A Se­ries of Im­pos­si­bil­i­ties

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Niu Huizai and Pan Menglai Edited by David Ball

The Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble se­ries is one of the longest-run­ning and high­est-gross­ing movie fran­chises in Hol­ly­wood. As Tom Cruise re­turns for the sixth in­stall­ment this year, we look back at what has made the Ethan Hunt char­ac­ter so ap­peal­ing.

Fa­mous movie stars, stun­ning ac­tion se­quences, the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and ex­otic lo­ca­tions... Over the past 22 years, the six Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble films have de­vel­oped the na­ture of block­buster films to their fullest, while mak­ing Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise for over two decades, one of the best known agents on the big screen.

The con­tin­u­ing suc­cess of the se­quels has made the Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble se­ries an ex­cep­tion in the film in­dus­try. Although to­day’s Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble barely re­sem­bles the ini­tial tele­vi­sion se­ries, the film’s hero is al­ready in his 50s, and the au­di­ence who grew up watch­ing the film has grown older and older, when­ever peo­ple see a char­ac­ter on the big screen about to per­form a seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble feat, many will im­me­di­ately think of Ethan Hunt. After all, this is a man who has stolen in­tel­li­gence whilst sus­pended in mid-air, scaled the world’s tallest build­ing and clam­bered onto a fast-mov­ing plane.

Small Screen to Big Screen

In 1966, CBS broad­cast a tele­vi­sion se­ries about an Amer­i­can “Im­pos­si­ble Mis­sion Force.” As its name im­plies, the force was re­quired to per­form those tasks no one else thought even pos­si­ble. As such, the force con­tained many highly-skilled agents, adept at dis­guis­ing them­selves so their tar­gets would pro­vide in­for­ma­tion with­out them even re­al­is­ing it.

Although the se­ries came to an end after seven sea­sons, many peo­ple were still big fans of the Im­pos­si­ble Mis­sion Force’s story. In 1993, ac­tor Tom Cruise and film pro­ducer Paula Wag­ner founded Cruise/ Wag­ner Pro­duc­tions, and the for­mer, who was ob­sessed with the Im­pos­si­ble Mis­sion Force story, de­cided to turn it into a film. In 1996, Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble, di­rected by Brian De Palma and star­ring Tom Cruise, was re­leased. The film fea­tured a clev­erly ar­ranged story about agents, with plenty of fore­shad­ow­ing wo­ven through­out its plot. The film utilised sus­pense and thrill along­side a darker retro tone and in­trigu­ing back­ground mu­sic, at­tract­ing large num­bers of fans. Shot in di­rec­tor De Palma’s inim­itable style, Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble turned out to be a highly dis­tinc­tive com­mer­cial ac­tion film that laid the foun­da­tion for later movies in the se­ries. The scenes where Ethan Hunt hangs sus­pended in mid-air to steal CIA in­tel, and the train and he­li­copter bat­tle in the tun­nel be­came two clas­sic episodes of the film.

The first Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble was a huge suc­cess both with the crit­ics and at the box of­fice, so a se­quel seemed al­most in­evitable. In 2000, John Woo, who had moved to Hol­ly­wood to fur­ther his ca­reer, took over direct­ing du­ties for Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble II. His film fea­tures both his iconic vi­o­lent aes­thetic and sig­nif­i­cantly up­graded ac­tion scenes com­pared to the pre­vi­ous film. How­ever, there was much less sus­pense in the se­quel com­pared with the first film. De­spite in­tro­duc­ing aes­thetic vi­o­lent el­e­ments such as scenes with two he­roes, dou­ble guns, slow mo­tion, and an “iconic white pi­geon,” John Woo failed to match the suc­cess of his Hong Kong clas­sic

A Bet­ter To­mor­row. Even though the se­quel took over US$500 mil­lion at the box of­fice world­wide, the co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Woo and Cruise wasn’t as suc­cess­ful as peo­ple had hoped.

