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The Definitive Ranking of the ‘Mission: Impossible’ Series

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In 1996, Tom Cruise sought to bring Mission: Impossible to the big screen with his producing partner, Paula Wagner, and with the help of director Brian DePalma it became a huge hit, grossing $457 million worldwide on an $80 million budget. Twenty-two years later, the series has gone on to gross a cumulative $2.7 billion to date, making it the 20th-highest-grossing film series of all time.

Overall, the Mission: Impossible series has remained remarkably consistent in quality, and more importantly, it has constantly evolved. With the sixth film in the series already getting rave reviews, scoring an impressive 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and shattering box office records, we decided to rank all six entries from least to best.

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MI IIMission: Impossible II

It’s baffling that Mission: Impossible II was the highest grossing movie of 2000 given that it’s such a run-of-the-mill action flick. It’s equally baffling that it was directed by iconic Hong Kong action filmmaker John Woo (who had a reputation for directing some of the greatest action films of all time including The Killer, and Hard Boiled), because Mission: Impossible II is, simply put, not a good movie.

One of the biggest criticisms leveled against Brian DePalma’s 1996 blockbuster was that it was too convoluted. Well, Mission: Impossible II aimed to correct that wrong by employing a straightforward plot. Unfortunately, what we got was a generic action thriller simply designed to showcase the star appeal of Tom Cruise, and little else. Here, everyone seems to be going through the motions, and with the exception of the pre-credits sequence (featuring Ethan dangling off a massive cliff), there’s little to raise the pulse. Seriously, I’d take De Palma’s vision any day over this. Hell, even the final chase, which features motorcycles zig-zagging through traffic, would eventually get bested by another M:I film, that being Rogue Nation.

Mission: Impossible II is soulless and uninspiring, and by the third or fourth time Tom Cruise rips off his latex mask, you’ll be wondering if John Woo just wanted to make a sequel to Face/Off instead. Even when compared to John Woo’s early American work, Mission: Impossible II is a great disappointment, with minimal action and little suspense. It’s most definitely a John Woo film, but not the John Woo film you were hoping for. (Rick)

Mission Impossible 3Mission: Impossible III

Cruise’s third outing as IMF agent Ethan Hunt saw the franchise switching directors for a third time, but finding its one true auteur: Cruise himself. JJ Abrams took over the thankful task for his directorial debut, offering a zippy — if slight — entry that falls somewhere between a two-hour PR image campaign for Cruise and an extended episode of Abrams’ Alias TV show. This is the first M:I film to give Hunt a genuine love interest in Michelle Monaghan’s Julia, which allows Abrams to indulge in countless romantic Michael Giacchino string solos, and Cruise to do that awkward face grab he likes to do with his sweethearts. Much of the plot revolves around the IMF hunting a chemical device called the ‘Rabbit’s Foot,’ but it’s not really important next to the action, which is unfortunately the product of mid-2000’s gritty shaky cam style.

An early rescue of a captured IMF agent (Keri Russell) is borderline incomprehensible. The universally agreed upon bright spot is the out of left field casting of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as evil arms dealer Owen Davian. Hoffman has fun brushing off Cruise like a fly buzzing in his ear. Their interrogation scenes together and a daring bridge escape are definite highlights. The rest — including two forgettable IMF tagalongs in Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers — is Abrams getting his feet wet for better things to come, and Cruise repairing his damaged star power by playing it safe. As we now know, when Cruise and the M:I films turn up the crazy, these become missions impossible to resist. (Shane Ramirez)

Rogue NationMission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation stands out amongst the rest of the franchise because it stands as the first film to finally balance the tone of the series. From light laughs to insane stunts, Rogue Nation takes it all in stride. It feels like a well-oiled machine, just taking you through a buffet of trademark moments we expect in the series. It also provides the best female lead the series has ever had, and one of the best villains in the franchise.

With an opening scene having Tom Cruise hanging off the side of a plane, Christopher McQuarrie immediately establishes this film as a stunt-heavy effort. Wrapped up in a classic spy story of shadowy organizations and double agents, the most accomplished feat of this film is its sequence at the Vienna Opera House. The scene quickly cements itself as one of the best in the franchise because of its mystery and intrigue within an elaborate setpiece. Leading into further espionage and a relationship between Ilsa Faust and Ethan Hunt that never quite hits romantic, but also never feels completely without investment from either party, this is easily one of the best in the series.

