As was announced a few days ago, Paramount is fast-tracking a new Mission: Impossible picture for a May 27th, 2011 release date (literally one day after the release of The Hangover 2). And I thought summer 2011 couldn't get any more crowded. Anyway, the new picture will of course star and be produced by Tom Cruise, and JJ Abrams will have some kind of creative hand. I'm certainly hoping that neither he nor one of his minions (Drew Goddard or Matt Reaves) ends up helming the picture. I have nothing against them or their talents. I liked Cloverfield and Matt Reaves wrote some terrific late-season episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Lost, and Alias respectively. But what I love about the series is that it's really the only ongoing franchise that is absolutely a director's sandbox through and through. For three films so far, we've gotten the chance to see distinctive filmmaker take a crack at the IMF playbook and craft an action thriller that both stays within the 'this mission, if you choose to accept it' realm and exist as a definitive piece of work from that director. Come what may, Mission: Impossible is very much a DePalma picture, just as Mission: Impossible 2 was the ultimate John Woo film. And the third picture, while slightly overrated, remains a thesis study for the strengths and flaws of JJ Abrams.
The second entry was a goofy romantic epic that felt like John Woo was almost spoofing himself. Its reputation has not grown in stature, but it remains a lush, fun, and epic action film. I personally think the reason MI2 works (for those like me who enjoy it) is that it's so unabashedly 'male wish-fulfillment fantasy'. If you're a ten-year-old boy who plays out adventure scenarios with toy guns in his back yard, Mission: Impossible II is pretty much the movie you're going to make up in your head. Tom Cruise has never looked or acted cooler, the clothes and hardware are sharp, and Thandie Newton is an even match for Ethan Hunt (a Wonder Woman to his Clark Kent) while looking great to boot (bonus points for keeping her relevant to the entire picture without having her play hostage). Granted, I still think the movie works on technical merits, as the action scenes in the second half of the picture are terrific and wonderfully 'clean' (ie - skillfully edited and easy to follow at all times), the romantic subplot is playful and adult, and the picture feels wonderfully big and lush. In a time when summer entertainments try to score novelty points by going dark and anti-hero, John Woo's MI2 was a gloriously old-fashioned and romantic (in a literal and literary sense) action MOVIE.
I love that each film is uniquely in the style of its auteur. I enjoy the franchise because it truly is a director's franchise. Frankly I couldn't care less if Cruise starred in these films or not, although he hasn't made a truly bad movie since Days of Thunder back in 1990. As long as each sequel allows a different visionary director to take a crack at the big-budget spy genre, it's a series worth keeping. And I'll be first in line (or at the first press screening) to check out (insert director here)'s Mission: Impossible IV.