Sur­pris­ingly, Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble II didn’t mark the low-point of the se­ries. In 2006, the fran­chise re­turned with Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble III di­rected by J.J. Abrams. Shot all over the world, the ac­tion scenes were up­graded once again, with im­pres­sive scenes such as when the vil­lain takes hostages at a re­cep­tion in Vat­i­can City and when Ethan leaps from a high-rise in Shang­hai. Un­for­tu­nately, the plot of the film was still some­what lack­ing, and the ab­surd deaths of the two vil­lains at the end of the movie were even more con­fus­ing. In the end, Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble III made more than US$400 mil­lion at the box of­fice glob­ally, but its poor rat­ings caused many to worry about the fu­ture of the se­ries.

Just as peo­ple were be­gin­ning to think Ethan Hunt wouldn’t re­turn, in 2011, Brad Bird’s Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble - Ghost Pro­to­col was re­leased, re­cap­tur­ing the glam­our of the se­ries’ old days. Ghost Pro­to­col di­rected by Brad Bird con­tin­ued the thrilling plot and high-tech spy­ing el­e­ments from pre­vi­ous films, and high­im­pact scenes were added to the film, such as the Krem­lin be­ing blown up, a thrilling chase through a sand­storm in Dubai and our hero climb­ing the world’s tallest build­ing—the Burj Khal­ifa. In ad­di­tion, more com­edy was added with the scenes fea­tur­ing the char­ac­ters Brandt and Benji, played by Jeremy Ren­ner and Si­mon Pegg re­spec­tively. Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble IV out­classed the

pre­vi­ous three films in terms of ten­sion, ex­cite­ment and grand­ness. For that rea­son, the film achieved the high­est suc­cess of all those among the se­ries, earn­ing US$695 mil­lion world­wide, mak­ing it the 5th high­est gross­ing film of 2011 world­wide and the best per­form­ing film in the se­ries.

Per­haps ben­e­fit­ing from the ad­di­tion of new char­ac­ters, from Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble IV on­wards, Ethan Hunt was no longer solely re­spon­si­ble for the fight­ing, cool tech­nol­ogy and hu­mour. In 2015, the fifth film in the se­ries, Rogue Na­tion, di­rected by Christo­pher Mcquar­rie was re­leased. In the movie, Ethan and his team are chased by an or­gan­i­sa­tion called “Rogue Na­tion,” the mem­bers of which have ex­tra­or­di­nary skills. Whilst on first look the movie seems very sim­i­lar to the style of Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble IV, it ac­tu­ally of­fered au­di­ences a dif­fer­ent and unique take. This is be­cause, apart from adding im­pos­si­ble mis­sions such as when Ethan must hold his breath in the un­der­wa­ter en­gine room, it also in­tro­duced a fe­male char­ac­ter like Ethan—ilsa Faust—played by Re­becca Fer­gu­son, who re­peat­edly coun­tered tra­di­tional ex­pec­ta­tions, for ex­am­ple by sav­ing the hero.

The Evo­lu­tion of an Idol

From 1996 to 2018, peo­ple’s liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment and the de­vel­op­ment of science and tech­nol­ogy un­der­went huge changes. One con­stant how­ever is that the dif­fi­culty of the mis­sions in the se­ries al­ways in­creases. What amazes many peo­ple how­ever is that Ethan Hunt played by Tom Cruise has starred in ev­ery movie since the very be­gin­ning.

Although Tom Cruise has ap­peared in many films, he re­ally came to promi­nence in Top Gun, the Tony Scott buddy-movie about fighter pi­lots. In the movie, 24-year- old Tom Cruise rode a mo­tor­cy­cle sport­ing a fly­ing suit and a pair of avi­a­tor sun­glasses. Through his clas­sic in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a fighter pilot, he laid a solid foun­da­tion for his early ca­reer. The in­flu­ence of the movie was not just lim­ited to the big screen how­ever. The roar of the jet en­gines, sim­ple story of friend­ship, ro­man­tic love, beau­ti­ful images and ex­cit­ing sound­track all con­tribut­ing to make the film an ex­cel­lent “pro­mo­tional film,” which brought about the high­est en­list­ment rates for the US Navy since the end of World War II. After Top Gun, Tom Cruise be­came the first choice when­ever a hand­some film star was needed. For ex­am­ple, in Days of Thun­der, a movie about stock car driv­ers grow­ing up, Tom Cruise was di­rec­tor Tony Scott’s first choice and Cruise only needed to swap his fly­ing suit for a rac­ing suit.

