Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Impossible Expectations

Despite much initial anticipation, the big screen Mission: Impossible series got off to a less-than-auspicious start for me in 1996, when it took the TV series' lead character, heroic IMF leader Jim Phelps (played by the late Peter Graves), and transmogrified him into the movie's traitorous villain (played by Jon Voight), all as a way to cement Tom Cruise's singularly uninteresting agent Ethan Hunt in the position of the Impossible Mission team's new number one. As a longtime fan of the show (which you can now watch online in its entirety couresty of Netflix), I couldn't fathom the decision to take a character who was, if not iconic, still fairly beloved, and dispatch him in a manner that would be meaningless to newbies, and absolutely insulting for us old-timers (granted, I was fifteen at the time, but still...).

In fact, it wasn't until the franchise's third try in 2006 (the less said about 2000's M:I-II the better), when co-producer Cruise brought on director JJ Abrams (for his feature debut) that my opinion of the movie series shifted. As opposed to the hollow excesses of Brian DePalma on the first flick and John Woo on the second, Abrams (whose TV series Alias was practically a dry-run for this thing) actually seemed interested in preserving the tone and style of the TV show (right down to having composer Michael Giacchino reprise Lalo Schifrin's indelible "The Plot" musical motif), while updating it for modern audiences. That he so effectively energized the Mission: Impossible movie brand made it a bitter pill for me that his entry was the lowest grossing of the three. 

Luckily, those grosses weren't low enough to discourage Paramount and Cruise from taking another go, and bringing Abrams back aboard as producer and scenarist. The new Mission, sans roman numeral but with the subhead Ghost Protocol, is directed by Brad Bird (he of The Incredibles and Iron Giant fame) in his live action debut, and it sure looks like he's done himself proud with the teaser that debuted last week in front of Transformers. In addition to the usual death-defying stuff from Cruise, we also see Jeremy Renner, who, between this, Avengers, and the new Bourne, seems to have cornered the market on movie spies, and who early scuttlebutt has taking over the series' lead role from Cruise (though part of me also wonders if that's some misdirection to hide his real role -- as the villain, perhaps?). 

Either way, I'm actually enthused to see how this all comes together. An impossible standard, perhaps? I guess we'll find out come December:


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