Review: “Mission: Impossible” (Film)

Well, for the final review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a look at a spy thriller movie from 1996 called “Mission: Impossible”.

Although “Mission Impossible 2” was one of the first films I bought on VHS when I was a teenager, I still hadn’t seen the first one… and it seemed like a good thing to end this series with.

So, let’s take a look at “Mission: Impossible”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS and the film itself contains some FLICKERING IMAGES/LIGHTS (although I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to be an issue).

After an elaborate scene showing a team of Impossible Missions Force agents managing to trick someone into revealing the name of a person of interest, “Mission: Impossible” begins with a senior agent called Jim Phelps (played by Jon Voigt) getting a secret mission briefing whilst on a flight to eastern Europe.

Someone plans to steal a list of US secret agents from the American embassy in Prague and it is up to the IMF to monitor the theft and track the stolen information to the mysterious buyer. So, Jim gathers an elite team of agents – led by Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise) – in a safe house and starts to concoct a plan.

A daring spy mission in Eastern Europe? What could possibly go wrong?

At first, the mission goes well and – despite a few unexpected setbacks – the theft is recorded. Ethan and another agent wait outside the embassy, ready to follow the thief. However, something is wrong! A lift malfunctions, crushing the team’s tech guy. Ethan gets an order from Jim to abort the mission, but Ethan continues the mission anyway.

A while later, Jim sends Ethan a panicked message saying that he is being followed – before a mysterious assailant shoots him and hurls him off of a bridge. Meanwhile, another member of Ethan’s team is killed by a car bomb, before the final remaining member is stabbed by persons unknown.

Panicked, Ethan places a call to headquarters – where he is told to meet up with another senior agent in a nearby restaurant. When he arrives, the other agent tells him that the mission was a decoy mission that the IMF had concocted because they believed that there was a mole in the agency. Since Ethan is the only survivor, suspicion falls onto him.

Realising that he is being framed, Ethan escapes the restaurant in a dramatic way and tries to track down the real mole before it is too late…..

Either that, or he really doesn’t want to be left with the bill.

One of the first things that I will say about “Mission: Impossible” is that it is a mildly more ‘realistic’ spy film than the “James Bond”-esque action movie that I had expected it to be. It’s compelling and thrilling but, surprisingly, it isn’t really an action movie.

“Mission: Impossible” is a movie with no elaborate gunfights and relatively few chase scenes. Instead, it is a movie where Ethan Hunt must use his knowledge, spy skills, cunning, daring and intellect in order to prevail.

For example, this scene (involving disguises and stealth) is pretty much the polar opposite of the average James Bond movie…

As such, the film’s most spectacular “action” scene is kind of out of character when compared to the rest of the film. Although the film mostly takes a surprisingly “realistic” approach to violence (eg: it rarely happens and it often has serious consequences), all of this realism goes completely out of the window during a thrilling, but utterly ludicrous, chase/fight scene involving a train and a helicopter near the end of the film. Still, the scene in question is certainly thrilling enough – if hilariously silly.

Not to mention that the mid-1990s CGI effects in this scene aren’t too noticeable most of the time.

Yet, at the same time, “Mission: Impossible” isn’t a slow-paced ultra-realistic spy film either. If anything, it’s more like a heist movie mixed with a detective movie and it is brilliant. Although I would have liked to see more “heist”-style scenes in the film, the one that we do get to see is brilliantly clever, expertly-planned and thrillingly suspenseful.

Quite literally in this scene, which is a suspenseful scene involving suspension.

Plus, the spy gadgets in this film are wonderfully brilliant. Although the film is over twenty years old, a lot of the gadgets are timelessly fun to see – such as Ethan’s elaborate disguises, the secret tracker chips, the hidden cameras, the laser deflectors, the exploding chewing gum, the self-destructing video cassettes, the video phone watches etc….

Not only is this pen tipped with a mild poison, but it can also be used to write Teeline shorthand too (although, annoyingly, the whole message isn’t visible).

Still, this film’s age shows somewhat whenever technology is involved – but this just equates to lots of reassuringly bulky gadgets and 1990s nostalgia 🙂

Even though all of the computers use a fictional operating system, the websites still look brilliantly ’90s 🙂

And, yes, Ethan actually has to use a payphone too (although retro mobile phones are shown in another scene though).

Likewise, a fair chunk of the film is devoted to Ethan investigating, gathering a new team and thinking about what is happening too. Although the film isn’t that much of a character-based drama, there’s a decent amount of characterisation for Ethan, some of his team members and the mysterious villains. Likewise, Ethan’s uncertainty about who he can trust is also a key part of the film too.

Ethan’s confusion and shock at the early events of the film are also reflected in a fairly subtle, but dramatic, way that really helps to add some extra drama to the film (basically, he’s shown to be affected by the events of the film but stoically continues his mission).

For example, Ethan is briefly shown to have a guilt-induced nightmare about not getting to Jim in time to save him.

..And when he is awoken by another character entering the room, he overreacts slightly due to his jittery mood.

In terms of pacing and storytelling, this film does really well. At 105 minutes in length, this film is just about short enough to remain focused and dramatic throughout.

Likewise, even though some parts of the plot can get a little bit confusing (including a random location jump from America to London that isn’t even revealed or explained until the scene after it has happened) the film still remains compelling throughout. Likewise, the more thrilling heist/spy-related scenes are also contrasted with slower dialogue-based scenes too.

Such as this discussion involving two members of Ethan’s new team (played by Ving Rhames and Jean Reno).

In terms of the set design and lighting, it’s fairly good – with lots of lush, vivid locations in Prague, some slightly more understated scenes set in London, some vaguely futuristic office locations and a wonderfully dramatic scene that is set on board a French TGV train (although, since it travels through the Channel Tunnel, it should be labelled as a “Eurostar” train rather than a “TGV” ). These spectacular settings are also contrasted with slightly more understated “safe house” locations too.

The scenes set inside the Prague Embassy look wonderfully sumptuous 🙂

By contrast, the safehouses look… marginally less sumptuous. But, still, a room like that in London is still on the posh side of things…

The film’s lighting is reasonable good too, with the lighting during the Prague scenes being wonderfully gloomy and atmospheric . Plus, there’s an excellent use of film noir-style lighting in a later scene set in a train’s cargo compartment too.

There’s some really cool “film noir”-style lighting in one part of the film.

And check out this wonderfully gothic lighting in some of the Prague-based scenes 🙂

Musically, the film is as spectacular as you would expect – with the standout musical moment being a rather dramatic rendition of the famous “Mission Impossible” music during the opening credits and a later scene in the film.

All in all, this is a fun, complex spy thriller movie that contains an intriguing plot, lots of cool gadgets and a decent amount of suspense. Yes, I’d have liked to have seen more “heist” style scenes (since the one scene of this type is really good) and – yes- the ending is a bit silly.

But, if you want a slightly more understated classic Hollywood thriller movie where the main character uses his mind much more often than he uses a gun, then this film might be worth checking out. Although it’s really thrilling, just don’t expect it to be a James Bond-style action movie though.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four.