It’s hard to believe that Tom Cruise’s first “Mission: Impossible” hit theaters over 19 years ago, in May 1996. Now, nearly two decades later, the series is ongoing with “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” the fifth installment of the franchise. Boasting the second widest opening of the series (behind “Mission: Impossible III”), “Rogue Nation” has already grossed over $300 million worldwide, over a third of that domestic.
Its longevity and continued success aside, the “Mission: Impossible” films are somewhat unique among franchises for the fact that no two of the Tom Cruise vehicles have been directed by the same person. Brian De Palma did the honors back in ’96, while John Woo spearheaded the sequel. J.J. Abrams jumped into the driver’s seat next in 2006, followed by Brad Bird, who took on ‘Ghost Protocol‘ in 2011. Christopher McQuarrie got his name on the director’s chair this most recent go around. When a studio rotates directors on such a major franchise, it often places their artistic sentiments a distant second to the material. Not so in the case of “Mission: Impossible” where each director was able to bring his own aesthetic to his respective film.
Vimeo-er Sean Witzke highlights this unique element of the series in a nearly 14-minute long video essay titled “Impossible Mission Force.” In it, Witzke studies the characteristics and influences that De Palma, Woo, Abrams, and Bird brought to their entries. (It’s of course way too soon to have access to any legitimate footage from McQuarrie’s film for use in such a breakdown.)
Witzke begins his analysis by highlighting the similarities and recurring themes throughout the quintet, including death-defying stunts, multi-layered conspiracies and secrecies, the faceless and thankless agency Cruise’s Ethan Hunt works for, “extended cameos from veteran actors,” and much more. He then discusses what distinguishes each film—and each director’s personal tastes and inclinations—from the others. De Palma’s work, for example, “is the most film literate of the franchise.” He makes use of the big-screen, CGI action, but “spends just as much time on silence.” Witzke calls out the homages De Palma pays to other directors, including illustrative footage from the films he references.
In his treatment of Woo’s film, Witzke points out familiar calling cards the director uses, such as doves and dual guns. More interestingly, though, is that he talks about the different Tom Cruise Woo had, compared to De Palma. Witzke explains, 1996 occurred “in the middle of one of the most fertile, creative periods of Cruise’s career, along with ‘Magnolia,’ ‘Eyes Wide Shut,’ and ‘Jerry Maguire.’ This was a period of Cruise as a great actor. Not so in ‘Mission: Impossible II.’ Cruise gives very little of the performance he gave in the first film, because now he’s an action star.”
Watch the entire video essay below for more on the De Palma and Woo treatments of the franchise, as well as Witzke’s take on Abrams’ and Bird’s influences and tendencies with their additions. For more on the “M:I” series and Witzke’s take on it, head over to Grantland to read an interview he gave. [via Live for Films]