With the fourth Mission: Impossible outing, Ghost Protocol, currently taking the box office by storm, it seems only fitting to take a look at all four films collectively. I recently grabbed the blu-ray box set of the first three movies to revisit the franchise after seeing Ghost Protocol on IMAX. And just the other day, I saw the latest Mission in theaters a second time as I accompanied someone who hadn’t seen it yet.
With that said, after seeing all four once again in order, I shall rank the films in order of best to worst…
1. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol — It’s a tough call to say whether or not this is the best of the series, but after watching III and IV again, I do feel like Ghost Protocol has an especially better team to accompany Hunt this time around. It’s tough to beat having Simon Pegg along for the ride, while Paula Patton brings quite a bit more emotion and personality to her character that lacked in III (Maggie Q was blase at best). Jonathan Rhys Meyers had also been just sort of there in the third one, while they actually give Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt some intrigue and depth. The action is near non-stop in Ghost Protocol, but director Brad Bird still makes sure there’s enough story, heart, and depth mixed in to keep it from feeling much too thin (or worse– like a Stephen Sommers movie). In some ways, the franchise gets back to its core with the fourth film in a way few sequels tend to do.
One thing I even picked up on the second time around was a wonderfully subtle nod to the very first film from 1996. In the original, Max’s assistant –a long-haired blonde man– was Ethan’s contact when he went to meet up with the arms dealer. He insisted Ethan wear a mask with the eye holes sewn up before he took the agent to meet Max. In Ghost Protocol, Ethan ventures out to meet a different arms dealer, but guess who the contact is who hands him another blacked-out mask to slip on? The same guy played by the same actor. Ethan even smirks when the man hands him the mask. It’s perfect and it’s a nice tie in to rope the series of movies together a bit more. And although he isn’t part of the team this time, Ving Rhames still makes his fourth consecutive M:I appearance, even if it’s just a cameo. Ghost Protocol is also the first of the sequels that actually feels like a continuation of the movie that preceded it. The bits about what happened to Ethan and his wife Jules from M:I III are a smart but bittersweet touch — smart, considering how most of these movies don’t directly relate to each other.
And, man… who can beat the fact that Cruise ACTUALLY filmed the Dubai hotel scenes while dangling off the side of the world’s tallest building? It looks incredible on IMAX and it’s quite obvious there’s no green screen used. Cruise is almost 50 years old and he’s still a tough guy.
2. Mission: Impossible III — Again, it’s a difficult call to make whether IV is truly better than III or not. J.J. Abrams had set out to show Ethan Hunt as a man and not just a secret-agent-machine. The emotional storyline about the aging agent being pulled back into field duty while trying to settle down to life with a wife is a great new angle to give the series. Phillip Seymour Hoffman isn’t the most sinister of villains to pit against Hunt, but he proves to be a more realistic opponent. The way they approached the signature M:I masks in this one is especially neat to watch, while Cruise still offers some real cool action sequences once again. And who can’t get roped into an M:I film real easily when it opens with our hero having an explosive charge shot up his nose into his brain AND it looks like the villain just killed his girl?
3. Mission: Impossible — The first outing is still some fans’ favorite, but it’s tough to really love a movie based on a television series that turns the series’ main good guy into the film’s chief bad guy. Who’s crazy idea was that? Could you imagine a Star Trek film that makes Kirk the main villain? It just doesn’t really make much sense. Regardless, the film is a great spy flick, but the dated technology gives the movie an unnecessary cheese factor over fifteen years later. Also, the IMF team being obliterated shortly after the movie’s opening makes it feel slightly less like an ensemble effort and more like just a Tom Cruise vehicle. Each time I see this movie (which I had loved much more after first seeing in in a second-run theater in 1996), I can’t help but feel like it had a great team in the beginning that gets dismissed too early for us to really feel attached to them (enough to care about their dismissal, that is). Still, it’s a fun, albeit dark, spy film with memorable characters from Ving Rhames and Jean Reno. I still love the silly helicopter/train finale, too.
4. M:I 2 — What were they thinking? By itself, M:I 2 is a cool action movie, but really that is all it is. John Woo knows his action, but his overly-stylized approach to this sequel yanks the viewer out of the world established with the first film and drops them into the mind of a 10-year-old boy who’s having fun with his G.I. Joe figures. They admittedly built this movie around a series of over-the-top stunts and sadly, it shows. It’s not a winning formula. Also, Ethan Hunt goes from a top-notch military-hair-cut-wearing spy to a long-haired, sunglass-wearing biker who is trying to stop a viral outbreak— which has another rogue IMF agent serving as the villain. If you like action, it’s undeniable that some cool stuff was done in Mission: Impossible 2, but the weak script (which oddly follows the Cary Grant Hitchcock film Notorious way too closely at times) and over-the-top… everything… makes it a pretty silly film. As a Mission: Impossible entry, it’s a blemish on the series, and completely worthy of never seeing if you want to watch the series as a whole. If M:I III had directly followed the first film, there would be a much, much stronger trilogy. As it stands, though, M:I 2 isn’t a completely worthless movie, but it is a terrible sequel to the first film.