Mission: Impossible is the best operating franchise, and it is not particularly close. If Star Wars was only doing the episodic Skywalker Saga, and if the prequels didn’t exist, then maybe the debate would be a bit more interesting, but with Rogue One and Solo not quite living up to what that franchise should be (or, if it’s the other way around for you because of reasons I do not comprehend), the consistency of Mission: Impossible gives it a significant lead. Other potentially competing franchises, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter and Fast and the Furious fall behind because they are actually several intellectual properties being thrown together, currently existing for reasons that I do not even begin to comprehend, or are just Not My Thing TM, respectively. That leaves Mission: Impossible in its rightful place, thanks to the dangerously insane Tom Cruise and the guiding hand that writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has brought to the franchise’s last two films (the only director to return). I could sit here and talk about why this movie is the best action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road, but if you’ve seen it, you already know that, and if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen the trailers where Tom Cruise does a bunch of stunts on his own because he is dangerously insane, but also understands that the audience is more likely to buy into what we’re seeing if we’re seeing the star do them. So, I’m going to come at this movie from a different angle.
I spent almost a year of my life watching the James Bond franchise, a franchise that has run over twice as long as the Mission Impossible franchise (in years) and with four times as many movies, as well as six times as many actors (six men have portrayed Bond to just the one dangerously insane Ethan Hunt). Among those six men, only two portrayed Bond as many times as Tom Cruise has portrayed IMF’s Ethan Hunt: Sean Connery and Roger Moore. So I thought it would be fun to look back on Connery and Moore’s sixth outings, to see how they were doing compared to how Cruise is doing. The films are Diamonds are Forever and Octopussy. So, yeah, this will be fun.
Film: Diamonds Are Forever
Year of Release: 1971
Years Since First Film: 9
Plot of Film: James is sent to investigate a group of diamond smugglers in order to retrieve South African diamonds that the government fears could be dumped, causing damage to the world’s economy. The plot thickens when Bond finds that Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the one behind the smuggling, and he plans to use the diamonds to create a space laser that can destroy cities.
Climax of the film: After discovering Blofeld’s base, Bond sneaks on in order to disconnect the connection with the laser satellite, at which point the CIA leads a helicopter assault of the base.
Does the plot feel like it matters?: Not even remotely. We do not find out Blofeld’s plan with diamonds until the movie is already 75% over, so we’re mostly just watching Connery run around Las Vegas trying to find diamonds, which is about as exciting as it sounds. When we are finally introduced to Blofeld’s space laser, there’s the opportunity for things to become tense, but Bond’s time on the base is mostly a series of comedic misunderstandings with his love interest, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), who is running around the base in a bikini while people make jokes about her butt. Even the helicopter assault is low-energy, as it’s mostly just helicopters slowly flying over the base as people on both sides fire fake guns and react to getting shot. Nothing ever feels tense, which I’ll discuss a bit later.
Does it make sense?: I mean, sure. So little actually happens in this movie, that it’s pretty easy to track the through-line. It’s just not particularly interesting.
Continuity Between Other Films: This might be a little bit unfair to the James Bond franchise, just because continuity has never really been its concern (until the Daniel Craig years, where its all handled so poorly its kind of a drag). That said, this movie does seem to have a little bit, just because the previous entry (George Lazenby’s solo effort of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) ends with Blofeld killing Bond’s wife, and this movie starts with Bond on a personal revenge mission, that ends with him seemingly killing Blofeld. But by the time its revealed that Blofeld has had doubles of him made, Bond mostly seems confused, instead of angry, like he should be.
How are women treated in this movie?: Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) is intended to be a highly successful jewel thief but ends up being played as just another object of attraction for Bond, who shouts things like “Blow up your pants!” at children. Also, when faced with death, she doesn’t jump up and try to escape, she just kind of leans back in her chair and says “eeee!” as if she just saw a spider. Elsewhere, Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood) is basically just a set of cleavage that Bond tries to bed before she gets thrown out a window and later killed. So, not great.
Does he look like a spy?: Maybe? He seems to be a bit on the older side, but I’m never particularly concerned for his well-being. A lot of this comes down to the fact that the plot never really puts him in any situations where I really fear for his life. The couple of times his life should be in immediate danger, he survives mostly out of incompetence of the people trying to kill him, rather than relying on this actual skill.
