It is said that they’re making a fourth Mission: Impossible movie, and that Brad Bird is in talks to direct it. I think this is a fantastic idea.
A big reason for my enthusiasm is, of course, the involvement Brad Bird himself, a talented filmmaker who made one of the best superhero movies there is with The Incredibles, and who topped it by making a movie about a rat with a keen interest in French cuisine just as engaging.
But the fact of the matter is, I love the Mission: Impossible movies. “But Justin,” you might well say, “the Mission: Impossible franchise … well, it’s hardly even a franchise at all, is it? It’s just generic spy action – those could be any movies. Why, you don’t even have a memorable lead character! Ethan Hunt has no distinguishing characteristics; he’s just Tom Cruise with a gun, which means all he really does is alternate between his intense face and that cocky smile he does, depending on the situation.”
Well, the first thing I would say is that Cruise may only have two expressions, but he does them both so very well. I usually like watching Tom Cruise in things, and I can think of no reason for this other than he just radiates charm; certainly it’s not a mystery why this guy is a movie star, right?
But onto the larger issues … look, the thing is, not a whole lot of people today – especially not in that youthful demographic the films are aiming for – have ever seen the original TV show or know what it was like (for the record: I’ve never seen it either). But you know what everyone in America does know, even if they’ve never seen that show?
Bum, bum, ba-da, bum, bum, ba-da, bum, bum, ba-da, bum, bum, ba-da deedillooo…deedillooo…deedillooo…da na. BA-NA-NAAA…BA-NA-NAAA…BA-NA-NAAA…NA NA!
Um, and so on. They are not making the movie version of the show, they are making the movie version of that song, because that is one of the most stirring television themes ever written. The producers felt pretty safe that as long as you had that theme, a couple of catchphrases from the show (“Your mission, should you choose/decide to accept it” and “This message will self destruct in five seconds,” which everybody also knows despite never having seen that show) a bankable leading man, and a lot of explosions, you could put pretty much anything in there and it would sell.
Instead of being a weakness, however, it turns out to be the franchise’s greatest strength.
See, James Bond movies are very clearly defined stylistically. There is a relatively narrow range of things you can do with Bond, and when you start moving out of that range, moviegoers go, “Hmm, I don’t know…it doesn’t feel like James Bond.” You could never put, say, Quentin Tarantino, or Edgar Wright, or John Carpenter on a Bond movie. It wouldn’t work, because their styles are all so distinctive and so not-Bond. What you need are extremely talented, but not flashy, directors to do 007. The direction must serve the franchise.
But the Mission: Impossible franchise, as it exists, has no unity of theme or character or style, so it doesn’t matter if they don’t match up. There is no recognizable franchise to serve, so you can get very talented directors and just let them go nuts. So the first movie is very much a Brian DePalma movie, very stylish and glossy. The second movie is John Woo doing his ultracool gun stuff, right down to the doves. And the third one lets J.J. Abrams revisit his Alias political-intrigue-and-personal-stakes bag of tricks. Three different directors with three different styles produce three movies that have absolutely nothing to do with one another. So the sort of metatextual brilliance in all this – which I’m sure was not planned, but it’s there anyway – it’s not just Ethan Hunt being given his assignment, it’s also the directors…
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make an action movie using the following elements:
1. Tom Cruise, and a box for him to stand on when interacting with taller actresses.
2. Ving Rhames as a guy who constantly points out how dangerous/impossible/crazy the mission they’re on is as a way to pump up the tension a bit.
3. A pre-existing suspension of disbelief that you can make masks so lifelike that they’re indistinguishable from the original person (despite differences in height, weight, etc.), yet peel off painlessly with one good tug.
…and of course…
4. Bum, bum, ba-da, bum, bum, ba-da, bum, bum, ba-da, bum, bum, ba-da deedillooo…deedillooo…deedillooo…da na. BA-NA-NAAA…BA-NA-NAAA…BA-NA-NAAA…NA NA!”