Of course, Tom Cruise wanted to learn from other renowned ac­tors, ob­serve and learn from real life and prac­tice act­ing, so he part­nered with Paul New­man in The Color of Money and Dustin Hoff­man in Rain Man, the two of which won Os­cars for their per­for­mances. Af­ter­wards, Cruise took on new chal­lenges: he starred as a dis­abled veteran in Born on the 4th of July, a lawyer in A Few Good Men, a ten­ant farmer aveng­ing his fa­ther in Far and Away, and even a vam­pire in In­ter­view with the Vam­pire. Although he tried his hand at all types of films, his act­ing still didn’t re­ceive recog­ni­tion even after he ap­peared in Stan­ley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Un­ex­pect­edly, Tom Cruise didn’t seem to want to be a real “method” ac­tor, in­stead de­cid­ing to be­come an ac­tion star in com­mer­cial block­busters. Be­gin­ning with his co­op­er­a­tion with Brian De Palma in Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble back in 1996, Tom Cruise has starred in a whole host of ac­tion and sci-fi films, and worked with sev­eral big-name direc­tors to make their films more com­mer­cially pop­u­lar.

Tom Cruise co­op­er­ated with John Woo in Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble II, Steven Spiel­berg in Mi­nor­ity Re­port and War of the Worlds, Ed­ward Zwick in The Last Samu­rai, Michael Mann in Col­lat­eral, and Bryan Singer in Valkyrie. He has pro­duced one or two films ev­ery year, show­ing an­other side of him­self, con­stantly work­ing on im­prov­ing his com­mer­cial value and mak­ing him­self an ex­am­ple for oth­ers as a “dili­gent Hol­ly­wood ac­tor.” After co­op­er­at­ing with sev­eral big-name direc­tors, Tom Cruise re­alised he needed to do more to be­come a top ac­tion star. Just like Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger with The Ter­mi­na­tor, Sylvester Stal­lone with Rambo and Bruce Wil­lis with Die Hard, he had to have his own se­ries of ac­tion movies—and that se­ries was to be Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble.

In fact, movie se­ries based around agents and spies are not un­com­mon on the big screen, as the James Bond se­ries has shown. Though the main char­ac­ters have been por­trayed by dif­fer­ent ac­tors, the movie se­ries still en­dures.

In­ter­est­ingly, the qual­ity of the Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble se­ries has re­mained

sur­pris­ingly sta­ble. Be­sides the sec­ond and third movies, which were less pop­u­lar be­cause of stylis­tic changes, au­di­ences have re­mained loyal to the se­ries from the first movie 22 years ago un­til the sixth movie this year. This may well be be­cause the se­ries has kept its main star, al­ways stayed rooted in re­al­ity and re­quired its ac­tors to do their own stunts. Tom Cruise be­lieves that the Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble se­ries is about loy­alty and friend­ship, as well as sav­ing friends at the ex­pense of ev­ery­thing.

Fe­male Agents

Sim­i­lar to the fa­mous Bond girls, many of the fe­male char­ac­ters in the Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble se­ries have also be­come high­lights. How­ever, those in the Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble se­ries are more com­pli­cated in terms of their iden­ti­ties, roles, and func­tions and some­times even just as pop­u­lar as Ethan Hunt in at­tract­ing au­di­ences.

The ear­li­est fe­male char­ac­ter from Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble to re­ally im­press was Claire, a mis­er­able de­tec­tive who was a mix­ture of both good and evil in a role said to have been in­spired by Ves­per Lynd, the hero­ine in Ian Flem­ing’s Casino Royale. Claire was one of the film’s vil­lains who in the end was shot dead be­cause she couldn’t bear to hurt Ethan. Fans were up­set at the loss of her char­ac­ter, but Em­manuelle Béart— some­times dubbed the most beau­ti­ful “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble Girl” —who played Claire went on to star in sev­eral big films. In fact, Brian De Palma orig­i­nally wanted Juliette Binoche to play the role, but Em­manuelle Béart com­pleted the "im­pos­si­ble mis­sion" pretty well.