More impressive is that this is the first film in the franchise that feels like its really going for the “how far can we push these Tom Cruise stunts” motif. While Ghost Protocol hangs its hat on the Burj Khalifa sequence, Rogue Nation opens with Cruise hanging from a plane, has Cruise hold his breath for six minutes (!) for an underwater section of a heist, and then immediately after that he does a motorcycle chase that still gets me far too riled up when I watch it. Keeping that little bit of levity from Ghost Protocol was crucial to make this not just be a morbid exercise in tension, keeping these death-defying stunts fun — even if they’ll still give you a heart attack.

It’s a movie that worked so well that it was a no-brainer to bring back Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa, McQuarrie for writing and directing duties again, and the fantastic Sean Harris as the villain, Solomon Lane. They all return in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, marking the first time in the series that a female lead, director, and villain have returned for another film. Hell, we’ve also never had the same team twice, because the female lead is always being swapped out with each movie. Rogue Nation is a powerhouse that few involved could walk away from, it seems. (Christopher Cross)

Mission-Impossible-Ghost-Protocol-645x370Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the sort of movie that wins you over with sheer audacity. It’s inherently ridiculous, but it knows it is, embraces that fact, and uses it to dazzle and delight. If it weren’t for how accomplished the many elaborate set pieces are perhaps we’d be laughing at it, but because they’re so well constructed we’re laughing with the movie in giddy disbelief at what our heroes will go through next to save the day.

The baddie this time around is a madman hell-bent on nuking half of the world to cull the herd and make a less over-populated human race prosper through hardship. Or something. It’s not really important. What’s important is that it gives Tom Cruise and Co. ample excuse to travel the world and get caught up in all sorts of deadly situations for which there’s no feasible method of escape, and then they escape anyway.

The standout sequence is set at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai — a 2,722 foot tall skyscraper that towers over the desert and everything else in its vicinity. For reasons we don’t need to get into here, Tom Cruise winds up on the outside of the building, scaling it using fancy suction cups in one of the most ludicrous and vertigo-inducing action set pieces ever committed to film. We know that Ethan Hunt is almost certainly going to be okay, but it’s a credit to how well made Ghost Protocol is that we’re still on the edge of our seats, just in case. (John Cal McCormick)

Ranking-Mission-ImpossibleMission: Impossible – Fallout

It’s debatable whether or not Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the greatest film in the series, or merely one of the best, but it’s safe to say that no other entry gets one’s adrenaline pumping quite as effectively. That’s because returning director and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie is a master of pacing and escalating tension (even if his dialogue is occasionally not so fresh). Combine those skills with the ever-capable Tom Cruise and the most extreme stunts he has ever filmed, and you’ve got a pinnacle of the M:I series.

One striking difference between Fallout and all the previous entries is that it’s a direct sequel to 2015’s Rogue Nation. The M:Ifilms have – until now – been mostly disconnected. Characters essential to one film are usually absent in the next one (except for Ving Rhames, the only actor besides Cruise to appear in all six film). Here, however, the actions picks up right where it left off. The fate of the IMF is still uncertain, and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is still inescapably tied to Rebecca Ferguson’s talented assassin and Sean Harris’ genocidal psychopath.

Some critics have detected a Nolan-esque slide toward the dark side in Fallout, both emotionally and visually, which isn’t wrong, but is still somewhat misleading. The Hunt of previous M:Ifilms has been a cypher; we come to see him defy death, not feel sad. Fallout‘s dream sequences change that, giving us one of the first signs of an interior life for Hunt. That, coupled with the ability to further develop its cast, suggests an interesting future in which the M:I films might become something radically different.

If there’s a downside to Fallout, it lies with the future of the series, not the film itself. McQuarrie and Cruise have already crafted the most well-rounded entry in the series, with the most stunning action sequences Cruise has ever attempted. So where can they possibly go from here but down? (Brian Marks)

Mission Impossible IMission: Impossible 

Ah, what could have been…

The first entry in a franchise often sets the tone and formula for what follows, but instead of taking a position as team leader, 1996’s Mission: Impossible stands out as a rogue agent in its own series. The balls-to-the-wall, run-and-gun approach that that made its sequels into nothing more than a breezy, American version of James Bond is nowhere to be seen here. Hidden under the slick latex mask of a summer tentpole release is an actual spy movie — perhaps not in realism, but in intelligence, and most importantly, in lack of noise. Mission: Impossible dared to try something that for most blockbusters is anathema: nearly excluding violence from its “action,” and it pays off with some of most memorable set pieces in movie history.

