Origins: Mission Impossible

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IMDb

Another reboot. Oh, Hollywood, how you do toy with us. No, really, you do. Stop it.

Well, to be fair, Mission Impossible: Fallout isn’t a reboot, but the latest in the long-running M:I film series. Which is an adaptation of the TV show. Which had its first run from 1967 until 1973, and which was then resuscitated from 1988 until 1990. So yeah, it’s been around a while.

The newest film seems to be of the coming-full-circle variety, as some familiar faces have returned for encore performances. It also involves a failed mission and a disavowed Ethan Hunt who doesn’t know who’s a friend and who’s an enemy.

Before we go any further, here’s the trailer:

Hmmm. Does anyone else think there’s an inordinate amount of trailer space devoted to Tom Cruise piloting or latching himself to various forms of transportation? I can understand keeping things spoiler-free, but that’s a little much.

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IMDb

Since the new M:I plot is obviously a deep secret that won’t be revealed until tomorrow, I thought it would be nice to revisit the first time Tom Cruise accepted the part of Ethan Hunt. That, of course, is the 1996 film.

For those who doesn’t remember it, and I’m sure a lot of people do, I’m not going to spoil anything…much. The film opens in a Kiev bedroom with a blubbering Russian in a white tank top explaining himself to an older man in a trench coat. A beautiful woman is lying on the bed, dead or else unconscious. Except she’s not really unconscious or dead, and the older man is not really an older man. They’re not even in a bedroom, but a set, and they’re trying to get a contact name out of the guy. Finally he hesitatingly answers, “Dimitri Miediev.”

The first film is really an homage to the original series in that the opener shows the famous fuse being lighted and traveling across the screen, tantilizing the viewer with little sparks of what’s to come. Only it’s much faster, flashier, and has no pause button to introduce the characters–they just fly by.

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And what would a Mission: Impossible movie be without a call to action? Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) is an Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team leader sitting in first class on a flight to somewhere when a stewardess offers him a taste of Ukrainian cinema. Jim nods and sticks a Beta tape into the player in the arm of his seat.

His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to keep America’s traitor of an ambassador from obtaining the CIA’s NOC list and then keep the list from getting out in the open. He has one with fake names on it, and now he’s after the real one. The message, of course, self-destructs in five seconds. One has to wonder if the Beta player is now ruined, but oh well.

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Jim’s team is already assembled, and they’re old friends. They may be a diverse group of men and women who keep it professional, but just now they’re kidding each other and ribbing Jim about his cushy recruiting assigments. He gets to stay at fancy hotels like the Drake, for instance. What a life.

The team members’ roles are all set: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) will pose as a senator from Virginia, while everyone else will be stationed at various positions around the embassy, with Jim and Jack (Emilio Estevez) providing tech support from the apartment and an elevator shaft inside the embassy, respectively. Right before the mission, Jack presents Ethan with some special chewing gum that has explosive properties when folded and slapped onto any surface. “Just don’t chew it,” he warns. Okeydokey.

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Then…it all goes wrong. One by one the members of the team get killed, except for Ethan. Jim has left the safe house, and tells them over his video watch to abort the mission. Ethan watches in horror as Jim gets shot and falls into the river. Worse, the NOC list is now out in the open.

Ethan meets the program director, Kittredge (Henry Czerny) at a restaurant, and Kittredge lays on more bad news: There’s a mole somewhere in IMF, they keep getting messages from someone named Max about some operation called Job 314, and they suspect Ethan of everything. The whole mission was a mole hunt, and even the ambassador was a plant. The NOC list is at CIA Headquarters. Since Ethan is the last guy standing, Kittredge figures he’s their man. He also threatens Ethan with putting his family in jail for insurance fraud if he doesn’t give himself up.

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Naturally, Ethan bolts, and he does it in spectacular style, with aquariums blowing up around him. Jack’s special chewing gum comes in very handy, both now and later. Ethan staggers back to the safe house, booby trapping it in case of intruders. The wheels in his head are turning, and he spies a Gideon Bible Jim had with him. Stamped with a Drake Hotel logo, no less.

Job 314. Job 3:14.

Ethan whips through the pages until he gets to Job, and reads, “…with kings and rulers of the earth, who built for themselves places now lying in ruins…” Yep, pretty cryptic (Read the context here). Ethan goes back through the search history on Jim’s laptop until he finds an online chat discussing Job 3:14, and it just so happens to have an e-mail service. He sends off a note to Max telling him or her not to use the NOC list because it’s tainted, and for good measure, he quotes the verse at the end.

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That e-mail leads Ethan down a rabbit hole of confusion. He meets Max, he finds out all of his team weren’t accounted for, and he has to infiltrate the CIA’s IMF headquarters. The NOC list is stored on a computer in a room that’s so secure, it can sense the slightest temperature changes. Ethan not only has to copy the list without touching the floor, but he can’t even allow a drop of sweat to fall off his forehead. Ethan shouldn’t be underestimated, though–he’s a master of strategy, disguise, and has learned quickly not to trust anyone too much, if at all. It’s enough to keep him breathless, and us, too.

It’s funny watching this movie almost twenty-five years on, mostly because the technology is so dated. Beta tapes. Nokia phones. Three-and-a-half inch floppies. Chunky laptops. E-mail addresses without prefixes. It’s all from another time.

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The story, however, holds up wonderfully. It’s tight as a drum, and accomplishes a whole lot without excess blood and gore. Ethan even keeps a character from stabbing people in the infiltration scene: “Zero body count,” he cautions. That’s par for the course in the film. Less can be more, and it’s all we need for a plot arc this good, because it allows the audience to just sit back and be thrilled. I honestly think it’s the best of the series, and I hope the latest installment lives up to its legacy. The fact that the new film seems to revisit an old plot arc is a little telling, as if the producers are running out of ideas, but these movies always have a way of surprising audiences.

Tomorrow we’ll be looking at a wartime MGM film, with two major stars gracing a Very Important Picture. Thanks for reading, all, and see you then!

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