Tom Cruise is back for his fifth go round as IMF agent Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, opening Friday, July 31st. The now nineteen year old franchise should give the series another solid hit, following the goodwill left over from 2011’s critically acclaimed and audience pleasing fourth entry, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
Besides Cruise, Rogue features returnees Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames, in addition to new cast members Rebecca Ferguson and Alec Baldwin. Let’s take a trip down memory lane for openings of past flicks:
Mission: Impossible – $45.4 million debut with eventual $180.9M domestic gross in 1996
Mission: Impossible II – $70.8 million debut over four day Memorial Day weekend in 2000 with $91.8 million premiere since it opened on a Wednesday with eventual $215.4M domestic gross
Mission: Impossible III – $47.7 million debut with eventual $134M domestic gross in 2006
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – $44.1 million debut over four day Christmas weekend in 2011 with eventual $209.3M domestic gross
As you can see, Protocol technically had the lowest opening of the franchise, but held strong in subsequent post holiday weekends to generate the second largest haul of the series. That bodes pretty well for audience anticipation for Rogue, yet it doesn’t have the benefit of a late year release when titles tend to experience smaller drop offs from weekend to weekend.
Rogue Nation stands little chance of reaching the opening heights achieved by part two, but I do believe it will manage the second highest roll out. I will predict a debut in the low to mid 50s range.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation opening weekend prediction: $52.3 million
Over two years ago on this here blog, when it was in its infancy, I did the 007 Files where I wrote individualized blog posts on all 23 Bond flicks. That got me thinking about other series I could do the same with and in January 2013, I started The Ethan Hunt Files and wrote about the first Mission: Impossible pic from 1996.
I had every intention of writing about the other three in short order. For whatever reason I did not follow up. With the fifth M:I picture Rogue Nation debuting in July, I decided it was time to resume this series of posts and we continue with Mission: Impossible II from the summer of 2000…
And what an interesting film it is, especially considering the franchise entries that preceded it and followed it. M:I II stands out as the strangest pic in the series and the one that fits in least with the rest. Two words explain the main reason for this: John Woo. The acclaimed action director took over directing duties from Brian De Palma for the second picture and didn’t have an ounce of hesitation about turning it into a bonafide Woo affair with all the slow motion shots, quick cuts, and (yes) doves that come along with it. There are certainly some similarities to the original – foremost of which is the continuation and multiplication of those fancy face masks.
Unlike Mission 1, here we have Tom Cruise’s Ethan in a romantic relationship with the gorgeous Nyah (Thandie Newton), a jewel thief who is the ex of Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), an IMF agent gone bad who Ethan is after. Ambrose has stolen a nasty virus called Chimera, as well as its antidote, in an effort to make billions on the pharmaceutical market. Nyah is enlisted to get back in the good graces of her evil ex to get information, but not before she falls in love with Ethan first. They do so during a car chase in which Ethan nearly kills her, then kisses her. It happens.
Ethan is given his mission by the new head of IMF, played by Anthony Hopkins in what is essentially a glorified cameo. Our hero is conflicted by sending Nyah into such a dangerous mission. This all might’ve worked a bit better if the chemistry between Cruise and Newton felt authentic. We simply have zero investment in their romance and by the time Nyah bravely infects herself with the virus, you don’t really mind if Chimera wins. And a lot of the film could have been improved if Scott’s performance as our head villain wasn’t so utterly unremarkable. Some may know that M:I II’s production went into overtime and it forced Dougray Scott to be dropped from playing Wolverine in that same summer’s X-Men. An unknown actor named Hugh Jackman stepped in at the last minute. This is a good thing and Scott went from the next potential Wolverine to that dull M:I II villain that kinda looks like Ewan McGregor.
Ving Rhames returns as Luther, Ethan’s fellow agent who excels in counting down the clock as Hunt performs those impossible stunts. Rade Serbedvija gives a somewhat delightfully off kilter performance as the doctor who created Chimera and Brendan Gleeson is the nefarious owner of the corporation exploiting the virus for financial gain.
The De Palma Mission was a rock solid spy thriller anchored by three first rate action centerpieces: the aquarium sequence, the Langley infiltration and the train finale. In part two, there’s the bio chem lab sequence and the motorcycle chase finale that are front and center.
