What is it about Mission: Impossible that keeps us coming back? For over 20 years each installment of what is essentially Tom Cruise’s personal franchise has performed well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel and then some, while critical acclaim has steadily risen to the point where Ghost Protocol (2011) and Rogue Nation (2015) – the fourth and fifth features respectively – comfortably outscored their predecessors with Rotten Tomato scores north of 90%.
As the countdown to the sixth chapter begins, we do not yet know a great deal about writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s follow up to Rogue Nation, other than that Ethan Hunt’s background will play a substantial role in proceedings. Either way, we know it will be a hit, so rather than speculate about the content, let us examine the possible answers to the compellingly unnecessary question of why Mission: Impossible continues to be a global success.
Is it Cruise himself? Surely a leading man with his sort of star power has to take a large share of the credit. Well, yes and no. Of course his presence puts butts in the seats, and right now it is difficult to imagine another actor as the face of the franchise, but his overall impact is, in a way, lessened by the character of Hunt himself. Though he is as close to James Bond as Cruise is ever going to get, Hunt is not the reason people part with their cash when choosing which Friday night flick to take in. He does not define Mission: Impossible. Think about it; aside from the action set pieces, how memorable are Hunt’s contributions? Exactly.
In the right vehicle, Cruise is a top notch actor and a welcomingly willing action star. His commitment to stunt work at the risk of personal injury (of which he suffered while filming M:I 6) is to be commended. However, it is hard to imagine a great deal of uproar should a competent replacement take up Hunt’s earpiece. The same goes for the remaining cast and characters. Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell has been Hunt’s trusted team member since Mission: Impossible (1996), but he and other recurring characters, such as Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn (both of whom are back for M:I 6, as are Alec Baldwin and Michelle Monaghan), basically just sort of exist in the way the extended team do in the current era of The Fast and the Furious.
The difference is – and this backed up by this year’s The Fate of the Furious – that, shockingly, the late Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor actually held the whole thing together. Without him, the latest film was a total mess, despite the spectacularly daft set pieces that many presumed were the driving force for the series as a whole. I mean, they are, but they and the wacky supporting cast were propped up by that relatable central character who we never thought we would miss until he was gone.
Mission: Impossible is the opposite. Hunt and Co. are good value, but ultimately interchangeable. It is in fact they who are propped by the overall nature of the productions. When it comes down to it, the Mission: Impossible films are slick, well-produced action vehicles backed up by quality direction and a number of grounded set pieces that, unlike The Fast and the Furious, come complete with actual tension. Hunt almost falling from the Burj Khlaifa in Ghost Protocol or the impressively complex opera house sequence in Rogue Nation are what Mission: Impossible is really all about, and long may such a solid platform remain intact.
With that in mind, what can we expect from M:I 6? Well, as usual, one hell of a ride…
Mission: Impossible 6 will be released in 2018. Are you looking forward to it?