Does he, as an actor, care about what he’s doing?: Ha, no. Connery seemed to check out during Thunderball, which was two movies ago for him. It’s not a terrible performance, and there are brief glimmers of what appears to be actual acting, but dude’s clearly not here to try to sell us on anything. He seems bored and tired of the franchise, which makes it so much worse.
Best stunt the actor does: Actually kind of impressively, Connery engages in a fairly tight elevator fight. I’m not talking Captain America: The Winter Solider style, but it’s very clearly Connery engaged in it and it’s actually shot in a way that you believe the fight is happening. His assailant is just a murderous diamond smuggler, which isn’t particularly threatening, and the fight ends with Bond spraying him with a fire extinguisher and then bumping him over a railing, killing him, but credit to the fight itself being at least moderately interesting.
Do the stunts flow with the plot?: Outside of the elevator-fight, not really. The other major stunt sequences are two back-to-back car chases, the first of which involves Bond breaking onto a fake moon-landing set and escaping with an inexplicably fully-operational moon buggy and riding it through the desert. It’s such a forced comedy bit, but also one of the few things that feel like a set piece in the movie, as the actual chase goes on for a while and then dudes in weird motorcycles kind of jump over small paths (if someone set this scene to the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack, I’d watch that so hard). It’s not effective as a joke or as an action scene, and it just feels forced instead of feeling like a natural extension of what is going on in the movie.
Year of Release: 1983
Years Since First Film: 10
Plot of Film: James is sent to investigate the murder of a fellow MI6 agent, who was killed while escaping a circus, holding onto a copy of a Faberge egg. His investigation causes him to go toe-to-toe with an exiled Afghan prince and a Soviet general, who plan to set off a nuclear bomb on an American army base.
Climax of the Film: It’s either James breaking into the titular character’s circus in an effort to stop a bomb from going off, killing hundreds of innocent people, including American military forces, or when James infiltrating Kamal Khan’s retreat in order to save Octopussy.
Does the plot feel like it matters?: At times, yes. Despite the absurdities of this movie, of which there are many, and they are all wonderful, the brief non-absurd moments do actually build up something resembling tension. A good chunk of the bomb-ticking sequence, when James isn’t dressed as a gorilla or a clown or isn’t being mocked by hitchhikers, is actually fairly tense. But then there are sequences when he’s dressed as a gorilla (that checks his watch and scratches his nose), or a clown (he had time to put makeup on while a bomb is ticking towards detonation), or gets mocked by some teenagers while he is hitchhiking. At these moments, the tension no longer works, and the movie should fail (I mean it does, but also, Roger Moore dressed as a clown makes my heart happy). That said, the bomb sequence occurs with about twenty minutes left in the movie. The movie’s last action sequence is all to save the titular character, which just does not really have the dramatic tension that the film seems to think that it has.
Does it make sense?: No, not really. I still don’t super understand what Kamal Khan is getting from this nuclear explosion. Which shouldn’t really be a hang-up, but it confuses me so deeply that both times I’ve watched this movie, it’s all I can really think about as the last thirty minutes goes by.
Continuity Between Other Films: Basically none, other than the MI6 people all being in it. Octopussy is even played by Maud Adams, who was the femme fatale in The Man With The Golden Gun.
How are women treated in this movie?: Decently well, I suppose. Outside of being named Octopussy, the titular character is at least set-up to be an interesting character, as she runs a jewel-smuggling operation from a secluded island, all while also operating a fairly successful circus. The romantic interest in James is also implied to take place over an extended period of time, which is also a leg up on both Case and O’Toole from the previous film. It is frustrating that when all is said and done, her role in the plot and the climax of the film is being duped by the two other men, and then becoming a damsel in distress for the film’s final action sequence. Oh, and James force-kisses her, which is not great. Elsewhere, Octopussy’s right-hand woman, Magda, is moderately interesting and good in a fight, although she really does not get much of a character beyond “Octopussy’s right-hand woman who works with Khan.”
Does he look like a spy?: Not remotely. I love Roger Moore. His movies are deeply silly, but he has a certain charm to him that I deeply appreciated throughout my initial watch, and that was still present here. But he looks so tired and old, that I feel bad for him having to run around as much as he does. Man needs rest.
