Mission: Impossible review – the original still delivers top thrills

Kicking off one of the most popular franchises in the last 20 years, ‘Mission: Impossible’ still holds up as a fun, unique entry in the action spy genre and launched Tom Cruise’s second career arc as an action megastar.

Mission Impossible 1996-tom-cruise,-emmanuelle-béart,-emilio-estevez-and-jon-voightWith Pierce Brosnan’s fan-pleasing debut as James Bond in ‘Goldeneye’ solidifying the 007 franchise as the untouchable spy series, Director Brian De Palma and screenwriters David Koepp and Robert Towne decided to take a different approach and craft a spy whodunit.

Gimmick gadgets and shootouts were kept to a minimum with the emphasis more on daring skill and teamwork — two aspects that helped the franchise distinguish it from the more traditional solo operation spy films.

Jim Phelps’ (Jon Voight) IMF squad is tasked with retrieving a list that would reveal the undercover identities of all IMF agents worldwide. The seemingly routine mission goes sideways as one by one the team gets taken out save Phelps’ field agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise).

Mission Impossible 1996 - Tom Cruise and Vanessa RedgraveBranded a traitor by IMF, Ethan tries to identify the real IMF mole and out their outside contact (Vanessa Redgrave) to clear his name.

Joining him on his new mission is Jim’s widow, Claire (Emmanuelle Beart) and off the book disavowed IMF agents the knife expert/helicopter pilot Franz Krieger (Jean Reno) and computer whiz Luther Stickwell (Ving Rhames).

One of my favorite aspects of the film is how essential it makes each member of Ethan’s squad. Future installments would frequently feature Ethan on his own while his teammates watched from the sidelines, but here at least, the mission required a team effort. It helps that Cruise has some quality actors to play off against. Rhames in particular has surprising chemistry as Hunt’s right-hand man and Henry Czerny is fun as Kittridge, the IMF agent leading the charge to find Hunt.MSDMIIM EC009

At its best, the script keeps Ethan on edge and several steps behind his unseen adversary. On the downside, the main villain is behind the scenes for most of the movie forcing Ethan’s IMF allies to fill in as the outmatched main adversary/obstacle. De Palma pays off the mystery well with a slick sequence as Ethan pieces together who betrayed his team.

Mission Impossible 1996-tom-cruise-and-henry-czernyDe Palma packs so many cool stunts and excitement that you likely won’t notice that Ethan never fires a shot, let alone hold a gun. You won’t feel cheated thanks to the numerous fun action sequences specifically the film’s signature scene of Ethan rappelling into the CIA vault. Years later, it’s still a captivating, edge of your seat scene and arguably the most synonymous of the series.

Of course that means the final act by comparison is a bit underwhelming. It’s just as well since that whole helicopter bobbing and weaving in a tunnel is so over the top and credibility-stretching that it takes you out of the moment somewhat. The effects in this scene weren’t all that convincing in 1996 and haven’t aged well.

Anticlimactic finale aside, this signaled the start of an exciting new action spy franchise and still holds up as one of the top installments of the series.Mission Impossible 1996 - Ethan Hunt escaping Aqua restaurant

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Buy it from Amazon here: Mission: Impossible [Blu-ray]