The chaotic unravelling at the American Embassy in Prague, Ethan’s simmering tête à tête with a superior in a Czech restaurant, the wonderfully charged moments of hotel-room paranoia, proving his worth to an arms dealer, and of course, a virtuoso break-in sequence set at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia — the artistic hand of Brian De Plama mercilessly ramps up the tension in Mission: Impossible with no gunfights, car chases, or motorcycles driving through fire while doves fly in the background. He relies instead on skillful filmmaking, using precise staging and careful compositions to convey both story and character. Skewed angles and depth of field create unsettling imagery, slow zooms narrow our focus, and mechanical pans act like surveillance cameras — the audience is also in on the spying. A movie called Mission: Impossible should be fun too, however, and so bright colors and a brisk script make sure that all the subterfuge stays on the stylish, lighter side.

It was a bold direction for a Hollywood blockbuster to take then, and it would be even more refreshing now. The rest of the franchise has veered from that interesting path, instead retreating to the safety of more traditional action, and while they still remain entertaining to various degrees due to some insanely ballsy stunt work, none come close possessing the original’s memorability. For my money, Mission: Impossible is the best in the series, and one of the best blockbusters ever made. (Patrick Murphy)

Humans by birth. Gamers by choice. Goomba Stomp is a Canadian web publication that has been independently owned and operated since its inception in 2016.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Patrick Murphy

    August 5, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    Really, they’re almost all interchangeable to me after the first two. The bland hand of JJ strikes again.

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‘Uncut Gems’ Sends Adam Sandler Through the Ringer

The Safdie Brothers have crafted a hectic, abrasive crime thriller that revels in its misery.

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Uncut Gems

The Safdie Brothers have followed up their grimy, abrasive Good Time with a film that never quite reaches those levels of tension, but is nevertheless cut from the same cloth. With Uncut Gems, the directing duo has crafted something so loud and chaotic — led by a perfectly-cast Adam Sandler — that there is no denying it’s a fun ride, even when it is not so fun to watch. Digging through the grit of loan sharks and a dog-eat-dog world, Uncut Gems is another bonafide hit by the Safdie brothers, but one that works when it piles on the misery — which it often does, rather than find a shred of happiness.

Evading debt collectors throughout New York City, Howard (Sandler) runs a jewelry shop in the Diamond District where he sells to many high-profile celebrities. When a new opal arrives at his shop from Ethiopia, he can’t help but show it off to Boston Celtics player Kevin Garnett (who stars as himself in a fun role that never feels out-of-place), who becomes obsessed with the rock and borrows it with the hope of eventually convincing Howard to let him buy it. Of course, Howard has other plans, as the rock is allegedly worth a million dollars if sold at an auction in which he has already purchased a spot. When Garnett doesn’t return the stone, everything starts going horribly awry in Howard’s life as he juggles a failing marriage, his Jewish family ties, and keeping the loan sharks at bay.

Right out of the gate, Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) hits the ground hard with a score that carries the cosmic and reverberating effects of the titular uncut gems. When Garnett stares into the opal, he sees exactly what Howard tells him he’s supposed to see: the universe. In that, Lopatin provides a sonic scape so expansive and yet violently singular in its aesthetic that it provides much of Uncut Gems with a mystical aura. Drenched in gritty camerawork that gets up close to show the blemishes of everyone, there’s no denying the film’s mean and potent intensity.

Where Uncut Gems often stumbles is in its narrative threads. While the Garnett storyline weaves in and out, providing a lot of fun as well as hectic tension, it’s a piece of stunt casting that works, while also highlighting one that very clearly doesn’t involve R&B singer The Weekend. Why he is in the movie is baffling, other than perhaps because he evokes a further sense that Howard is in a very upscale world — something we already know by his clientele, multiple properties, and the wealth he actually wears. The Weekend ends up as a weird diversion that can take viewers out of the experience, even if his presence does lead to a further escalation in problems for Howard.

That all being said, Uncut Gems also brings Adam Sandler back into the fold as an actor who can do more than the drivel he has churned out over the decades. More evocative of his performance in Punch-Drunk Love than The Meyerowitz Stories, Sandler gives a comedic and sympathetic performance to a character for whom everything suddenly goes wrong. Living a manic, fast-paced lifestyle, Howard is impatient, aggressive, and greedy, but Sandler makes it possible to get on board with his plight at least partially (there is no way to be on his side completely). His vices are many, but the performance keeps him down to Earth even when it feels like everything is flying off the hinges.