Does he, as an actor, care about what he’s doing?: Very much so. Like I mentioned above, Moore has a charm to him and that’s present throughout his many years in this role. That’s what makes his movies so much easier to enjoy, even when he looks like the Crypt Keeper.
Best stunt the actor does: Uh. Without researching how it was done, I’m going to say getting knives thrown at him. Like I mentioned. He is very old. Dude can’t handle an elevator fight. He does get into some very low energy fist-fights if that’s your thing.
Do the stunts flow with the plot?: This one does better than Diamonds are Forever in this category. Other than the rickshaw chase, which ends up just feeling kinda racist, most of the stunts feel fairly logical and flow with the plot. There are two fights on top of modes of transportation, both of which are in the movie for logical reasons (glaring at you, moon buggy). I’ll even give credit to the plane fight for actually having people on top of a plane in mid-flight. It’s obviously not Moore, but it still counts for something as we get wide shots where we see two dudes clearly a couple thousand feet in the air as they fight.
Film: Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Year of Release: 2018
Years Since First Film: 22
Plot of Film: After a botched mission to retrieve three plutonium cores, Ethan Hunt is joined by CIA Agent August Walker on a world-spanning mission to retrieve the remaining cores. Along the way, Ethan comes face-to-face with Solomon Lane, the anarchist that Hunt helped put away in the previous film.
Climax of Film: Lane and revealed dirty agent Walker lead Hunt and the rest of his crew to a medical camp, where the two remaining plutonium cores would be set-off over a glacier, poisoning the water supply of over a third of the world’s population. While his crew finds and disarms the bombs, Hunt engages Walker in a helicopter chase in order to turn off the final detonator.
Does the plot feel like it matters?: Absolutely. Even before the film’s opening credits, you feel the weight of everything that Ethan has to do in this movie. Letting those plutonium cores get away with him is a decision that could plausibly haunt Ethan for the rest of his life, and the CIA sending Walker with him on his mission is a constant reminder of his previous failure. The film’s climax still feels incredibly tense, as Ethan engages in dangerous stunts, all while under a time constraint. Realistically, you know that there is no way this movie is going to end with two major bombs going off, poisoning a third of the world’s water supply, but writer/director Christopher McQuarrie knows what to do to trick you into believing that maybe, just maybe, this film could do the impossible.
Does it make sense?: Yes. The intentions of every one of these characters are crystal clear, and there is no twist that feels outside of the realm of possibility.
Continuity Between Other Films: Again, this is where this film really starts to stand out from the Bond franchise, or even the other films in the Mission: Impossible franchise. With the return of Solomon Lane, Ilsa Faust and Julia Meade, this movie truly feels like a follow-up to the rest of the successful franchise, instead of just another movie that happens to have the same characters. Lane’s desire for revenge drives his motives throughout the film. Faust is still trying to prove her loyalty to MI6 (more on this in a moment) and will do whatever she needs to in order to do so. Julia is the only woman Hunt has ever been able to commit himself to, and he will do anything he can to keep her safe. McQuarrie knows all of this, and all of this is what helps this movie feel real and feel truly high-stakes.
How are women treated in this movie?: Yet again, this movie stands out among Hunt’s MI6 counterparts from the 70s and 80s. For the first time in the franchise, the female lead of the previous film returns, and after Rebecca Ferguson’s scene-stealing performance as Ilsa Faust in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, it’s easy to see why. The character is complex, an MI6 agent who worked deep undercover with Soloman Lane, who needs to find a way to unquestionably show her loyalty to Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Although this movie picks up from the previous film by suggesting that Faust and Hunt could have romantic interest in each other, it does not rely on that to build their relationship. These two understand each other as spies their government cannot truly trust. This is why, throughout the film, despite their conflicting interests, they are never able to pull the trigger on their counterpart. Could they be a couple? I don’t know, maybe. But that isn’t the film’s primary interest in the two of them. They are a couple of spies who understand each other better than anyone else ever can, and that is more meaningful than any rushed romantic storyline that McQuarrie could have given us over two films. As if this weren’t enough, the film gives us Vanessa Kirby’s White Widow, an arms dealer. Kirby is flirtatious but dangerous in the role, a perfect fit for a woman who uses a charity to fund her arms dealing. She’s smart and is able to guide Hunt into doing questionable things (while he is undercover as fundamentalist John Lark), including potentially handing Ilsa over, if it means that he is able to regain access to the plutonium. The brief “romantic” moment is when the Widow force kisses Hunt after they have made a final agreement, but, its obviously not played as romantic, but as a power play on her part. It’s an uncomfortable moment, played as an uncomfortable moment, as we begin to realize how dangerous and unpredictable she can be.
