A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Mission: Impossible

February 19, 2011

Mission: Impossible

I loved the old Mission: Impossible shows as a kid. The were broadcast late at night on channel 38 (or was it 68?) That’s when I got most of my sixties spy show viewing done. The Saint. It Takes a Thief. That sort of thing. I even watched the new Mission Impossible that was on TV in the late eighties very briefly (during the same writer’s strike that caused the first season of Star Trek TNG so much trouble.) I didn’t see an awful lot of episodes, but I saw enough to understand the hook to the show. In every episode Mr. Phelps will be given a mission for his IMF team. If any of them are captured or killed the secretary will disavow any knowledge of their existence. They will have some complex plan to extract information from a foreign agent or some such and just when it seems that their plan has gone awry and everything is lost it will turn out that the disaster in the third act was part of the plan the whole time.

This movie pays homage to the show with a number of references, but it is really a completely different beast. I was delighted by the fact that there’s still a tape that self destructs and a Mr. Phelps and a complex plan. They even prominently feature the classic theme song. At the very start of the movie there’s sort of a quick episode of the TV series, or at least what feels like the conclusion of an episode as we get to see the IMF team accomplishing one of their missions. But very soon it becomes clear that these little nods at the start are all we’re getting of the old TV show – the movie is a more action oriented production. Something goes disastrously wrong with an IMF mission and this time it’s not actually part of the plan. Our hero is IMF team leader Ethan Hunt, one of the only survivors of the mission gone bad. He must find a way to use his super-spy skills to discover who betrayed his people.

Brian De Palma is more closely associated in my mind with gritty grime dramas (such as Scarface and The Untouchables) but he does a good job putting together a summer action flick here. My memories of the movie before I put it in to watch this evening had been distilled into the two big set-pieces. The hanging-from-the-ceiling break in at CIA headquarters in Langley where Ethan steals the crucial bait he needs to flush his enemies out, and the fight on the roof of a bullet train headed from England to France. The whole movie is an excuse to make these two scenes happen, and that’s okay with me because both of these iconic scenes are worth the price of admission.

I’m not overly fond of Tom Cruise in this movie though. He plays Ethan with a kind of manic energy that really gets on my nerves. It’s the crazed grin that bugs me most. I think it’s intended to show that he is not intimidated when facing dangerous situations but it makes him seem inappropriately happy and kills the tension in a couple scenes. The rest of the cast, however I have no complaints about. My favorites are Ving Rhames (who is in tomorrow’s movie as well) and Jean Reno. (For the second time in just a couple days I wish that we had Ronin to watch.)

What I like most about this movie, though, is that it launched a most unusual franchise. Every new movie in this series is a surprise to me. It’s like a strange sort of rite of passage for extraordinary directors, or perhaps an exclusive club of some sort. I never would have expected Brian De Palma to make a summer action movie starring Tom Cruise but here it is. And it was followed by John Woo, then by J. J. Abrams. There’s a fourth movie in production right now which will be the live-action debut of the inimitable Brad Bird. Unbelievable. I’ve seen the second movie in the series – the John Woo one – several times because it’s so silly, so over-the-top and so very John Woo. I can’t wait to watch it again tomorrow.

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February 19, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews, Uncategorized | , , ,

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