While the seventh installment of the adventures of Ethan Hunt is currently in theaters, we have accepted the mission – not so impossible – to classify the films of the saga.
7 – Mission: Impossible III (JJ Abrams, 2006)
The director’s choice, as always in this saga, was wonderful: to entrust the new part of the film adaptation of the greatest spy series of the sixties to the new little genius of the spy series: JJ Abrams. It was the 2000s, the heyday of film/TV hybridization, Sydney Bristow was cooler then James Bond, and Tom Cruise had just binge the first two seasons ofA.k.a. But most of the theoretical intuitions of the wonderboy JJ, very attractive on paper, never really works on the screen: the funny MacGuffin (the very abstract “rabbit’s foot”) borders on the casualness, the attempt to reform a team around Hunt fizzles, and the domestic soap-like scenes are embarrassing, until the ridiculous final plan. We nevertheless save: a Philip Seymour Hoffman in great shape, scenes of virtuoso masks and infiltration in the Vatican, one of Cruise’s most beautiful foot races, and the joke, really very funny, of the breakage of an ultra-secure building in Shanghai concealed from our eyes. The idea of M: I 3 was to turn Tom Cruise into an Everyman. You had to dare. Then face the facts: Tom Cruise is not an ordinary man.
6 – Mission: Impossible 2 (John Woo, 2000)
Is a failed John Woo better than an average JJ Abrams? We ask ourselves the question in front of the very weak Mission: Impossible 2 (and its place in this ranking). We must first remember the disappointment that this film had been in the summer of 2000. Imagine: the sequel to one of the best blockbusters of the 90s, directed by a John Woo on the rise in the US (he came out of Flip/Facealready a story of masks and mirrored adversaries), carried by an unleashed Tom Cruise after two years of Kubrickian confinement… Result: a star in full ego trip, a filmmaker in full self-parody, too many doves, too much slow motion, too many crazy motorcycles, too much flamenco hot, too much wind in Tom’s mid-length hair. But as time (and the reruns on NRJ 12) passed, we ended up having a little tenderness for this hi-tech and spunky rereading of Chained of Hitchcock (a spy is forced to push the woman he loves into his enemy’s bed). And you have to admit that the image of Ethan Hunt climbing in the film’s intro, just for show, always gives an adrenaline rush. A little Impossible mission, Yes. But a big guilty pleasure.
5 – Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, 2018)
After Rogue NationChristopher McQuarrie stacks up again, thus breaking the great principle of Impossible mission (one film, one real’). But he still wants to reinvent himself, in order to keep this principle of aesthetic variety at the heart of the saga. Exit, therefore, the neo-Hitchcockian sophistication, make way for a more brutal, more contemporary approach, influenced by John Wick and the Jump by Daniel Craig. Stunning scenes abound (the HALO jump over Paris, the huge climax in a helicopter), Henry Cavill and his mustache smash everything (especially the toilets of the Grand Palais), but the film is a bit weighed down by this inflationary logic and, above all, by the scriptwriting imperative that McQ and Cruise imposed on themselves to complete the story of Ethan and Julia (Michelle Monaghan) – a deal folded for many spectators since the end of 4, and put back on the job only to better portray Hunt as a monogamous and virtuous hero. But we nitpick – in 2018, blockbuster section, fallout was clearly at the top of the basket.
4 – Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning part 1 (Christopher McQuarrie, 2023)
With already two Impossible mission in the legs, and a third (Dead Reckoning part 2) on the fire, McQuarrie inevitably confronts the question of reformulating the clichés and obligatory passages of the saga. Armed with a crazy pitch (Ethan Hunt versus AI!), he delivers a long “analog” manifesto, elegantly weaving together the different options that a film can offer today. Impossible mission : the romantic impulses, the cartoonish action, the psychoanalysis of Ethan Hunt, the inventory of the “Tom Cruise movie”, the jaw-dropping stunts, the pleasure of serial and the awareness of the passage of time – for Ethan Hunt as for us, who have been following him since 1996. With this question on arrival: how long will Cruise and McQ be able to keep up? The answer to the next episode…
3 – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird, 2011)
The Incredibles “in real life”, is it possible? That’s the question Tom Cruise asked himself after discovering Brad Bird’s Pixar masterpiece. This one, for his first film in live-action, therefore pushes the saga to its cartoon entrenchments and delivers a masterpiece of pop comedy, a collection of anthological and euphoric action scenes. The ascent of the Burj Khalifa, the chase in the sandstorm, the spy meetings conducted “in parallel” in two hotel rooms… Tom Cruise, who was then said to be in bad shape after a series of media and artistic setbacks, comes back to life as a neo-Jackie Chan, and reinvents his fictional double in action hero tired but forced to fight it out, for the good of humanity (and the spectators). Not the best Assignment (but close), but the best Hunt, hands down.
2 – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie, 2015)
First director of the saga to have already directed Tom Cruise in another film (jack reacher, 2012), Christopher McQuarrie arrives at the helm of the franchise with the desire to take it to a higher level of mythological refinement. Cinephile quotes (a virtuoso sequence at the Vienna Opera mixing The Hand in the Collar And The Man Who Knew Too Much) mingle with the seventies fixes of the director (the obsession with snipers, the motorized squadron in Casablanca as if out of Magnum Strength…) and his bows to the original TV series (the whole third act, a festival of manipulations and pretense that revives the intellectual and sophisticated atmosphere of Bruce Geller’s creation). Ethan Hunt finally finds someone to talk to in Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a beautiful, evanescent super-spy character. As a good disciple of Hitchcock (who filmed murder scenes as love scenes, and vice versa), McQuarrie films their action scenes as seduction scenes. And it is very beautiful to look at.
1 – Impossible mission (Brian DePalma, 1996)
Since 1996, it hasn’t changed. Number 1 is him. The first of Impossible mission, in every sense of the term. A brilliant film which, in addition to being the best Impossible mission, is one of the greatest De Palma, the one where the formal genius of the filmmaker met the requirements (and the financial means) of the Hollywood machinery. Pretexting the adaptation of a TV series of which he immediately exploded all the codes (and decimated the characters), De Palma took advantage of the order to redo Death by Kits And Topkapi in post-Cold War Europe, reinventing the paranoid thriller and finding the point of balance (a notion so essential in this saga) between gray matter and pyrotechnics, theoretical approach and amusement unleashed. Magic formula after which Tom Cruise has been running for almost thirty years.