Welcome to the IMPACT series where I dissect notable and iconic sequences from games and movies, and how they broadened my mind and left a lasting impression on me, years to come.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it …
It all started with my first proper viewing of Mission Impossible II, where to my shock, I could actually see a film set in Australia. While it was Sydney, (as a Melburnian, it gives me great pleasure to continually derive that horrible town) it was a genuine delight to actually see my home country being portrayed positively and gorgeously on film.
Mission Impossible II gave me my first real inkling of John Woo style action, with absolutely ridiculous set pieces that still captures my heart today. In particular, I loved the climatic chase sequence, especially right after the big twist. The score, the action, the glorious slow motion and the absolute insanity Tom Cruise was able to perform with his motorbike and Beretta all culminated in a cinema experience that enraptured a young Damocles.
The third movie, a typical J.J. Abrams fare, was fun, but it wasn’t until Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol that I really began to fall in love with the franchise again.
If I had to distill the Mission Impossible franchise down to its now winning formula, it can all essentially be traced back to Tom Cruise, the core fundamental element as to why the series work as well as it does.
The man does almost all of his stunts, and somehow only seems to get more impressive and extravagant with age.
But what really seals the deal is the amount of fun each film is. It is not as dark and serious as other spy thrillers like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) nor is it as old fashioned as Bond. Instead it tends to sell the action-adventure element more, with fun situational humour, like Ethan Hunt’s clear reluctance to fight at certain times (Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation) and even more enjoyable ways to marvel at spy gadgetry.
I mean, the entire mask reveal gimmick is campy, fun and silly. But the series lean into that element and rewards the audience with genuinely clever ways to hide that gadget with each new iteration.
This is what makes the franchise great. It isn’t afraid of its history, and it prefers to disguise its wheels, than reinvent them. I have loved all the small gadgets that the Mission Impossible series have created, the key ones being the cushion grenade gadget that was only briefly seen for 5 seconds in Ghost Protocol, the suitcase G36K and the giant remote drum mag fed Barrett M82A1 turrets in III, and always fun, disguised sniper rifles in Rogue Nation especially the alto flute.
If the mask gadget is always prevalent in the series, I also always enjoy the new “drop” they premiere with each film. In the first film, it was the CIA HQ, the second, the Biocyte building, then the third ramped things up with a pendulum swing (one of my personal favourites). The fourth was a fun magnetic free fall, the fifth, a spectacular water stunt and finally with Fallout, the now incredible HALO jump sequence.
It is quite a simple formula that is always reinvented slightly with each new film, but the DNA of the Mission Impossible franchise is unshakeable. Tom Cruise, a drop stunt, “Halloween Masks”, globe-trotting and a new stylistic approach to the film by the directors.
Although, I do love that in order to sell the films further, Tom Cruise now has to top every single stunt he did before.
Beyond an appreciation for fictional gadgets, (I mean, who doesn’t want a pair of gloves that can climb the tallest building in the world … until they of course fail, but then that is what the cushion grenade is for.) I’ve also grown to enjoy watching Ethan Hunt’s dogged determination and insouciance to the obstacles mounted in his way.
There is a strange heart to the character’s sheer commitment to the cause and his ability to adapt, improvise and overcome seemingly “impossible” challenges never ceases to add to the drama and fun set pieces being laid out on film.
But the real impact comes from running.
The first real glorified running sequence, came from Mission Impossible III with its two minute long sequence along a river in China, perfectly highlighting Cruise’s perfect running form.
As fun as that was, it was really the Ghost Protocol chase and the incredible London sequence in Fallout that really sold me on the power of the Cruise run.
Admittedly, one of the biggest things that I love about physical exercise is running. There’s an incredible combination of feelings when I run. I adore the speed, the sensation of feet on pavement, the wind blasting past your scalp … I think it’s intoxicating.
Whenever I see a truly good running sequence on-screen, my body has a visceral reaction to match it. My legs feel charged up, my heartbeat starts accelerating and my mind starts to focus on building as much momentum and speed as possible.
I’ve chased trams to stops, raced cars to light poles, pursued bicycles to overtake, and beaten buses to stations, all of them attempts to get that winning feeling of running faster than something.
If Casino Royale (2006) made me a traceur, Mission Impossible made me a runner.
There’s nothing quite like a good foot chase on screen, through crowds, through sandstorms and across rooftops and when you add the Mission Impossible score to a run, you’ll find yourself covering kilometres in seconds.
Mission Impossible has achieved a rare thing. It has only gotten better with each iteration and more bombastic than the last, an incredibly rare feat for a franchise over 25 years old. Anchored by Tom Cruise’s dedication to stunt work and fun charisma, and rounded out by the humour of Simon Pegg, the friendship of Ving Rhames, and the feminine wiles of Rebecca Ferguson (who plays a believable and excellent female intelligence operative amazingly well), this series keeps on delivering with more and more impossible sequences that thrill.
I love this series for the same reason, why I loved The Mummy (1999). They are just a good time at the cinema. They don’t pretend to be high art, nor speak a terribly compelling message about the state of the world. The characters are fun, light-hearted and likeable, carried along by their screen charisma and occasional joke. The score is bombastic, especially Lorne Balfe’s latest interpretation in Mission Impossible: Fallout which somehow never seems to fail to give me goosebumps.
Good vs. Evil, the story is as simple as that, but the stakes only seem to get higher with each film, as Ethan Hunt find himself in more and more precarious situations to save the world. Mission Impossible is all about having fun in the cinema. It is the cinematic equivalent of strapping yourself into a rollercoaster ride, where you will thrill along with Cruise, with every single death-defying stunt he performs.
In fact, this seems to be a sneaky way to build instant emotional rapport with Ethan Hunt, a method that is unlikely copied by any other action franchise. When you see Cruise clinging to the side of an Airbus A400M, his hair being split apart by the wind and his legs swept off the fuselage of the plane by the speed in which he is travelling, you cannot help but feel concerned for him. The character and the actor merge into this strange medley of fear, adrenaline and concern and you find yourself holding your breath and marvelling at everything going on. In fact everything happens so fast, that it is almost logical that Hunt needs to be clinging onto the side of a plane …
It is a wholly unique aspect to this franchise, that you have such a strong emotional connection that is derived almost purely from dangerous stunt work from the lead actor.
And that … is something to be celebrated. You can’t help but admire a guy who will do anything just to entertain you, even if it means shortening his own statistical probability of dying.
Man, I wish I had the spy lifestyle … the places around the world I would run and do crazy stunts in …