Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It: The Mission: Impossible Story So Far
The genre of television shows adapted into big-screen films has been a tricky field to navigate, as the transition from silver to big screens is never quite as easy as many would think it is, with hits including the 21 Jump Street and Star Trek franchises, alongside notorious flops such as Wild Wild West and CHiPs. But arguably the most successful adaptation of them all that’s not only currently running, but also has a sixth film set to release in July, is the Mission: Impossible franchise, based around the 1966 TV series of the same name. In the films and series, a team of agents working for the covert government agency, Impossible Missions Force (IMF), must stop various terrorist attacks around the globe, receiving instructions through various devices that would self-destruct following the instructions of the assignment. The films brought back one original character from its source material, only to kill them off in the first film, and instead focus on the lead agent, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), versus the team as a whole, with supporting agents Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) reprising their roles in each sequel following their debut. With a franchise spanning over 20 years, well out-living its original series, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to take a walk back with me as we discuss the Mission: Impossible story for each film to familiarize ourselves with where our team is heading in July.
I think it’s safe to say, there will be spoilers ahead, and if you’re upset by these revelations, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions. But don’t worry, this page will not self-destruct in 10 seconds. Enjoy, reader.
- Release: 1996
- Director: Brian De Palma
- Stars: Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Emmanuelle Beart, Jon Voight
In our debut outing for the film franchise, we see a seasoned Jim Phelps (Voight) lead his team of IMF agents, Ethan Hunt (Cruise), Claire Phelps (Beart), whom he is also married to, Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott Thomas), Hannah Williams (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) and Jack Harmon (Emilio Estevez), on a mission to retrieve a disc in Prague that contains the list of operatives currently under non-official cover (NOC). However, the mission goes awry, with Phelps being shot by an unknown assailant and the rest of the team being murdered, aside from Claire, who was thought to be killed in a car explosion with Hannah. Learning from the IMF director that the whole operation was a mole hunt and that he is now suspected of being the mole, Ethan goes on the run and learns of the mole’s codename, the biblical Job, and uses it to attempt and arrange an arms meeting with the mysterious “Max” (Vanessa Redgrave), whom the IMF believe the mole was trying to sell the NOC list to. After officially meeting with Max and agreeing to bring her the real NOC list for $10 million, Ethan recruits two disavowed IMF agents, computer hacker Luther Stickell (Rhames) and pilot Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), to assist him in breaking into the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia to steal the list.
After arriving in London to set up the exchange with Max, Ethan allows the IMF director to discover the city in which they are hiding, but while doing so comes across Phelps, who survived being shot and claims the director is the mole responsible for everything. Having figured Phelps is the true mole and Krieger is assisting him, Ethan arranges the exchange with Max to take place on France’s TGV train to Paris, with directions on where to find the genuine disc while she leaves him instructions on where to find the money and Job.
After verifying the location, Ethan calls Claire and tells her to meet him at the baggage car to pick up the money, but when she arrives she finds Phelps and informs him Ethan will be in the car shortly. Phelps then removes a latex mask of his face to reveal he was Ethan in disguise, confirming Claire to be involved in the plot and is planning to escape with Phelps and Krieger on a helicopter after Phelps kills Ethan. However, after Phelps appears and holds Ethan at gunpoint, killing Claire as she attempts to save his life, Ethan puts on a set of video glasses that relay to the director that Phelps is alive and the mole, and as he attempts an escape on the helicopter, Ethan tethers it to the train, forcing Krieger to fly into the Channel Tunnel. Phelps and Ethan both jump onto the helicopter and Hunt places a piece of explosive chewing gum designed by Max on the windshield of the helicopter, blowing up the chopper along with its passengers as Ethan hops back on to the train. Max is arrested by the director before she can leave the train and both Ethan and Luther are reinstated to the IMF, Ethan flying home still unsure if he’ll accept. However, on his flight home, an attendant asks him through a coded phrase if he is prepared to accept another mission in the same way Phelps was asked at the start of the film.
Mission: Impossible 2
- Release: 2000
- Director: John Woo
- Stars: Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton
Bio-chemist Dr. Vladimir Nekhorvich (Rade Serbedzija) is assisted with entering the United States from Australia to deliver the IMF a biochemical weapon named Chimera and its cure Bellerophon, which he was forced to make by a pharmaceutical company in Australia, but is killed in flight and the weapon stolen by a man using a latex mask to disguise himself as Ethan and trick Nekhorvich. The IMF determine the real culprit is Sean Ambrose (Scott), a disavowed agent who intends to sell both the virus and its cure to the highest bidder, and Ethan is tasked with recovering both while also being forced to team up with professional thief, Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Newton). After finding Nyah and preparing for the mission alongside team members Luther and Billy Baird (John Polsen), Ethan learns that the reason it was insisted upon he work with Nyah is she is Ambrose’s ex-girlfriend. Ethan and the rest of the IMF team stake out Biocyte Pharmaceutical’s laboratories in order to try and find a way to covertly break in and recover the cure while destroying the virus while Nyah reconnects with Ambrose to try and learn more about the Chimera virus and Ambrose’s plans for it.
