Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Preparing for Mission Impossible

     There are a ridiculous amount of mainstream movie franchises that are getting sequels this year — and plenty of them have already slammed the box office into next Tuesday. There have been superhero fantasies, dinosaur-laden science fiction, and as Christmas rolls around we’ll be getting the much-anticipated next episode of the space-myth known as Star Wars. However, if anyone is looking for a good solid spy-thriller to tide them over before Spectre gets here in November, where should they turn? Melissa McCarthy’s Spy looked promising as an anti-James-Bond comedy, but ended up as a relatively mediocre raunch-fest despite all of its potential.

     Fortunately, there is another option, though many people may not realize it at first glance. Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation, the fifth in the M.I. movie franchise, is coming to theatres on July 31st… and it just might be worth the cost of the ticket!

     For those of you who want to refresh your memories about the series (or for those of you who haven’t seen any of the saga and would like an idea of what’s to come), allow me to delve into the Mission Impossible franchise and give you a thorough, spoiler-free idea of whether or not you’ll need to catch up on any of the prequels before heading off to see Rogue Nation.

Hogwarts Mission Impossible, A History

     What many viewers may not realize is that before it was a line of movies, Mission Impossible actually originated as a television series between 1966 and 1973. It wasn’t until 1996 that the first film, starring Tom Cruise, was released to positive reviews by critics and fans alike. That success eventually spurred the release of sequels, ranging from the simply titled “Mission Impossible II” (2000) and “Mission Impossible III,” (2006) to the more recent “Ghost Protocol,” (2011) and upcoming film, “Rogue Nation,” (2015).

     While it can be argued that Mission Impossible II was somewhat of a really poor James Bond ripoff

     …on the whole, the franchise has actually defied logic by getting better over the years, instead of worse. Pretty fitting for a series with the word “Impossible” in the title.

     Mission Impossible III provided a wild mixture of thrills, chills, and ridiculous stunts that re-kindled critic and audience interest in the series (probably thanks to nerd-legend J.J. Abrams, who directed the film, and the new addition of British comedian Simon Pegg).

     Then Ghost Protocol somehow managed to raise the bar yet again in 2011… perhaps because (among other things like a great plot and dose of humor) it included newcomer Jeremy Renner, who made his first cameo as the super-archer “Hawkeye” that same year in Marvel’s Thor.

     So, if the franchise's pattern of improvement is to be trusted, Rogue Nation actually looks like a pretty promising movie choice this summer.

The Plot

     The television show followed the spies Dan Briggs and Jim Phelps as they worked for the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) on various top-secret, not-strictly-legal exploits.

     The movies more or less pick up in 1996 as if the IMF never stopped.

Mission Impossible
     The first film focuses on a young new spy named Ethan Hunt (played by Cruise), who is a member of an IMF team headed by Phelps. But when that team is massacred in the middle of a mission that should have been top-secret, Hunt is accused of being an enemy informant and must go to ground until he can prove his innocence… even if it means breaking back into IMF headquarters.

Mission Impossible II
     When a criminal tycoon named Ambrose steals a deadly virus and plans to make a fortune selling the antidote, Hunt is recruited by the IMF to stop him. However, he must send his new girlfriend Nyah undercover to seduce Ambrose in order to find out who wants to purchase the virus from him.

Mission Impossible III
     Having given up his career with the IMF in order to try and live a normal life with his fiance, Ethan is sucked back in on one last mission when he learns that his top protege is being held hostage. However, this single mission snowballs into a terrifying mixture of deception as he faces his most merciless opponent yet.

It's arguably one of Phillip Seymour Hoffman''s most riveting performances.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
     When a mission goes wrong and the IMF is blamed for a massive terrorist attack on foreign soil, Ethan Hunt and his team must band together and find a way to stop a madman from inciting nuclear war… without any help or resources from the now-shut-down IMF.

The Appeal

     Believe it or not, the catchy musical theme and convoluted, whodunnit plots aren’t the only things that make these films so famous. In the modern age of computer animation and stunt doubles, what a lot of viewers don’t realize is that Tom Cruise does nearly all the stunts himself, often with minimal or no safety gear.

     Even if you’re not a fan of his acting or his life choices (including these stunts), you have to stand in awe of the fact that he’s still alive. I honestly have an uneasy suspicion that these movies might one day be the death of him.

     Whether Tom’s dangling off a cliff-face, a hundred-story building, or (in this latest film) an airplane, the audience can’t help but be hooked because they know that there may be no net on the ground to catch him. There is no green screen. Those risks heighten the fright and vertigo and adrenaline that viewers get while watching, and it makes for one exciting ride.

     There are one or two stunts that were mixed with CGI, and whenever possible there are hidden rigs for Tom’s safety, but that doesn’t change the fact that he may be relying as little as one single wire to keep him from falling to certain death. These stunts and these movies are some of the central reasons why he was rocketed to stardom in the first place.

The Rating

     The franchise is PG-13, definitely palatable for anyone who has watched a James Bond movie from the past three decades.

     Violence: There may not be visible guts and gore, but there’s plenty of blood and cringe-worthy deaths by bullet, vehicle, bomb, and more. The series doesn’t center itself around violence so much as action, but those two terms still do tend to go hand in hand.

     Sex: There’s a fair number of women in slinky dresses and seducing poses, and there are one or two intense makeout sessions or waking-up-in-bed scenes that don’t really need to be there. It’s also notable that there hasn’t been a single female character to be present in all four movies. But, at least in the third and fourth movies, the women that are involved do have some decent and respectable roles.

     Language: These are adult spies in some surprising and deadly situations, so we get about as many curses as a PG-13 rating might be expected to get.

The Genre

     Mission Impossible mixes high-stakes action sequences with heart-pounding undercover missions, ridiculously-deadly stunts, shocking deceptions (usually in the form of rubber face masks), and even a tiny sprinkling of sci-fi technology! There’s not much in the way of moral discussions or big symbolic themes, but if you enjoy the sort of simple thrillers where you can trust no one, the series just might be a fun choice.

     So is it worth it?

The Decision

     Possibly. Fans may debate on whether the entire saga is good enough to watch, but the third and fourth films definitely are… and the good news is that the movies don’t really need to rely on one another to be understood. You could watch movies 1-4, but you could just as easily skip Mission Impossible II (which I would recommend). And if you’re really in a rush to catch up, you could pretty much just watch the third and fourth movies by themselves without missing a beat!

     And if you’re still on the fence, there’s a decent ultimate fan-made trailer on Youtube that might interest you if you’re more of a visual person (like myself). It doesn’t have much in the way of thrilling music, but it’s a good compilation.


     In the end, I’d recommend that you figure out how much time you have on your hands, and how badly you want to see Rogue Nation this Friday. Mission Impossible isn’t always the most intellectual or even original spy series on the market, but the franchise has gotten better with age, and many of its actors have performed near-deadly stunts... which truly makes it worthy of the name "impossible".


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