The Mission: Impossible franchise has a pretty good track record for this sort of thing. Two good movies, maybe even great ones, and one piece of utter crap. It’s these three movies that come in the Mission: Impossible – Extreme Blu-Ray Trilogy box set on sale December 6, and normally that would be a pretty glowing endorsement. But it’s not.
On the surface it seems nice of Paramount to release a set of the original three films in advance of this month’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but if you sit down and think about it – go ahead and give yourself a moment – you’ll realize that there’s another boxed set looming on the horizon with all four of them. Even if you’re the kind of person who likes their movies in tidy little packages, Ghost Protocol is going to come out sooner or later, so if you buy the Extreme Blu-Ray Trilogy you’ll have a neat box set and, eventually, one film that doesn’t have a place in it. Besides, if you like the Mission: Impossible movies already, you probably already own the ones you want. Should you upgrade to this Blu-Ray collection? Absolutely not. These are the exact same discs as before, even the same ones from the previous Ultimate Missions box set, but with new covers. They’re nice new covers, but they’re not that nice.
Is it a total wash? Not really. 66.6% of these movies are still really excellent blockbusters entertainments, which is a strong average, and it’s very reasonably priced, so it might make a nice gift for the holidays. But if you have any love for the Mission: Impossible franchise, and own any of the Blu-Rays in this set already, it’s not worth your time and money to pick up a copy.
For anyone who hasn’t seen them, however, I offer the rest of my review. If you have, just see this as a primer for when Ghost Protocol comes out later this month.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (dir. Brian De Palma, 1996)
The first Mission: Impossible movie is one of the few mainstream entertainments from renegade Hitchcockian stylist Brian De Palma, and like The Untouchables before it, it’s a ripsnorter of a good time. Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, whose team of IMF agents (read: spies) is killed off when a mission goes awry. As the only surviving member, Hunt is accused of betraying his teammates, so he goes rogue and tries to flush out the real bad guy doing his job for him: stealing a complete list of undercover CIA operatives from Langley, VA.
That, right there, is a spy movie storyline. De Palma throws in a big action sequence at the end, but before that his Mission: Impossible is a slick thriller about espionage operatives not getting into shootouts. The centerpiece of the movie, which has become a part of the pop culture firmament, is a scene in which Tom Cruise has to steal the files while suspended above the ground via cables, completely incapable of touching the ground or making a sound without being discovered. This is a big blockbuster movie, and its show stopping moment is based on absolute silence. It was a daring move, and it paid off in spades.
The rest of the film is sleek and intelligent, but some have argued that it’s hard to follow. And it is… when you compare it to Independence Day, perhaps. De Palma is counting on the audience to actually pay attention to the plot and follow along, which could be confusng. He makes an exciting narrative choice late in the game, when Ethan Hunt figures out who the real traitor is. He says one thing but thinks another, and the latter part of that is visualized via flashbacks. De Palma knows that actions speak louder than words, but for some reason the words confused certain viewers. I can see why, but if you’re actually paying attention the storytelling gambit pays off.
The Blu-Ray of Mission: Impossible comes with a nice set of extras but a subpar presentation: lack of detail, although free from distracting edge-enhancement and digital noise reduction, and a soundscape that lacks punch. It’s still superior to the DVD release though.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (FILM): 8.5/10
CRAVEONLINE RATING (BLU-RAY): 8/10
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 (dir. John Woo, 2000)
You remember how, like 30 seconds ago, I said that De Palma’s Mission: Impossible should be lauded for focusing on actual spy stuff and not crazy action sequences? Well, so much for that. John Woo took over the franchise for the second installment, and while it’s not quite as awful as you may remember it, it’s still overblown crap. Which is weird, because Mission: Impossible 2 is actually a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, one of the sexiest and subtlest spy movies ever made.