Neither are as memorable as anything from the previous effort. There’s also the Cruise rock climbing business in the beginning which basically exists so its stunt loving star can look cool rock climbing.
In hindsight, M:I II is easily the weakest link of this franchise. It doesn’t much feel like a Mission feature anymore as much as a John Woo movie with Ethan Hunt in it. Acclaimed screenwriter Robert Towne (who cowrote the first) has sole credit here and a hefty portion of the dialogue, particularly Newton’s, is a bit cringe worthy. Mission: Impossible II has enough fairly cool action to satisfy your average teenage boy, but it pales next to the rest of the Missions. And there’s no excuse for Limp Bizkit reworking that classic TV series theme either.
So while its reputation has deservedly soured in recent times, that didn’t stop part two from becoming a huge global success and earning over half a billion worldwide. It also was the highest domestic grosser of summer 2000 and virtually guaranteed a third go round for Hunt and his IMF team.
Here are the facts:
Film: Mission: Impossible II
U.S. Release Date: May 24, 2000
Director: John Woo
Screenplay: Robert Towne
Budget: $125 million
Worldwide Box Office: $546.3 million
The Ethan Hunt files will return with Mission: Impossible III
For many years, the James Bond character pretty much had the super agent franchise to himself. Sure, many films would attempt to copy the Bond magic, to varying degrees of success. For the most part, however, it wasn’t until the 1990s and beyond that a number of other wildly successful franchises would take flight.
As followers of my blog are aware, I’ve been blogging and sharing my thoughts on each and every 007 adventure – all 23 of them. That series will conclude in a couple of weeks, when Skyfall is released for viewing on my couch. It’s been the best experience I’ve had so far revisiting these pictures and writing about them.
So, naturally, I will continue writing about other famous film franchises. And that begins with “The Ethan Hunt Files”, where I will cover all four entries from the Mission: Impossible series.
As you’re likely aware, there was a very popular TV show “Mission: Impossible” that ran on CBS from 1966 to 1973 (they’re on Netflix if you’re interested). As I explained when I began my Bond series, this is a movie blog. That’s what I focus on. I didn’t talk about the Ian Fleming novels that many of the 007 pictures were based on. Two reasons: this is a movie blog and I haven’t read them. Same goes here: this is a movie blog and I’ve never seen the TV series.
There’s little mystery why Paramount chose to revive Mission: Impossible for the big screen. It had high built-in name recognition. More importantly, Tom Cruise decided to make it his movie franchise. Our younger readers may not recall, but there was indeed a time when Cruise was unquestionably the biggest movie star on the planet. He had big hits in the early 80s (most notably Risky Business), but from 1986 on, Cruise began a truly remarkable run. Top Gun. The Color of Money. Rain Man. Born on the Fourth of July. Days of Thunder. A Few Good Men. The Firm. Interview with the Vampire. This list is especially notable for the amazing list of directors he worked with, from the late Tony Scott to Martin Scorsese to Oliver Stone to Rob Reiner and Sydney Pollack and more.
When Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner moved on to Mission: Impossible, it guaranteed this TV show adaptation would get a lot of attention. They also chose a very well-known director: Brian De Palma.
De Palma came up in the same era (and was buddies) with Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola. He’s directed such now-classics as 1976’s Carrie, 1981’s Blow Out, 1983’s Scarface, and 1987’s The Untouchables (also based on a 1960s TV program).
Robert Towne, one of the premier screenwriters in Hollywood, was enlisted to write it. Towne is the man responsible for one of the best scripts ever written – 1974’s brilliant Chinatown, as well as Shampoo, Heaven Can Wait, and The Firm, among others. His co-writer was another hot commodity, David Koepp, screenwriter of Jurassic Park and another great De Palma film, 1993’s Carlito’s Way.
Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, a member of the elite IMF (Impossible Missions Force – get it?), an ultra-covert branch of the CIA. The film opens with Hunt in disguise interrogating a witness with the help of his team – which includes the head of the group Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), his wife Claire (Emmanuelle Beart), techie Jack (Emilio Estevez), and agent Sarah (Kristin Scott Thomas).
After that three minute opening sequence, we get the title credits with the well-known traditional “Mission: Impossible” theme song, composed by Lalo Schifirin. I may never have seen an episode of the TV show, but I definitely know and love the theme song.