While attending a horse race, Ambrose meets with Biocyte’s CEO and blackmails him into cooperating with whatever he asks for. The team learn that the virus has a 20-hour dormant period after infecting the host, in which it will mass destruct the victim’s red blood cells if the cure is not delivered in time to the victim. After kidnapping and interrogating the Biocyte CEO, they learn that Ambrose was initially in possession of just the cure but traded it for a sample of the virus, now being stored in the laboratories. Ethan works with his team to break in and destroy the virus, but during the mission, Ambrose poses as Hunt once again and learns of the plan from Nyah, kidnapping her and interrupting Ethan’s destruction of the virus, leaving one sample still intact. However, in order to prevent Ambrose from killing her and getting the virus, Nyah injects herself with it, causing Ethan to have to try and find the cure within a 20-hour period. Ambrose allows Nyah to wander the streets in order to try and cause a pandemic in order to force the Biocyte CEO to sell Ambrose stock options to make him the majority stockholder in the company, prepared to make a fortune as the stock price will soar due to the selling of the cure to the virus.
Ethan tracks down the location of the meeting between the CEO and Ambrose and steals the samples of the cure, working to escape on motorcycle from the facility as he is pursued by Ambrose while Luther and Baird finally track Nyah down to a cliffside and save her from committing suicide just in time. Ethan and Ambrose engage in a brawl initially on the motorcycles followed by hand-to-hand, with Ambrose holding the upper hand for much of the fight and nearly killing Ethan with a knife. However, Ethan is able to overpower Ambrose and kill him and Luther is able to reach Ethan just in time to deliver the cure to Nyah. In response for a successful mission, the IMF clear Nyah’s criminal record and allow Ethan to take a vacation with her in Australia.
Mission: Impossible III
- Release: 2006
- Director: J.J. Abrams
- Stars: Tom Cruise, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg
After years of field work, Ethan has finally retired from working in the field and now trains new agents and is living with his fiancee, Julia Meade (Monaghan), who knows nothing of his true job and works as a nurse at her local hospital. His idyllic life is disrupted when he is recruited by the current director of IMF field operations, John Musgrave (Billy Crudup), to help rescue an agent he trained, Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), while she was investigating black market dealer Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and is teamed with Declan Gomley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Zhen Lei (Maggie Q) and Luther. Ethan and the team successfully recover Farris and two damaged laptops, but as they make their escape, they discover an explosive implant inside Farris’ head that detonates before they can save her.
Upon return, Ethan and the operations director are reprimanded by the current director of the IMF, Theodore Brassel (Laurence Fishburne), and Ethan discovers a postcard with a hidden microdot attached that he and Luther decide to keep secret until they can learn of its contents. IMF technician Benji Dunn (Pegg) is able to recover data from the laptops that reveal Davian will be in Vatican City attempting to obtain an object known as the “Rabbit’s Foot” and Hunt gathers the team to attempt a covert mission to acquire Davian off the books. Before leaving for the mission, Ethan and Julia have an impromptu wedding in her hospital’s chapel and he promises a honeymoon when he returns from his business trip. The team arrive in Rome and conduct their plan, narrowly avoiding a few disasters and successfully capturing Davian and fly him back to the US, with Davian threatening Ethan and his now-wife during the flight causing Ethan to nearly throw him out of the plane.
Upon arrival back in the states, Luther has finally decoded the microdot hidden in Farris’ postcard that contains a video revealing Brassel is a mole leaking information to Davian, and before he can take this information in, Ethan’s convoy transporting Davian across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is attacked and Davian escapes. Ethan rushes to the hospital, remembering his threats against Julia, but is too late as she has already been abducted, with Davian giving him 48 hours to get to Shanghai, China and recover and deliver the real Rabbit’s Foot to him or she will be killed. Before he can begin his mission, Ethan is taken into custody by the IMF and accused of assisting Davian in his escape, however, he escapes with help from Musgrave and travels to Shanghai with the help of his team. After successfully recovering the Foot, he heads to the meeting point, but is drugged and wakes to discover he and Julia both tied to chairs and he has now been implanted with the explosive that killed Farris. Despite ensuring Davian he has delivered the genuine Foot, he kills Julia in front of Ethan, leaving as Musgrave enters and reveals himself the true mole and that the real Julia is still alive, with the victim being Davian’s head of security as punishment for his capture in Rome.
