The Tuesday List: The Mission: Impossible Films

It all began with Brian de Palma and Tom Cruise. And people called it confusing, said Tom couldn't be a realistic physical spy.

And now?

Now, we know better.

Let's talk Mission: Impossible. Cue the theme!

The Entirely Objectively Correct Ranking of the Films of the Mission: Impossible Series

"Does this scar look sexy. Just kidding. Of course it does." (photo from

"Does this scar look sexy. Just kidding. Of course it does." (photo from

5.) M:I2- The worst by a wide margin. Overlong and erratically paced (at best). A lot of the stunt work is excellent but a bland villain in Dougray Scott and an obsession with the masks that becomes parodic cancel that out. Director John Woo can’t help but further leaden the production by including all his visual obsessions. The only of the franchise that I would say to skip.

Chiropractic care is weird. (photo from

Chiropractic care is weird. (photo from

4.) Mission: Impossible- Never as confusing as some have insisted, director Brian de Palma announced how little he gave a damn about M:I's history by tearing down the team and corrupting Jon Voight's Jim Phelps. That upset fans of the show, for sure, but it was also thrilling.

Arguably de Palma's most mainstream effort, and certainly his most successful, it is filled with some of his obsessions but reined in to the point that they never overwhelm the story. The Quantico scene is still a work of art, all these years later, and other action set pieces (like the exploded aquarium bearing down on Hunt on a Paris street) have a delightful snap. I know I have this in the second to last slot here, but let me make it clear, this is far and away better than 2.

Tom Cruise depicting my day-to-day life. (photo from

Tom Cruise depicting my day-to-day life. (photo from

3.) M:I:III- The J.J. Abrams pulled the franchise back on track with a humanized Hunt--married, living life as an instructor at the academy, a spy no more. Philip Seymour Hoffman is delicious as the villain--and briefly as Cruise's Hunt--and while the film does dangle Michelle Moynihan as little more than a damsel in distress for most of the running time, it also effectively captures how ill-suited the human bullet Ethan Hunt is for civilian life. Even though the end seems to reassure us that there's a happily ever after, every moment prior indicates this is temporary at best. Which is confirmed by Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol, but we will get there soon.

I honestly go back and forth between this and Mission: Impossible on ranks. Nothing in III compares the bravura action sequence in Quantico headquarters with Cruise's tightly wound high wire act. On the other hand, III is a smarter movie overall with a more well-constructed plot.So perhaps it is a push, a wash. But right now, I favor this one.

This is the best kind of piggy back ride. (photo from

This is the best kind of piggy back ride. (photo from

2.) Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation- The most recent installment seemed to take it personally that there was a Bond movie being released the same year. Opening with Hunt riding a plane, from the outside, in a tux, the film repeatedly asserts that IMF agent is America's equivalent of the shaken not stirred Brit.

Sean Harris as the creepy villain who is everything Hunt is not--a planner who distrusts instincts, loyal to no principles, utterly disinterested in doing things himself--would also feel pretty comfortable in a Bond film.

Rebecca Ferguson's double (triple?) agent, however, does not have an easy Bond counterpart. As Isla Faust, she may even be more dedicated to her job than Hunt. Deep undercover and set adrift by her government, she nonetheless tangles with all opposition with a believer's fervor. Never a damsel, always presented as Hunt's equal, she is a great character and great performance.

Hang in there.  Oh and now I hate myself.(photo from

Hang in there.

Oh and now I hate myself.(photo from

1.) Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol- Brad Bird nails the format here with spectacular stunts, an ensemble where Cruise is front and center but still feels like part of a team, and a complex plot that is understandable but still holds some surprises. 

Jeremy Renner who is used well here (much better than in Rogue Nation), Simon Pegg comes into his own, Josh Holloway in a small bit shows he could be something more than Sawyer from's great top to bottom, to be honest.