True BelieversTim's mission: A CNA “Mission: Impossible” franchise catch-up

I might be the only person who gets really excited to organize big groups for going to the movies.

My wife always wants to spare my vulnerable heart because people often decline to join me. But I keep trying.

When it comes to seeing sequels, I often hear, “But I haven’t seen the other ones.”

I’m the kind of guy who will shotgun all of the movies in a weekend to prepare for a movie release, but I’m also the kind of guy who writes movie reviews for Catholic News Agency.

Maybe the whole not-seeing-the-other-movies is just an excuse to not hang out. I hope not.

But this column is to help my kindred spirits, those who love organizing groups to see a movie. This column could convince your friends that they can see "Mission: Impossible -Fallout,” premiering in the US July 27, even if they haven’t seen the five impossible missions that came before it.

Here is everything you need to know about the “Mission: Impossible” franchise.

(It should be noted that I have yet to see “Mission: Impossible -Fallout” and am simply giving the major plot points that may be addressed in the new film based on my viewing of the trailer. Also, since it is a summation of plot points, it should be established that this entire column is extremely spoiler heavy for the first five “Mission: Impossible” films.)

“Mission: Impossible” (1996, director Brian De Palma)

Easily the most subversive of the franchise, the film introduces us to protagonist Ethan Hunt, played by baby-faced Tom Cruise. Ethan Hunt and his team are part of a fictional branch of military intelligence known as the impossibly named “Impossible Mission Force”, or IMF for short. When his team, led by Jim Phelps (the protagonist of the television series), is all killed with the exception of himself and Jim’s wife, Claire, Ethan is branded a traitor and hunted by the very organization that trained him. In the course of the film, Ethan discovers that Jim, played by Jon Voight, is actually alive and orchestrated the events that instigated this IMF mole hunt.

-Major characters added to the franchise: Ethan Hunt, Luther Stickell (formerly disavowed computer hacker who joins IMF by the end of the film when Ethan is reinstated)


-Ethan’s big rappel moment: This is the famous one. Ethan rappels from the vent of a CIA temperature-sensitive room to steal the NOC list, a list compiling the real names of agents in the field.

-IMF traitors: Jim Phelps and his wife, Claire

-Odd Catholic connection: Ethan finds an arms dealer through a Usenet group search discussing the Book of Job. 1996 had a hilarious understanding of how the Internet worked.

-Should you watch this anyway?

Definitely. It’s arguably the best in the franchise. For the beginning of an action franchise, very few bullets are fired. It is a very tight script and Brian De Palma is a great director.

“Mission: Impossible 2” / “M:I II” (2000, director John Woo)

More in True Believers

I almost quit the “Mission: Impossible” franchise with this one. John Woo is famous for making great gun-fu films out of Hong Kong, but his American films never resonated the same way his other films did. My theory is that the studio wanted the big name of having John Woo attached, but tried reining in his tendency toward excessive violence.

Ethan Hunt has grown his hair long, appropriate to the year 2000. He must stop IMF mole Sean Ambrose, who specializes in mimicking Ethan Hunt in the field, from releasing a virus named “Chimera” into the heart of Sydney. Along the way, Ethan falls in love with a thief named Nyah Hall, played by Thandie Newton.

There isn’t much plot in this movie, plotted by former “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” showrunners Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga. But if you are in the mood for a lot of slow motion gunplay, this movie has it. It is the most angsty of the series and seems to have the least amount of connection to the other films in the franchise.

-Major characters added to the franchise: No one really. Luther returns. Anthony Hopkins almost cameos as Ethan’s superior who gets to say, “It’s not Mission: Difficult, Mr. Hunt. It’s Mission: Impossible.”

-Ethan’s big rappel moment: Hunt rappels from a helicopter into an atrium of a building that has exits and entrances on a time lock. It tries to outdo the previous movie, but it is not all that impressive.

-IMF traitors: Sean Ambrose

-Odd Catholic connection: There is a festival that is meant to celebrate Spanish Holy Week, but it is way off in its portrayal.

(Column continues below)

-Should you watch this movie anyway?

No. This movie is pretty bad. It might be the most 2000 movie that ever existed. Everyone is wearing black. The movie’s length is maybe fifteen minutes long if all of the slow motion was removed from it. The stunts are absolutely absurd. There’s far too much gunplay and wire-fu to make it even seem remotely realistic. But for hardcore “Westworld” fans, both Anthony Hopkins and Thandie Newton appear together years before “Westworld” would ever become a television show.

“Mission: Impossible III” / “M:I:III” (2006, director J.J. Abrams)

Before J.J. Abrams directed both “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”, he was the showrunner of a show called “Alias.” As a wise man once said, “‘Alias’ is a show about a spy!’”

This movie oddly works. Abrams keeps his signature lens flair to a minimum in this movie. It probably has the best opening of the series, with villain Owen Davian (played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) holding Ethan Hunt hostage. The movie revolves around Owen Davian trying to get hold of a mysterious weapon, enigmatically known only as “The Rabbit’s Foot.”

Davian takes special interest in Ethan Hunt after Hunt initially captures him and dangles him out of a plane. Due to more IMF moles, Davian escapes and plots his revenge on Ethan Hunt. To torture Hunt, Davian kidnaps Hunt’s wife Julia, played by Michelle Monaghan.

 As a fun bit of storytelling, Julia is unaware that her new husband is a superspy until the end of the film, where she has to save Ethan’s head from exploding, literally.

Fun fact: While “Mission: Impossible 2” was written by the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” guys, “Mission: Impossible 3” was written by the authors of the new “Star Trek” reboot movies. Also, I’m pretty sure that both the original “Mission: Impossible” and the original “Star Trek” were made by Desilu films.


