History of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Film Franchise

As the trailer for Mission Impossible 4 gets the web excited, What Culture's Tom Ryan takes a comprehensive look back at the 15 year film franchise.

With the release of the recent trailer for €˜Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol€™, I decided to take a look at the history of the €˜M:I€™ movie franchise. It€™s twists and turns onscreen have been reflected off-screen too, with fan outrage and star controversies. Here is a look at the chronicles of a movie series, that while is wildly profitable is often underrated. There are spoilers in this article for those unaware of how the films play out. €˜Mission: Impossible€™ is based on a very successful TV series which ran from 1966 - 1973. It was later revived in 1988 for a 2 season run. The show followed the adventures of IMF (Impossible Mission Force), a covert government team sent all across the world with a new mission each week. They weaved in and out of dangerous and implausible situations under the guidance of their point man Jim Phelps. Phelps was played by the late Peter Graves and introduced in season 2 after Steven Hill, the actor who played the original team leader Dan Briggs, left the show. Phelps was team leader throughout the original show and again for it€™s 80€™s revival, cementing himself as an icon of 20th century t.v. In 1995 it was announced that €˜Mission: Impossible€™ would be made into a high profile motion picture with a release attached for the summer of 96. Jon Voight would take the role of Jim Phelps and Tom Cruise would play a new original character named Ethan Hunt. In a move that would upset a legion of the shows loyal fans, Hunt was to be the new point man and not only that but Phelps would be the only character carried over from the show. Little did they know that this would be the very least of their worries. In the movie, Ethan Hunt€™s entire team is killed off within the first fifteen minutes, including Phelps, a brave and unexpected move on the part of director Brian DePalma, producer/star Cruise and the team of writers David Koepp, Steve Zaillian and Robert Towne. For lifelong fans it was almost too much to bare but it was seen by a large number of viewers as a great twist that kicked the movie into gear and kept the audience on their toes as it showed no-one was safe and no-one could be trusted. It was a ballsy move for a big budget summer blockbuster, which owed a lot to DePalma€™s never ending love for Alfred Hitchcock who himself performed the same very trick a number of times in his career. Mission Impossible I focuses on Hunt€™s efforts to track down the person responsible for killing his team. In an even more shocking turn of events it is revealed that Jim Phelps was behind it all and faked his own death to get away with it. Phelps! The man who was once the hero of the television series had suddenly been turned into a double crossing villain. Fans were outraged. To put this into context, for fans of the show, it€™s the equivalent of making a €˜24€™ movie with a current big name star, let€™s just say Ryan Reynolds for the sake of argument, having him be CTU€™s main agent and replacing Keifer Sutherland as Jack Bauer with someone like Jeff Bridges. To make matters worse, they then make Jack Bauer the villain of the story, having him kill off all of CTU€™s main members. This was definitely one of the gutsiest moves for a film that was intended to revive an old franchise.

Oddly enough, fan outrage didn€™t account for much as the movie received glowing reviews and made over $450 million, cementing Tom Cruise€™s star power. They made a team dynamic into a star vehicle and it worked, it was one of the first film €˜reboots€˜ and it was a rip roaring success.

There are three reasons for this in my opinion. First, the original €˜Mission€™ fan base as loud as they were, were a minority. To the general public the show by this stage had felt dated and needed a kick start to boot it back into action. Secondly the internet was in it€™s infancy back then and movie studio€™s didn€™t pay it much heed. Every stage of the film's development wasn't tracked like it would be now. And DVD box sets didn€™t exist so it was hard to revisit the old TV series. If the movie was to be made today, the DVD€™s would see a resurgence in the fan base and fans could be far more vocal online, setting up petitions and fan sites to make absolutely sure that Phelps would be the main character. The third and final reason for the movies success was that it was a damn good movie. Simple as that.