There will likely be many that can’t get past how dirty this movie feels, as it treats many criminal activities as both simply the way things are and the way they always will be. Beyond that, however, the Safdie Brothers provide a nuanced look at Jewish culture, utilizing one of Hollywood’s most prolific Jewish actors, and treat it is as matter-of-fact. Uncut Gems is a frenetic crime film from a Jewish perspective and delivers on its promise of being a wild ride with a phenomenal Sandler performance. Just don’t expect there to be much hope present, as the Safdies revel in the misery as much as humanly possible, only using hope as a torture device to make the anguish all the more painful.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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The Best Movie Trailers of 2019

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Best Movie Trailers 2019

They exist to sell a product, but there’s also something about movie trailers that inspires certain ticket buyers to get to the theater early: the promise of movie magic. Before we have a chance to be disappointed by their final products, the best trailers are constructed to show off endless potential — the suggestion that audiences are in for an amazing cinematic treat. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way, but there’s nothing better than being seduced — and for a few moments, that’s exactly what the best movie trailers of 2019 do. Below are some of my favorites from the past year.

Smarmy Murder

Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s followup to The Last Jedi seems to have found a safer home for the director’s irreverence (I’m not aware of any diehard murder-mystery fans, at least), and it’s trailers have been free to lean heavily into that twisted playfulness. If you’ve gone to a theater in the last three months, it’s been hard to avoid seeing this one a million times (including at times as an ad before the previews), but the relentlessly snappy pacing, ironic edits, and pervasive shots of actors hamming it up really drive home that Knives Out is looking to be a wickedly fun romp. Whether it succeeds or not, there’s no question that the trailer makes me want it to. 

Ready or Not

This one hits more traditional beats when it comes to unspooling its gleefully barbarous premise, and knows just how to mix the tension with the violence with the cheeky one-liners. But it’s the use of The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” that really pushes this trailer over the top, as the song works brilliantly for both magnifying the drama during the screaming moments, and providing an excellent contrast between its blatant romantic sincerity and the sarcastic amorality of this bizarre predicament. Also, Henry Czerny.

The Hunt

This one’s a bit more subtle about its dark comedy, but there’s no question that there are plenty of smirks lurking just below the surface of this premise. A cabal of elitists hunting a bunch of backwoods yokels for sport is the kind of satiric setup that has potential for real bite (enough to get the film’s release indefinitely delayed, apparently), and this trailer does a great job of playing that element up, suggesting a more brutal and sardonic version of The Hunger Games. The tired look on Betty Gilpin’s face as she moseys down train tracks or calmly drives over someone’s head showcases a low-key humor that hopefully is reflected in the final product. Fingers crossed that The Hunt eventually sees the dark of theaters.

Moody, Mysterious Spooks

Midsommar

There’s always something refreshing about a horror story that takes place in the daylight, and the trailer for Midsommar appeals perfectly to this sentiment. Plucky strings, tribal drum beats, and plenty of off-kilter camera angles help set the creepy stage for a relationship problem that is about to manifest itself in a physical problem, but one that is smartly only hinted at. The bright, lush environment and comforting tradition initially draws you in (like any good cult would hope), but exactly what’s in store for this young woman and her companions? Flashes of gore and deformity near the end are what linger, even after a sunny visual finale. Very enticing.

The Lighthouse

It’s possible that this trailer could have just consisted of nothing but the weather-worn faces of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe staring back at the audience, punctuated by the droning bellow of the fog horn, and that might have been enough to sell people on this thing. Of course, what follows is a stark, visual feast that also does a masterful job at dropping clues as to the possible supernatural mystery, but layering them in the potential madness. Dark, ominous trappings are slathered on as thick as the sea-faring accents, giving off an old-fashioned horror vibe. Despite a deep dislike for the actual film, I could watch this trailer forever, and dream of what else could have lurked out on that lonely island.