-Major characters added to the franchise: Julia and Benji, played by Simon Pegg. Benji is the best thing to happen to these movies, so this is a major film in the series.

-Ethan’s big rappel moment: Ethan not only rappels off a large building in China, but uses his tether to arc his way onto another building, only to slide down windows situated at a 45 degree angle.

-IMF traitors: It is a mislead that Lawrence Fishburn’s Theodore Brassel is a mole. Rather, it is charming Billy Crudup’s John Musgrave that is the mole.

-Odd Catholic connection: Ethan has to break into the Vatican sporting a full cassock. He also has to blow up a wall that seems to be part of the catacombs. Don’t worry. In this reality, the Vatican also has the fanciest bathrooms in the world. (Editor's note: In real life, the Vatican does not have particularly fancy bathrooms. They've usually been retrofitted into old buildings. They're fine, but nothing to write home about.)

-Should you watch this movie anyway? This is a love-it-or-hate-it film. The MacGuffin for this movie is remarkably meta and is never revealed. That can burn some people, but I love it. Also, Keri Russell dies a super gross death.

“Mission: Impossible -Ghost Protocol” (2011, director Brad Bird)

The guy who directed “The Incredibles” movies, “Ratatouille” and “The Iron Giant” directed this. It’s his first live action credit and it is fun.

The movie implies that Julia, Ethan’s wife, was killed by a rogue group of Serbian terrorists. Ethan Hunt starts the movie in a Russian prison for executing the men who killed his wife in an unsanctioned hit. He is freed by his IMF team because a deranged philosopher named Hendricks, played by Michael Nyqvist, aims to steal nuclear launch codes from the Kremlin to begin nuclear war.

After the IMF is implicated in the Kremlin’s destruction actually caused by Hendricks, the president executes “Ghost Protocol”, an order that disbands IMF and he disavows every spy in the field. When Ethan is informed of Ghost Protocol, the Secretary of Defense is murdered in front of him and Hunt must take on a protégé named Brandt, played by Jeremy Renner. Over the course of the film, it is revealed that Brandt was actually the field agent who accidentally allowed Julia’s death to transpire.

Through a series of death defying stunts in an automated parking lot, Hunt retrieves the nuclear codes just in time to stop a warhead from hitting San Francisco. In the denouement, the team tells Luther about what he missed and Ethan reveals that Julia’s death was faked to keep her out of harm.

-Major characters added to the franchise: Brandt

-Ethan’s big rappel moment: Using a pair of spy-fi Spider-Man gloves, Ethan Hunt must climb the outside of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. To get back down, he ties a rope to his belt and runs down the side of the building. The rope ends up short and Hunt must launch himself into a broken window.

-IMF traitors: Oddly, no one. But they make up for it in the next one.

-Odd Catholic connection: I didn’t catch any in this one. It’s probably a sign of the decline of our culture in the sickening emptiness of secularism. Either that or the filmmakers didn’t realize in the first three movies that there was a motif forming. One of those two things…

-Should you watch this anyway?

It’s Brad Bird. The guy is a great director. It is weirdly forgettable and kind of bleeds into the next one a bit, especially if you binge them.

“Mission: Impossible -Rogue Nation” (2015, director Christopher McQuarrie)

The end of “Ghost Protocol” teases the existence of an evil version of the IMF known simply as “The Syndicate.” The short version of it is that this is the Hydra to IMF’s S.H.I.E.L.D.

Few people seem to believe Ethan that the Syndicate exists, especially CIA director Alan Hunley, played by Alec Baldwin. Hunley actively campaigns for the disbanding of the IMF. Based on this article, I can see why, based on the sheer number of traitors within the organization.

After Ethan witnesses the execution of a fellow IMF agent, he is ambushed and drugged by the head of the Syndicate, a mysterious figure known as Lane, played by Sean Harris. He awakes, surrounded by the torture experts within the Syndicate, but is helped with his escape by a deep cover operative named Ilsa Faust, played by Rebecca Ferguson.

Faust, whose name is a little too on the nose for my liking, constantly fluctuates her allegiances with Ethan’s team, who are now branded traitors and are on the run from the CIA. Solomon Lane manipulates Ethan’s team into delivering a flash drive that authorizes nearly unlimited funding to the Syndicate. Ethan, to stop Lane, memorizes all of the tracking numbers on the flash drive and destroys it, making him vital to Lane’s plan. Lane begins tracking Ethan to capture him, eventually leading Hunt to trapping Lane. Hunt then delivers Lane to his superiors at the CIA, inspiring Hunley to lead a revamped IMF.

-Major characters added to the franchise: Solomon Lane (he is the only villain to survive the end of the movie and he’s in the trailer for “Fallout”), Ilsa Faust, and Alan Hunley.

-Ethan’s big rappel movie: Neither is technically a rappelling sequence, but they are tonally the same. Ethan hangs on the outside of a carrier plane in the air and later jumps into an underwater computer storage area without oxygen.

-IMF traitors: Everyone who has ever gone missing from any form of military intelligence.

-Odd Catholic connection: None. I guess I was right about the secular conspiracy.


-Should you watch this anyway?

My guess is that this movie is the most intricately tied into “Mission: Impossible -Fallout”. Many characters from “Rogue Nation” appear in the trailer for “Fallout”. Parts 3-5 are more continuity driven than the first two movies, but “Rogue Nation” seems to play most with the mythology.

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It’s a lot to take in, but I hopefully saved you ten-plus hours of watching / rewatching before entering the movie theater this weekend. The long and short is that the “Mission: Impossible” movies are a lot of fun. I don’t know if they were meant to be binged like I did, but it wasn’t the worst way to spend a week.

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