In 2000 Tom Cruise returned in €˜M:I-2€˜. The sequel was directed by John Woo who had recently wowed audiences with action movies such as €˜Hard Boiled€™ and €˜Face Off€˜. Cruise chose Woo himself as he was a huge fan of his work and he also wanted each €˜Mission€™ movie to have a different feel to it, a different vision, and so he decided it was best to hire a new director for each instalment and keep each movie self contained with only a ambiguous hint of continuity. Ving Rhames was the only actor apart from Cruise to reprise his role in the sequel. This was a far cry from the €˜Team€™ days of the silver screen exploits of IMF, but as the first movie had proven, the TV show was old hat. €˜M:I-2€™ even updated old tropes of the series. Instead of getting his mission briefing on tape it was now contained in a stylish pair of sunglasses. Masks, which were a €˜Mission€™ staple were now used in accordance with a voice chip, Limp Bizkit incorporated the classic theme into their song which led the soundtrack and Tom Cruise did as many of his own crazy death defying stunts as humanly possible. The story follows Hunt as he has to track down a lethal weaponized virus that has fallen into the hands of a rogue IMF agent. While the plot is standard stuff for an espionage flick, the script is nowhere near as strong as it is in the first instalment. The movie had plenty of production delays due to script rewrites and it shows. The action scenes, for their time, were pretty impressive, however speed ramping in movies has become such a cliché nowadays that this movie really doesn€™t stand the test of time. On top of all the troubled production called for many reshoots. These reshoots were responsible for Dougray Scott missing out on participating in Bryan Singer€™s €˜X-Men€˜, where he was first cast for Wolverine but when he couldn€™t make the start date he was replaced by Hugh Jackman. How cruel timing can be in Hollywood. Despite mixed critical reviews the film was a bigger hit than the first movie, earning upwards of $540 million worldwide. A third movie was inevitable, luckily for Cruise, being the executive producer on the series and one of the biggest stars in the world he was under no pressure from the studio to crank out another one right away. He could go away and focus on other roles, other projects. It was clear Tom Cruise now had a cash cow, he could milk whenever he wanted, and at his own leisure. In 2002 David Fincher was confirmed to be in final negotiations to direct €˜M:I-3€˜. This was in-keeping with Cruise€™s philosophy of hiring a new director for each mission and giving each movie it€™s own identity. Negotiations broke down for one reason or another and in 2003 Joe Carnahan was invited to direct. Cruise had been impressed with his work on €˜NARC€˜. Things were shaping up, Carrie Anne Moss, fresh from the €˜Matrix€™ movies was set to appear alongside Scarlett Johansson, both as IMF agents, and Kenneth Branagh was being courted to play the villain. The story was set to deal with private military forces in Africa but before the script got in front of the cameras, Carnahan surprisingly walked due to creative differences. The story then goes, that Cruise was sent an Alias box set by Paramount and was asked to consider JJ Abrams to direct a third movie. Cruise was hooked on the show and hired Abrams immediately. Abrams and Cruise worked out that this €˜Mission€™ should return the €˜Team€™ aspect to the franchise. Rhames returned as Agent Stickell, alongside new recruits, Simon Pegg, Maggie Q, Keri Russell and Jonathon Rhys Myers as members of Hunt€™s Impossible Mission Force. The shooting of this movie went smoothly and without a hitch. However, life outside of the movie set was going to get ugly for Cruise. At the time, he was Hollywood€™s most powerful actor. Then one day, during May 2005, he was interviewed by Oprah, jumped on her couch and things took a turn for the worse. Cruise€™s star power always made him an invulnerable target amongst his critics. However his antics on €˜Oprah€™ were used as a chink in armour, the mighty Cruise had fallen. After this was exposed things got worse. His faith to the Church of Scientology was used as a source of ridicule against him. He was mocked in the now infamous €˜South Park€™ episode €˜Trapped in the Closet€™. Rumours spread that Cruise demanded the episode to be pulled by Comedy Central which is a company under the Viacom umbrella, as is Paramount Pictures, or he would not participate in the publicity tours of €˜M:I-3€˜. This was later proven to be pure internet fabrication. When the movie was released in May 2006, it received great reviews and is regarded by most to be far better than €˜M:I-2€™ and although it€™s not as dark or complex as the first movie, it is many's favourite of the series.To me it€™s the most accessible and entertaining €™Mission€™ on a popcorn level. Unfortunately, box office numbers report that it is the lowest grossing entry in the franchise, although it is by no means a flop, far from it. It earned just less than $400 million worldwide. Things looked bad for Cruise and the franchise when in August 2006, he was dropped from Paramount Pictures, his 14 year partnership with them ending. According to the Wall St Journal, Viacom cited the actor€™s recent behaviour and views as the reason he was dropped. Things were quiet on the Mission front, and for the first time since 1996, it looked as if the secretary had disavowed all knowledge of Cruises actions. Fast forward to 2010. Cruise was in need of a hit to regain his star power, his recent films €˜Lions For Lambs€™ and €˜Valkyrie€™ were underperformers at the box office. For what it mattered, he stayed out of the public light as best he could and laid low for a while. He now felt that the time was right for a new Mission. He re-teamed with Paramount and hired Brad Bird, who had huge hits with €˜The Iron Giant€™ and €˜The Incredibles€™, to direct. It would be Bird€™s first live action movie. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames were confirmed to return, and Josh Holloway, Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner were all added to round out the team. Movie websites were rife with speculation as to whether or not this would be a reboot to the franchise. Reports claimed that Paramount were considering dropping the words €˜Mission€™ and €˜Impossible€™ from the title in order to get the message across that this would be a completely new take on the series. With this whispers spread that Cruise would train in Renner as his successor for a scene or two and take a back seat for the rest of the movie, possibly even getting killed off early on. Thankfully the release of the latest trailer can put most of those fears to rest. From the looks of it, this is not a complete reboot in the full sense of the word. It€™s a reboot in terms of the €˜Mission€™ franchise, meaning it€™s set in the same world as the others, continues the vague continuity of the series yet has it€™s own feel and is standalone. The €˜Mission: Impossible€™ stays in the title, albeit with the added subtitle €˜Ghost Protocol€™. And rest assured, Cruise is in the main bulk of the movie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0LQnQSrC-g The trailer for €˜Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol€™ checks off all the prerequisites from the €˜M:I€™ check list - car chases, shootouts, mind-blowing stunts and plenty of running from Cruise. It looks like a hugely entertaining ride, and if the history of this series has taught us anything, it€™s that, while it may be a new instalment, it€™s part of the same thrill ride that€™s been entertaining audiences since 1966... And to expect the unexpected. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol opens worldwide in December.
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