Bri­tish ac­tress Thandie New­ton grad­u­ated from Ox­ford Univer­sity. She starred along­side Ni­cole Kidman in the 1991 movie Flirt­ing, a love story about a Ugan­dan school­girl, after which she ap­peared in In­ter­view with the Vam­pire with Tom Cruise. In 1998, she fea­tured along­side ac­tors such as Jonathan Demme, Bruce Wil­lis and Den­zel Wash­ing­ton in the films Beloved and Be­sieged, be­com­ing one of Hol­ly­wood’s most pop­u­lar ac­tresses. Such a re­sume led to Tom Cruise strongly rec­om­mend­ing her as the hero­ine of Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble II, play­ing the role of Nyah Nord­off-hall, a char­ac­ter tai­lor-made for her. Un­der the lens of di­rec­tor John Woo, Ethan and Nyah’s some­what tor­tu­ous love story met au­di­ences’ ex­pec­ta­tions for a fe­male char­ac­ter in the se­ries. Nyah was brave to pur­sue love and ha­tred, and cher­ished friend­ship and loy­alty, thus build­ing a brand-new im­age for what women in Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble films should be like.

In Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble III, Ethan Hunt’s fi­ancée, Ju­lia Meade again rose peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions for the fe­male role. How­ever, the film didn’t fo­cus too much on her charms. In­stead, agent Zhen Lei, played by Chi­nese ac­tress Mag­gie Q, brought her skills as an ac­tion star leav­ing a deep im­pres­sion on fans. It’s worth men­tion­ing that Mag­gie Q was not only the first fe­male Asian char­ac­ter in the Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble se­ries, but also one of the few fe­male vil­lains who didn’t have any love in­ter­ests with Ethan. After the film, Mag­gie Q went on to star in the Amer­i­can TV drama Nikita, which was sim­i­lar to the Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble se­ries and took her ca­reer to new heights.

The most out­stand­ing fea­ture in Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble IV was the dou­ble "Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble Girls": one good and one evil. The “good girl,” Jane Carter played by Paula Patton some­how changed the style of the se­ries as she “freed” Ethan from fight­ing alone and moved the em­pha­sis to team­work. Paula Patton demon­strated her fight­ing and danc­ing abil­i­ties by se­duc­ing the tele­com ty­coon at a dance and fight­ing with pro­fes­sional killers in Dubai. How­ever, the other “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble Girl,” Léa Sey­doux, who star­ring as a killer in the film, was an even big­ger sur­prise to au­di­ences. Although this del­i­cate-look­ing killer died not long after the be­gin­ning of the movie, Léa Sey­doux’s act­ing po­ten­tial as an agent im­pressed many and even led to her be­ing cast as the Bond Girl in the 2015 film, Spec­tre.

Although Tom Cruise has re­mained the hero of the Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble se­ries, he has some­times been out­shone by the fe­male char­ac­ters. This first oc­curred with the ap­pear­ance of Ilsa, a fe­male MI6 agent in Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble V - Rogue Na­tion. Ilsa, played by Re­becca Fer­gu­son was a con­fi­dent, cold-blooded agent who was good at fight­ing, car rac­ing, div­ing and shoot­ing. She was as at­trac­tive and ag­ile as Ethan and some­times even out­classed him. Re­becca Fer­gu­son, who has gone on to be­come a pop­u­lar ac­tress in her own right, was the big­gest sur­prise of the film. Per­haps that’s why au­di­ences are look­ing for­ward to her ap­pear­ance in the up­com­ing Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble VI de­spite Vanessa Kirby star­ring as a ri­val to Tom Cruise’s char­ac­ter. After all, see­ing a fe­male agent who can stand toe-to-toe with Tom Cruise is not some­thing you see ev­ery day.

A scene from Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble

A scene from Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble: Rogue Na­tion

A scene from Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble: Fall­out

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