The film moves to beautiful Prague, where the IMF team is tasked with retrieving the Noc list, which contains the identities of all covert agents in the Eastern European region. The Noc list serves as the movie’s MacGuffin. For those not familiar with what a MacGuffin is, you must not have read my blog post on the second Bond picture, From Russia with Love. Shame on you. The MacGuffin is a commonly used movie term: it’s the thing that all the characters desire. It doesn’t really matter what it is. It’s what the good guys want the bad guys not to have. It’s why the plot moves along. The reason for its being gives the characters the motivation for all the fancy action sequences, etc…
Mission: Impossible shares a common theme with many 1990s action pictures, including 1995’s Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan’s first 007 entry. The agents are trying to deal with the aftermath of the Cold War and what their purpose is in this new reality. For some agents, their reaction is not positive. This holds true for the film’s main villain. Spoiler alert: It’s Ethan’s boss, Jim Phelps… we don’t discover this until late. Phelps has become disillusioned and he wants the NOC list for nefarious purposes. His wife Claire is in on the scheme, too.
The action in Prague allows Ethan to disguise himself as a Virginia Senator at a party to retrieve the MacGuffin, with other members of the team populating the soiree as well. To say the least, all does not go as planned and the majority of the IMF agents are killed, including Emilio Estevez’s character in a memorable elevator shaft decapitation. Jim Phelps also “dies”, though we discover otherwise later. The party scene is terrific, complete with the kind of first-rate cinematography and long-take shots fans of Brian De Palma have come to expect.
For a while, we think the villain might be IMF Director Kittridge. He’s played by Henry Czerny in a wonderfully over-the-top performance. When Ethan meets with Kittridge in a restaurant after the party massacre and discovers he’s being set up for what happened, it provides one of the movie’s greatest sequences. If you’ve seen it, I’ll just say “Aquarium Scene” and you probably know what I’m talking about.
There are other now-famous action sequences. When Ethan discovers he must break into CIA headquarters in Langley to get that damn MacGuffin, he enlists Ving Rhames and Jean Reno as new members of his team. They concoct an elaborate way to break in which involves repelling Ethan into a high-security area. It’s a terrific sequence, done with no music, and is a major highlight.
The finale, set on a train, is also exciting. This sequence, more than any other, demonstrates what De Palma fans already know. He is heavily influenced by the master, Alfred Hitchcock. Many of his earlier pictures, including Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, and Body Double, are direct homages to Hitch. If you want to find out for yourself, either watch those films or Google “Hitchcock and De Palma” and you’ll likely have a day’s worth of reading material. Watching the train sequence, it feels like you’re watching a big-budget action scene if Hitchcock was alive to direct it. I loved it.
Those three action set pieces are a huge part of the reason why Mission: Impossible works pretty darn well. Cruise makes a fine debut as Ethan and most of the cast are solid, with special props to Vanessa Redgrave as an arms dealer who shines in every scene she’s in.
Some of my issues are with the script. The screenwriters, as talented as they are, often seem to be pushing a little hard to make you feel that the plot is really complicated and intricate. It’s not. The film is basically about double-cross intrigue among agents that we’ve seen in many other similar pictures.
However, some of the methods deployed here by writers Towne and Koepp work. When Jim Phelps character comes back from the dead, he explains why he’s not dead and tries to convince Ethan that Kittridge is the villain. As he’s talking to Ethan, we see what’s going through Ethan’s head as he realizes it’s actually Jim and others that are responsible for the party massacre. It’s a very well-directed and written scene that takes an original approach to moving the story forward.
While there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about Mission: Impossible, the train scene, Langley scene, and aquarium scene make it a highly entertaining entry in the spy movie genre. Audiences were ready to take the Mission. Opening in the summer of 1996, Mission grossed over $450 million worldwide and was the third highest grossing domestic release of the year, with a U.S. take of $180 million (behind Independence Day and Twister). With this picture, Cruise would have his franchise and he can thank the solid contributions of De Palma and some well-thought out centerpiece action scenes for providing it.
Here are the facts:
Film: Mission: Impossible
U.S. Release Date: May 22, 1996
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: David Koepp and Robert Towne
Budget: $80 million
Worldwide Box Office: $457.6 million
This blog series will return in “The Ethan Hunt Files – Mission: Impossible II”