Does M:I 4 make a peace offering to fans of the TV show?

We watched Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (or M:I 4 for short) this week. Maybe it was a coincidence, but it seemed as if the film, starring Tom Cruise and directed by Brad Bird, was maybe, kind of attempting to apologize to fans of the original 1966-1973 Mission: Impossible series.

A bit of background. Some fans of the show strongly objected to Cruise’s first M:I movie in 1996, which turned Jim Phelps (Peter Graves in the show, Jon Voight in the movie) into the story’s bad guy who eventually gets dispatched, leaving Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as Mr. Impossible Missions Force. Also, in the Cruise version of M:I, Ethan Hunt did it all — mastermind, disguise expert, etc., etc. The IMF was more of a Greek chorus cheering Ethan Hunt on than a real team.

Well, with M:I 4, Cruise, Bird and company seemed to make some homages to the show. (WARNING: spoilers follow)

Early in the film, Ethan Hunt and IMF team member Benji (Simon Pegg) have infiltrated the Kremlin. They bring with them a high-tech screen that they can hide behind. The guard down the hall will look at the screen and see everything as they should be. This is remarkably similar to The Falcon, the only three-part story of the original series, which aired in season four. In that story, Phelps hides behind a projection screen so he can free a prisoner. M:I 4’s version has more bells and whistles but this certainly appears to be more or less the same device.

Later, former IMF field agent-turned-analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner) wears a metallic suit under his clothes, dives into a shaft headed toward massive fan blades that keep a massive computer installation cooled. A robot craft controlled by Benji stops Brandt from falling into the blades using magnetic power. Brandt is suspended mere inches from the blades, evoking a moment in Cruise’s first M:I film. But Benji then steers the robot craft (with Brandt still suspended above it) through a series of shafts. Benji can also raise or lower Brandt as needed.

That device is a larger, more elaborate version of a device Barney Collier (Greg Morris) rigged up in a two-part episode called The Bunker that ran in the third season of the television series. In that show, Barney had a small, radio-controlled saucer that could navigate through ventilator shafts as part of a typically complicated IMF plan. The saucer had to descend and rise as it traveled through the shafts. The device didn’t really work and in some shots you could see the wires holding it up. MI:4, thanks to 21st Century special effects, is more elaborate.

Finally, after the mission has been completed successfully, Ethan Hunt is listening to an audio recording related to his next assignment (should he decide to accept it). It turns out a terrorist group calling itself “The Syndicate” is making trouble. The Syndicate was used in the M:I television series, and other 1960s and ’70s shows, instead of the word Mafia. Syndicate bosses of that time also tended to have Anglicized names.

M:I always had at least some episodes featuring The Syndicate as villains and opted for Syndicate story lines pretty much exclusively in the sixth and seventh season as an economy move (no need to make up signs for fictional European countries, for example).

But the biggest homage to the TV show comes in the film when Ethan Hunt attempts to complete the mission by himself and can’t. He actually needs a team and for team members to blend their talents.

As we said, all of this may be coincidence. But all of the above elements comprise an awful lot of coincidence.

11 Responses

  1. Great analysis. Thanks.

  2. Clearly, the best of the 4 movies. The team concept is there more than ever before.

  3. I think Brad Bird is exceptionally talented. “The Incredibles” had many Bondian moments, and I believe he is a big fan of the 007 films. It is not surprising that he would make a superior entry in the MI series.

    My twin teenage sons and I recommend MI-4 without reservation.

  4. I saw MI:4 yesterday at an IMAX theater in Lincolnshire, IL. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Really good action sequences that surpass even the Bond films in several instances, and some that nod to the Bond series. Some sequences were very intense. I had vertigo a coupla times. Then the ending was even sorta sweet.

    I did not like the first Cruise MI film. Too many people in too many masks made it all too easy/convenient for the writers, and all too annoying/frustrating for the viewer. I don’t think it was a coincidence that Hunt’s mask-making machine malfunctioned in MI:4. Several other pieces of equipment failed too, the glove, the magnet cart. I found that somewhat interesting and did add to the drama.

    I like Simon Pegg, but he came off more than a bit Nigel Smallfaucet here. Tone it down, pal.

    Overall though, MI:4 is high on my “Recommend” list, in IMAX if possible. And for the first time after seeing an MI film, I’d look forward to another in the series.

  5. I thought the same thing and really loved it when they mentioned “the Syndicate.”

  6. Articles like these are convinving me more and more, that this website GETS IT. You understanf that James Bond films are NOT action films – they are ATTITUDE FILMS. ie.they exist in their own universe. Yes, I am one of those who could not believe that they made Jim Phelps a bad guy in the first film, and have boycotted the film series so far. I think that will change with this one – and when I saw “The Incredibles” (a GREAT movie) I saw the love of Bond, the love of Bondian “stalking’ scenes, with the monorail and all. I hope Brad Bird gets to MAKE a Bond film soon, as I think he gets it. Do I think the offspring get it? Sadly no. They must be instructed.

  7. Bond films as “attitude” films. Yeah, I like that. “Attitude” films with action sequences though, certainly.

    Tom Zielinski

  8. […] of that 1966-73 television show). The fourth M:I movie, directed by Brad Bird, was arguably the one most faithful to the original. The first, in 1996, made Jim Phelps, hero M:I in the second through seventh seasons, the villain of […]

  9. […] most recent M:I film, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, was a hit while while paying homages to the original 1966-73 television series, while the original 1996 movie turned Jim Phelps into a villain. Since then, Cruise has had his ups […]

  10. […] a two-part story as well as the show’s only three-part story. Bits of both adventures showed up in the 2011 Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol […]

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