. The favourite of these is, of course, the old identity switcheroo, courtesy of those nifty masks that get ripped off at just the right dramatic moment.
The Theme Tune
One of the franchise’s definitive features is its theme tune. It’s become so ingrained in our collective cultural subconscious, you’ll easily find yourself humming it when trying to squeeze your car into a particularly tight parking spot. Written and composed by Lalo Schifrin for the TV series, it was remixed for the first film to great success and has been used throughout the franchise.
Finding the balance between comedy, action and tension is no easy task, which is why some of Hollywood’s most accomplished directors have gravitated to the franchise. Brian de Palma and John Woo – both major, but very different, contributors to the Hollywood action genre – directed the first and second films. J.J. Abrams, the man currently behind two of the biggest movie franchises (Star Trek and Star Wars), directed the third movie, and has remained on board as producer. Brad Bird, better know for directing award-winning animation, seemed an odd choice when he was picked to helm Ghost Protocol. However, his expert handling of some of the franchise’s biggest stunts at that point, proved he was more than capable. The latest director, Christopher McQuarrie, had worked with Cruise more than once before directing Rogue Nation; and seems set to return as director for the sixth film. With these kinds of credentials, it’s irrefutable that these five directors have helped make the franchise the success it is today.
Watch Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, your Sunday night movie on 26 June at 20:05 on M-Net and 20:30 on M-Net Movies Premiere.