Does he look like a spy?: I’m not going to waste my time trying to put into words what a couple gifs can do. But, short answer: uh-doy.
Does he, as an actor, care about what he’s doing?: Another point of where these movies really start to differentiate themselves from other franchises. Cruise has had Ethan Hunt on his resume for over 20 years, and he has been bringing the same level, if not higher levels of energy, to the later movies as he did when they first started when he was in his early-30s. He’s a three-time Academy Award nominee and he gives his all to a decades’ old franchise that is based on a tv show from the 60s.
Best stunt the actor does: Y’all, trying to say which of these stunts is the best is kind of impossible. They’re all bonkers. Dude did a HALO jump in one-take. Dude learned how to fly a helicopter so that he could do his portion of the helicopter chase on his own. Also, do you think he started flying that helicopter on the ground? Well, you’re wrong, because he climbed up a rope, fell off of it, and then climbed it again. He also rode a motorcycle against traffic around the Arc De Triumph. Tom Cruise is a crazy person, but he is channeling that crazy into making his movies more realistic and incredible, and that is something I will never get tired of getting to see.
Do the stunts flow with the plot?: I would say that this movie has some of the best stunt flow I have ever seen in a movie. Although our set pieces are all obviously that, set pieces, outside of the motorcycle chase around the Arc De Triumph (which I guess theoretically didn’t have to pass the Arc De Triumph, but at some point in Paris, you’re going to run into a famous site), every other set piece feels like the only option. You need to sneak into a country as covertly as possible? Yeah, a HALO jump is really your best bet. You need to get away from a very secluded village as quickly as possible, to ensure you are not in the range of a massive nuclear blast? Flying is your best bet. The only issue I have with the helicopter sequence is that I do not understand why the chasing helicopter that Hunt climbs has the payload that it has, but I’ll look over something like that in order to get the exhilarating thrills and gorgeous cinematography of Cruise climbing up the rope and maneuvering his way inside of the helicopter.
References "List of James Bond films" Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_James_Bond_films Sean Connery Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean_Connery Diamonds Are Forever Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamonds_Are_Forever_(film) Roger Moore Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Moore Octopussy Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octopussy Mission: Impossible Film Series Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission:_Impossible_(film_series) Tom Cruise Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Cruise Mission: Impossible - Fallout Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission:_Impossible_%E2%80%93_Fallout Images Sean Connery Dr. No http://www.bondsuits.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Dr-No-Dinner-Suit.jpg Sean Connery Diamonds Are Forever https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/flx-editorial-wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/DiamondsAreForever.jpg Roger Moore live and Let Die https://tjatthemovies.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/fa99a-rogermooreliveandletdie.png Roger Moore Octopussy https://www.hindustantimes.com/rf/image_size_960x540/HT/p2/2017/05/23/Pictures/_d71f2de2-3fbc-11e7-b7e5-3de2b6485255.jpg Tom Cruise Mission Impossible https://tjatthemovies.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/96f34-1.jpg Tom Cruise Mission Impossible Fallout https://cdn.empireonline.com/jpg/70/0/0/640/480/aspectfit/0/0/0/0/0/0/c/articles/5afbf7b04ee8880c1900fcab/mission-trailer.jpg Diamonds Are Forever Poster https://i.ytimg.com/vi/bHmzwZ8h9oc/maxresdefault.jpg Octopussy Poster https://vinnieh.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/octopussy-poster.jpg Fallout Poster https://somervilletheatre.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/mission-impossible-fallout-movie-image-with-tom-cruise-e1532378905288.png Running Cruise https://thumbs.gfycat.com/BelatedCoordinatedCopperbutterfly-max-1mb.gif Walking Cruise https://media.giphy.com/media/l4pSXyrGBwGxjQHL2/giphy.gif