Ethan is able to escape and take Musgrave’s phone, receiving assistance from Benji to use it to find the location of Julia nearby. Ethan arrives at the location and engages in a fight with Davian, who has activated the implant in his head, causing a splitting noise that disrupts Ethan’s actions and narrowly gets the better of him until Ethan kills him right before he can kill the real Julia. Ethan then unties Julia and crafts a jury-rigged defibrillator to deactivate the implant in his head, teaching her how to use his pistol to defend herself until she can resuscitate him. After he electrocutes himself, Musgrave and a henchman arrive and Julia kills them, successfully reviving Ethan after and he explains his real job to her as they head home. Upon arriving back in the US, Brassel commends Ethan for another successful mission and grants him time off to enjoy his honeymoon with Julia.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
- Release: 2011
- Director: Brad Bird
- Stars: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton
On a mission in Budapest attempting to intercept a messenger for an unknown person named “Cobalt,” IMF agent Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) is killed by assassin Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux), who also takes a file Hanaway had containing nuclear codes to give to Cobalt. Hanaway’s handler, Jane Carter (Patton), and team member, Benji (Pegg), who has been recently promoted to field agent since the events of the last film, are forced to extract Ethan early from a mission in a Moscow prison in which he purposely is incarcerated to get close to a source connected to Cobalt named Bogdan. Ethan is then tasked by the IMF to lead the team and infiltrate the Moscow secret files archives located deep in the Kremlin identifying Cobalt, but the mission is interrupted when someone broadcasts across the IMF frequency to detonate a bomb, with Ethan and his team narrowly escaping as the majority of the Kremlin is destroyed.
While Benji and Carter successfully escape, Ethan is captured by Foreign Intelligence Service agent Anatoly Sidorov, who tortures Ethan and puts the public blame for the attack on him, with Ethan breaking free and regrouping with his team shortly after. The IMF extracts the team and holds them in custody for a short time, informing them that the President has activated “Ghost Protocol,” in which the IMF has been disavowed, however the IMF Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) assists them in escaping to finish the mission of tracking down Cobalt. During their escape, a team of Russian forces led by Sidorov attacks and kills the Secretary, being joined by intelligence analyst and the Secretary’s aide, William Brandt (Renner), in their continued assignment. After escaping their pursuers, the team regroups and Brandt informs that Cobalt’s real identity is Kurt Hendricks, a Swedish-born Russian nuclear strategist who has planned to start a nuclear war to start the next stage of human evolution by killing the weak and helping the strong survive and using the Kremlin explosion as a cover to steal a nuclear launch-control device and is set to have a meeting with Moreau at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Through the usage of deception and high-tech gadgetry helping him climb alongside the building’s windows, Ethan and the team nearly successfully convince both Moreau and Hendricks that they are who they’re supposed to meet, until Moreau detects that Brandt is an agent and a chase ensues, with Ethan pursuing Hendricks through the city while Carter goes after Moreau. Though Carter captures the assassin, Ethan loses Hendricks when a sandstorm hits the town, the strategist escaping with the nuclear launch codes. While interrogating her, Moreau attempts to kill Benji and Carter throws her out of a window in his defense, much to the chagrin of Brandt, who accuses her of carrying a personal vendetta for Hanaway’s death, with whom she was in love. However, Ethan also accuses Brandt of keeping secrets, as his fighting skills during the operation have proven to be those untypical of an analyst, to which Brandt finally admits to the rest of the team he was part of a security detail assigned to protect Ethan and his wife Julia while on assignment in Serbia, during which Julia was killed and Brandt resigned from field work.
In retaliation, Ethan hunted down the Serbian hit squad and killed them all, resulting in his arrest that landed him in the Russian prison at the start of the film. Hunt gets information from Bogdan that Hendricks will be in Mumbai and the team mobilize with the plan to have Carter seduce an Indian media tycoon Hendricks will attempt to buy an obsolete military satellite from while Ethan, Benji and Brandt will attempt to stop Hendricks from using the tycoon’s broadcasting system. Hendricks is able to send the launch codes to a Russian submarine in San Francisco and disable the broadcast system, with Ethan in pursuit of him and the launch codes while Brandt and Benji work to get the system back online. Despite Hendricks’ committing suicide to ensure the launch, Benji kills his right-hand man and he and Brandt reactivate the broadcast system, allowing Ethan to deactivate the missile. Sidorov sees Ethan deactivating the missile and determines that the IMF were innocent in the Kremlin bombing. The team later reconvene in Seattle and are given a new mission from Luther, with Brandt initially refusing until Ethan reassures him that Julia’s death was staged so that he could enter the prison to get close to Bogdan and would give her a new identity so that they could live together in secret without the worry of threats against her life, to which a relieved Brandt accepts the mission and Ethan and Julia share a quick smile before he leaves.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
- Release: 2015
- Director: Christopher McQuarrie
- Stars: Tom Cruise, SImon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson
Recently reinstated IMF field agent William Brandt (Renner) is now leading a team made up of Benji (Pegg) and Luther (Rhames) on a mission in Belarus to retrieve a package on a cargo plane containing toxic nerve gas, but Benji and Luther cannot break through the plane’s electronic systems before takeoff, causing Ethan (Cruise) to appear from his hidden spot behind the hill and hop onto the side of the plane, demanding Benji to open the side door as he holds on during the plane’s climb into the air. After Benji finally gets the door open, Ethan finds the box full of the canisters and uses its parachute drop to help him drop back to the ground.