If Only They Lost the Song

1917

Bolstered by gorgeous images courtesy of the great Roger Deakins (whose sumptuous cinematography can only help no matter what it’s in), this trailer does a masterful job at communicating to audiences just what a nail-biter this WWI story promises to be. Starting out with an innocuous shot of two soldiers lazing beneath a tree, and ending with one of them dodging explosions, the tension is meticulously built step by step, gunshot by gunshot…until a sappy, tone-deaf song called “Wayfaring Stranger” cuts in halfway through and tries to ruin everything with hammy emotional telegraphing. It’s a curious choice, as the textured, frank visuals and dialogue don’t otherwise give off a manipulative vibe. Still, there is stirring power in that imagery, enough to make me want to see more. Just…save the song for the end credits, please.

What. The. Hell.

Bird Talk

It’s generally not desirable to feel even slightly repulsed after viewing a movie trailer, but I have to confess that the bizarre images here are cut together in a way that doesn’t quite agree with me. So why is it good? Because that seems to be exactly the sort of note Xawery Zulawski’s film is trying to hit, with its disorienting fish-eye lenswork and indecipherable depictions of what seems like general depravity, even if I can’t point to exactly why. Even the special effect for that weird flaming car looks wonky and nightmarish. Not every film has to be pleasant to work, and neither does a trailer; Bird Talk looks intense and intriguing and indecipherable, and that’s good enough for me.

Pleading For Attention (and Actually Getting It)

Joker

Every year there are trailers for movies that desperately want to be taken seriously as films, and I’m not sure there was a better example of that in 2019 than Joker. With its gritty, scum-on-the-lens look, an early burst of cruelty, and use of Jimmy Durante’s “Smile” to lay the irony on thick, there’s no question of this promo distancing the final product from traditional ‘comic book’ movies. There’s also no question that the trailer does a magnificent job at showcasing the film’s best element: a writhing, tortured, smirking, dancing, on-the-edge Joaqin Phoenix. While it’s debatable whether Joker itself ultimately deserved all the attention, putting Phoenix’s performance front and center in the trailer was the best way to get it.

The Cream of the Trailer Crop

Richard Jewell

This is a fantastic example of how to communicate an overall old-fashioned approach to sharp storytelling, yet break up the standard formula with well-timed asides. The premise and protagonist are firmly established through standard trailer character development, but it’s the interspersing of those chilling interrogation scenes that really drive the point home and solidify the character as supremely sympathetic. The soft piano notes are joined by a growing orchestra, the frequency of these inserts picks up as the blatant railroading intensifies, and by the time the crescendo hits, the trailer has told a story that we want to see a resolution to — and that subtle nod suggests it’s going to be a very, very satisfying one.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Almost a mini-movie in itself, the trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood spans the range of emotional beats found in the film it’s cut from, roughly (and impressively) in the same order, all while cementing the unmistakable tone of the film’s creator. What’s being sold here is exactly what audiences are going to get, and that’s a sprawling Hollywood epic filled with sharp dialogue, offbeat B-movie/TV show asides, and a undercurrent of a looming, horrific incident that will come to a head in the last reel. An aging cowboy, a loyal sidekick, a radiant princess, and a creepily smiling ogre are set in a neon fantasy land full of make believe, where dreams (and sometimes nightmares) come true. It’s a primer for a magical fairy tale, and also the most complete, all-encompassing, masterful trailer of the year.

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Of course, these are just my picks for the best trailers of 2019 — what are yours?

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70 Best Movie Posters of 2019

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Best Movie Posters of 2019

Deciding the best movie posters is no easy task…

I remember when I was younger, I used to head to the video store and rent movies I’d never heard of based solely on the movie poster art. This was, of course, a different time— sure, the internet was a thing, but we didn’t have countless websites, not to mention social media platforms, promoting new movies online with news stories, movie stills, featurettes, teasers, trailers and so on. Not to say that sort of marketing didn’t exist in the past, because it did, but it wasn’t always in your face. For better or for worse, the internet changed the way studios market movies, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the use of a poster to help build excitement and anticipation for an upcoming film. Most posters continue to be an important marketing tool for filmmakers worldwide and so once again, we’ve decided to collect images of our favourite movie posters revealed over the past twelve months. If you checked out our list of the best movie posters of 2018, you’ll remember it included posters for indie gems, thrillers, horror movies, foreign language films, Hollywood blockbusters and everything in between. This year is no different, although it should be said that some marketing campaigns were so good, we’ve decided to include more than one poster for a few select films. Also worth noting, we didn’t include any fan-made poster art below. That out of the way, here are the best movie posters of 2019.

Click on any one of the images to enlarge the posters.

The Best Movie Posters of 2019

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