Somewhere in the Black Sea, a torpedo fired by a Russian submarine in hot pursuit of a phantom proves disastrous for those onboard. The opening scene of Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning I sets the tone for what is to come. The seventh instalment of this adaptation of the TV series by Bruce Geller marks Tom Cruise’s return as Ethan Hunt after a gap of five years.
The question, however, is what sets the adventures of Ethan Hunt — “the mind-reading, shifting incarnation of chaos” — apart from other action franchises? Why are audiences around the world still fascinated by the ‘Impossible Mission Force (IMF)’ 25 years after the release of the first film?
As the movie progresses, the “uniquely trained and highly motivated” Hunt embarks on a wild goose chase through the Arabian desert, running down armed thugs on horseback, and then on to the international airport in Abu Dhabi. What next? All roads lead to the narrow lanes of Rome, where Hunt is trying to outrun bad guys in a ‘Yellow Fiat 500’; yes, you read that right.
Then comes a Gondola ride to a grand private event in Venice and the demise of a key character, which sends Hunt on a mission to avenge her death.
Why all this running and chasing? The mission, should Hunt and his team choose to accept, is to secure a two-part key ‘to rule them all’. It’s the only way Hunt can access the source code of a “sentient” virtual entity — an enemy that is “everywhere and nowhere”, that can pit allies against each other, and provoke foes. Think Sauron, but the AI version.
Variety says the movie was expected to rake in $250 million worldwide over the opening weekend.
How this franchise progressed into a hepatology can be explained with the help of four factors.
Always in the hunt
The first is profitability. No franchise can continue if it is not financially viable and one can only estimate that the well-paid accountants at Paramount Pictures are not giving Mission Impossible movies the go-ahead simply because Ethan Hunt and his team ‘live and die in the shadows, for those they hold close and those they would never meet’.
According to IMDB-owned Box Office Mojo, the first six movies netted an estimated $1.1 billion around the world, making it one of the only two spycraft-based action movie franchises with 10-figure worldwide box office collections, the other being James Bond.
The second, and perhaps more important, is the star factor. Cruise (61) has come a long way since his debut in 1981. His role as Ethan Hunt — “arsonist and fireman at the same time” — has made him a household name around the world, even among audiences who might not be familiar with his remarkable performances in The Colour of Money (1986), Rain Man (1988), Jerry Maguire (1996), A Few Good Men (1992), Eyes Wide Shut (1999), or Vanilla Sky (2001) to name a few.
What also draws audiences to theatres is the fact that Cruise performs many of his breathtaking stunts himself. In Dead Reckoning Part I, for instance, he rides a dirt bike off a cliff only to then parachute his way onto a moving train. Cruise has also mastered the art of adding a fresh layer to his on-screen character every time he returns as Ethan Hunt.
Next, of course, is the franchise’s ability to cash in on nostalgia. This one, in particular, had multiple references to the first instalment. From the use of the code phrase “Bravo Echo One One” to Henry Czerny’s return as CIA director Kittridge and of course, a neat sleight of hand by Cruise himself.
Last, but not least, is the attempt to devise an antagonist and an evil plot in keeping up with the times. From cabals and syndicates hell-bent on having the IMF disbanded and unleashing chaos in the world using biological weapons to having Hunt play “four-dimensional chess with an algorithm” and the use of a tactical nuclear weapon to blow up an airport by the devious AI entity in this instalment, the franchise seldom disappoints.
Part of the credit also goes to director Christopher McQuarrie, who took over as director and screenwriter for Rogue Nation and is still going strong.
For now, the Mission Impossible team has little to worry about critics who say its plots defy logic and are a departure from a realistic portrayal of the intelligence community. As Simon Pegg says, “Details just get in the way.”
As for this instalment, you need to see it for yourself to determine if you will show up at the theatres next year to watch the conclusion. And for Tom Cruise, “The world doesn’t know it but they’re counting on you.”
Also, this message will self-destruct.
(Edited by Prashant)