With no one holding the means to possibly obtain the nerve gas in the first place, Ethan determines the sale is being coordinated by the Syndicate, a mysterious international consortium of criminals whose existence has been in doubt by every major intelligence agency for years. Ethan reports to the local IMF substation in London to receive his next orders, but he is drugged and kidnapped by members of the Syndicate and watches an IMF agent murdered before he falls unconscious. Upon waking, he discovers he is in a torture room led by Syndicate members Janik “Bone Doctor” Vinter (Jens Hulten), but before he is subjected to the violence, he escapes with the help of disavowed MI6 agent and current Syndicate member, Ilsa Faust (Ferguson). Meanwhile in Washington, CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) and Brandt testify before a Senate committee on the IMF’s actions and without a current Secretary in charge of the agency, a decision is made to dissolve the IMF and have their operatives absorbed into the CIA, and, knowing Hunley’s distaste for him, Brandt warns Ethan he needs to stay undercover in order to bring down the Syndicate. Ethan follows his lone lead of a blond man in glasses he saw back at the substation, who is former MI6 agent Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).
Following six months of being on the run, Ethan is hiding out in Havana and enlists the help of Benji, who is tired of the weekly interrogations by Hunley and working for the CIA, to help prevent a Syndicate assassination attempt at the opera in Vienna on the Austrian chancellor. The Syndicate have three snipers set up at the performance, including Faust, but Ethan and Benji foil all of their attempts, only for the chancellor to be killed in a car explosion, with Ethan being blamed for the attack and subsequently hunted by the CIA’s Special Activities Division, with Benji choosing to risk the charge of treason and staying with Ethan. Brandt contacts Luther and they track down the trio to Casablanca where they are conducting an operation to infiltrate a power station through their water system, in which Ethan nearly drowns, to recover a file full of the names of Syndicate agents and the location of their money stashes, but Faust takes down Benji and flees with the data, with Ethan and Benji in pursuit of her while Brandt and Luther are in pursuit of them. Despite Faust escaping with the data from both the IMF and Syndicate, Benji reveals he made a copy on a secondary USB drive. Faust returns to London with the drive to her MI6 handler, Atlee (Simon McBurney), revealing she is actually undercover on a mission, and asks to be finished with her assignment, only for her handler to compel her to keep working, while wiping the drive, causing her to return to Lane with an empty drive and reveal her betrayal.
Lane kidnaps Benji and holds them both as hostages for Ethan to decrypt the data in the British “red box,” which requires the Prime Minister’s biometrics to unlock, or he will kill them both. Ethan agrees and devises a plan in which Brandt will reveal their location to Hunley at a charity auction, with the two and Atlee moving the PM to a safe location from Ethan, with Brandt forcing the PM and Atlee to acknowledge the existence of the Syndicate, which was to operate classified missions without government oversight, only for the PM to cancel it in the planning stages. Atlee reveals himself to be a disguised Ethan and when the real Atlee arrives, he admits he has been covering up its existence since Lane went rogue and took the project with him. Thanks to cooperation from the PM, Luther discovers the file contains £2.4 billion in various bank accounts, which Ethan memorizes and destroys the data in order to trade himself for Benji and Faust, only for Lane to release Benji and pursue Ethan and Faust through the streets of London, with Faust narrowly killing Vinter in a knife fight and Ethan trapping Lane in a sealed glass cell and gassing him unconscious. Following this operation’s success, Hunley has a change of heart and testifies to the Senate committee hearing that the IMF should be reinstated, telling Brandt his initial efforts were to allow Ethan to work undercover and Hunley now becoming the new IMF Secretary.
Whew, well, you are now all caught up on the Mission: Impossible story in case you haven’t seen the films in a while or at all. If you haven’t, however, you still have plenty of time until the release of the sixth entry in the franchise, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which is set for a July 27 release.
What’s your favorite film in the Mission: Impossible franchise? Are you excited for the next chapter in the spy action series?