Ethan Hunt once again finds himself fighting a rogue agent, this time played by Dougray Scott, who lost the role of Wolverine in Bryan Singer’s X-Men because the production of MI2 ran long. (I’ll bet he’s still pissed about that.) Hunt is told to recruit a thief played by Thandie Newton to complete the job, and promptly falls in love with her. Whoops! It turns out she’s Scott’s ex-girlfriend, and has to become his lover once again to earn back his trust. Awkward is such a mild word. The possibilities for drama and intrigue are limitless, as explored in Notorious, but it all falls apart in the final act, which finds Tom Cruise doing somersault kicks and jumping off of motorcycles onto other guys jumping off of motorcycles.
The frustrating thing about Mission: Impossible 2 is that Woo, long renowned as an action movie god after films like The Killer and A Better Tomorrow, is actually better with the spy material here than the shootouts. The exotic locales are gorgeously realized, and there’s a really enticing heist scene with Thandie Newton sneaking around a villa, punctuated by the staccato clapping from a nearby tango demonstration. But by the time the action finally kicks in, all semblance of class leaves the picture, hat in hand, so the film can play out like a sightseeing tour of Tom Cruise’s ego. Unnecessary pigeon shots (a John Woo trademark) and a laughable moment of hero putting on couture sunglasses right before a big car chase feel like they belong in the Last Action Hero universe, not the infinitely classier Mission: Impossible franchise.
But if you do like Mission: Impossible 2, and it’s possible since there are much worse movies out there, you’ll find a much nicer audio/visual presentation this time out. The film has a gorgeous color scheme that really pops in high definition. It also comes with a bevy of special features, including a commentary by John Woo, making this a strong release of a weak film.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (FILM): 4/10
CRAVEONLINE RATING (BLU-RAY): 8/10
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (dir. J.J. Abrams, 2006)
Director J.J. Abrams made his feature directorial debut with Mission: Impossible III, which I consider to be the best film in the series, by a somewhat narrow margin. The plot is complex but not labyrinthine, Ethan Hunt finally becomes a sympathetic hero rather than a mere badass, and the dynamics of his whole team finally become a major factor in the storyline, much like the original series. It’s a taut, fun and often very funny spy movies that marries blockbuster thrills and genuine espionage plotting, and it’s highly recommended.
It’s been six years since the events of Mission: Impossible 2 and Ethan Hunt has retired from active duty, spending his time training young field agents instead. He’s got a nice house, a lovable fiancé (Michelle Monaghan), and seems like an actual human being for a change. But he’s called out of retirement to rescue his star pupil, who has been kidnapped by international arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). She’s killed during the extraction by an explosive device planted in her skull, and it’s up to Ethan to bring Davian to justice and, once again, ferret out another rogue agent.
Mission: Impossible III underperformed at the box office, which many blame on Tom Cruise’s ill-conceived freak out on The Oprah Winfrey Show shortly before the release. It’s the only conceivable reason, since the movie is top-flight blockbuster entertainment. There’s a bravura action sequence on a bridge which finds Hunt facing off against an squad of commandos and a deadly missile drone that’s as stunningly choreographed as this kind of thing gets. The frame is impeccably filled with various action elements zipping across the screen in clearly defined paths that give the feeling of chaos without ever confusing the audience as to what’s actually going on. And the film is filled with memorable chase sequences, infiltration scenarios and threats that are of genuine consequence to the hero. Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a particularly great villain, lacking physical superiority but carrying an air of unflinching contempt for the hero that makes him feel unstoppable, even though I myself could probably take him in a fist fight.
Mission: Impossible III has the best presentation of all the movies in the set, which is understandable considering that it’s the most recent release. Less understandable are the lack of extras, besides a good commentary track featuring Abrams and Cruise himself. It’s sad that the best film in the franchise gets the least attention here, but otherwise this is a “Must Own” Blu-Ray for your collection.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (FILM): 9/10
CRAVEONLINE RATING (BLU-RAY): 8.5/10
If you receive Mission: Impossible – Extreme Blu-Ray Trilogy as a gift this Christmas, you have nothing to complain about. Two solid movies and one egregious misfire still makes for a strong collection. But there’s absolutely no reason to buy this for yourself unless you can find a ridiculously good price on it. In a year or so, we’ll have another one of these with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol included, which you’ll want instead. Unless Ghost Protocol sucks, but by that time this set will have gone down in price, making it worth the wait.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (BOX SET): 5/10