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‘Mission: Impossible’ Retrospective: Part 2

Welcome back. My mission, that I’ve chosen to accept, is to look at the recent era of the M:I franchise. If you missed it, check out Part 1 of this retrospective.

Amidst growing opinions about Cruise’s personal life and despite the commercial success of Mission: Impossible III, Paramount were reportedly undecided on the future of their spy adventures. With everything quiet on M:I front for a few years, it wasn’t until august of 2009 that the matches considered to be lit once more. Writers Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec brought on to write the screenplay.

Like Abrams before them, the two writers had cut their teeth in the TV circuit and Ghost Protocol was to be their big break. Funnily enough, Nemec had actually served as a writer prior on Abrams successful show, Alias. With the script in the works, the search for a director was underway. Due to scheduling conflicts, J.J Abrams made it clear that directing would not be an option for him; opting to take a producing position instead alongside Cruise.

March 2010 saw the preliminary talks of bringing The Incredibles director Brad Bird on board. By May of the same year, it was confirmed that Bird would be sitting in the director’s chair. This was to be Bird’s first live action feature; a choice that Bird didn’t take lightly.

This was his chance to flex his already outstanding skill set, in a now well oiled franchise. Consideration towards the direction of the brand itself was in the air, going right down to the “Mission: Impossible” namesake. Discussions were taking place to consider scrapping the established brand name, to be more akin to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Thankfully, it was decided that going into a subtitle phase would be the suitable way forward for Mission: Impossible IP.

Production began on September 29th 2010 and ran all way to March of the following year. Carrying on the globetrotting element of M:I III, locations would include the Czech Republic, Hungary, Moscow and Dubai. Most of the crew heading into the production, Cruise in particular, felt that M:I III was a turning point for the franchise in regards to tone and how to combine action with a gripping story. The aim was to continue this approach and give audiences a visceral blockbuster experience. With the director of thrilling stories like The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, Cruise and Bird were ready to turn the tide.

Fan favourites Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg returned to the cast, while newcomers Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton were brought onto the I.M.F team. It could be seen that Renner was maybe a contingency plan, should Cruise fail to deliver the goods on his fourth outing, in a franchise with an uneasy start. The ball was in Cruise’s court to turn public perception around and give them new contest for exactly why he might be referred to as “crazy” or “insane”. How exactly would do that? Hanging off the side of the tallest building in the world isn’t a bad idea to start with.

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Ghost Protocol would up the ante for the audacity of death defying stunt work. Cruise being the workhorse that he is, was ready again to cheat the reaper on screen. The Burj Khalifa sequence in Ghost Protocol is a stomach churning endurance test for the best of those unafraid of heights. Like the best sequences in the recent entries, this set piece isn’t shoehorned in just for the sake of it. The height induced paranoia is in service of the story.

Bird’s touch and sense in Ghost Protocol has the same air of style and sophistication displayed in The Incredibles. In tandem with the returning Michael Giacchino and Robert Elswitt making the first of two contributions to M: I, Bird oozes an aura that’s closer to Bond but refined rather than copied beat for beat. Of course with bigger action, comes the realisation that M:I retains a license to be sillier if done right. While my soft spot for M:I II remains, it’s more of a Bond shaped ghost than a competitor to Daniel Craig’s grounded character study approach.

Cruise is dialling it all the way. Sandstorms and a descending battle through a multi-level car park see Cruise proving he is the anchor on this ship. No contingency is needed. Mission: Impossible was now your go to vender for blood rushing action.

Filling into cinemas on December 16th 2011, Ghost Protocol became the highest grossing entry in the franchise and Cruise’s biggest grossing film. Critical consensus also offered the installment the highest praise of the series (until Fallout).

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Following previous collaborations and the release of an adaption based around Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novel series, Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise were ready to get back to work again on a project together. Following McQuarie’s uncredited rewrite on Ghost Protocol, Cruise already impressed with Oscar winning McQuarrie’s ideas and was eager for him to helm the next installment of M:I.

Hungry to get back in motion, Paramount announced in August of 2013 that Christopher McQuarrie would be taking on the director’s mantle for the next endeavour. With a story from Iron Man 3 writer Drew Pearce, McQuarrie sank his teeth in concocting the screenplay. Taking cues and inspiration from De Palma’s original outing and admiring the franchise’s growing legacy, McQuarrie decided to bring the story back it’s insider operation roots. After hints of the next installment were left literally in the last seconds of Ghost Protocol, it was the first time that Mission: Impossible were considering having a direct-sequel narrative.

Once again however, Bond was being thrown back into the conversation. As both productions were set to feature narratives about villainous organisations (S.P.E.C.T.R.E and The Syndicate), the topic of which film would come out on top began to dominate itself amongst fans. Was Bond even a threat to Mission: Impossible at this point? Not a chance.

Production began on Rogue Nation on August 20th 2014 and concluded in March of 2015, a week before the official announcement of the title and teaser poster were released. Rogue Nation felt confident from the get go. With the critical affirmation of the franchise in it’s past two entries, Cruise and his team were in business. It was time for Bond to see how far this franchise had come in full force.

How should we start out movie? Cold open? Shadowy objectives via sunglasses? Let’s throw the audience in head first.

The intro sequence of Rogue Nation couldn’t encompass what this franchise is about more if it tried. Ethan’s team are in position. Communication is assertive, panicked but assertive. Where is Cruise though?

Enter the iconic notes of Lalo Schifrin’s theme and the definition of movie star enters the frame. The objective is simple: stop a plane from taking off and secure the payload. Sure? Not in this franchise.

The excitement sets in and we’re off to the races. Cruise mounts the airbus, clinging for dear life, more than ever. The airbus storms into the air and takes Cruise with it, at 5,000 feet in the air. No stunt double.

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The pressure is increasingly mounting both for Cruise and his team. Alas, the objective is secured and we’re strapped into the grin inducing title sequence.

This IS Mission: Impossible in all its glory. Everything you need to know about this series is given you to in an exhilarating injection of adrenaline. From there on, McQuarrie’s direction is assured, composed and almost pitch perfect. I could go on about that Opera sequence for days but I think its already clearer how dynamite that set piece is.

Sean Harris is also a saving grace for the antagonist aspect of these films. Where Ghost Protocol lacked a memorable foe, Rogue Nation rectifies this and gives us the sometimes underused Solomon Lane. With his nasally voice and soul inspecting stare, Sean Harris dominates the role every chance he is given. I can’t explain how claustrophobic I feel when Lane bests Ethan in the record shop.

The sheer terror on Cruise’s face explains it all.

Rogue Nation is an excellent feat for both McQuarrie and the series. Unfortunately, I do feel like the transition from Morocco into the third act is unfocused at times. It was reported in February of 2015 that production was on hold so that Cruise, McQuarrie and an unknown party could reconfigure the third act (specifically the ending). This may explain why Rogue Nation struggles to find its ongoing purpose after the superb beats that have come before it.

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Have I mentioned Alec Baldwin’s speech in the third act? In any other film where the hero is referred to as the “living manifestation of destiny”, I would erupt with laughter. Here, I have a massive grin on my face as you made clearly aware just how bad ass Ethan Hunt has become over the past two decades.

Opening in July of 2015, Rogue Nation would go to make just slightly less than its predecessor, with a box office take of $682.7 million. Just like Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation was another freshly received entry to the franchise that was confidently set to rival Bond’s November outing later in the year.

So now we’ve reached 2018 and this week sees the release of the sixth (sixth!!) installment of Mission: Impossible. In a series first, McQuarrie has returned to deliver his second take on Ethan Hunt’s ongoing tale of defying the impossible. It really is incredible to see a franchise like this still going strong after all this time. Tom Cruise has to be commended for his undying commitment to his endearing goal as an actor: to entertain an audience the best he can.

I have seen Fallout currently three times and you can bet I’ll be catching it a forth. If you want to know what JUMPCUT makes of it, head over to Dave’s review to see his take on McQuarrie’s critical darling.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this retrospective of Mission: Impossible.

This article will not self destruct in five seconds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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