Your mission, if you choose to accept it…

During an undercover mission in Prague, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) witnesses his spy team picked off one by one—including his mentor and friend, Jim Phelps (Jon Voight).

With the blame of sabotage and treason on his head, Hunt goes on the run to clear his name, entrap the real conspirators and deliver the perfect dose of tentpole bravado.

Why We Love It

Whether they’re appropriate viewing for young persons or not, summer blockbusters always get a pass from parental units. They’re traditionally flashy, shallow and simple enough to play to a broad audience—the perfect family experience. Ten year olds and fifty year olds alike can find enjoyment in an alien invasion spectacle or a terrifying disaster pic. That’s what we get in the summer and it’s welcomed.

So when Brian De Palma‘s Mission: Impossible crept into theaters in the summer of 1996, no one was expecting the classic TV show adaptation to rip off its action movie rubber mask and reveal a twisty, murky espionage thriller—including youngster me. But, really, we should have seen it coming: the original Mission: Impossible was a brains-first mystery-of-the-week and De Palma’s history was steeped in Hitchcockian style and storytelling. In the early days of the Internet, few people casually hit up IMDb to find out the big Mission: Impossible movie was from the man who brought us Sisters, Dressed to Kill and Body Double. Whoops.

The revelation made—and continue to makes—Mission: Impossible a breath of fresh air when sifting through the years and years of summer movies. Tom Cruise, De Palma and countless writers (including Steve Zaillian, David Koepp and Robert Towne), poured detail after detail, twist after twist and techno-babbling dialogue after techno-babbling dialogue into M:I to make it move at a mile a minute. The movie keeps us on our toes, pushing a mystery forward that doesn’t always make complete sense, but Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is either so mentally incapacitated or confident in his plans that we always feel on board.

The fact that, with each repeated viewing, I feel the same adrenaline rush I did back when I was a wee little Patches, is a testament to every aspect of the film. Two years later, De Palma would go completely batshit style-crazy with Snake Eyes, abusing zooms, split-focus diopters and crazy camera angles. In Mission: Impossible, the flashiness is a perfect fit, turning the movie into a weird amalgamation of tentpole actioner (let’s not deny the awesomeness of the infamous train/helicopter fight) and ’70s paranoia thriller. In a world where a stick of chewing gum can become an explosive—tech-savvy camera work makes sense.

And say what you will about modern Tom Cruise, but back in ’96 the movie star was at the top of his game. He makes Hunt slick, with a no-bullshit attitude peppered with moments of absolute terror. There’s no one to trust but his own spinning brain and Cruise’s investment into the world makes the whole movie click. There aren’t many people with eyes wild enough to make watching a character type German bible verses into a computer for five minutes interesting. Tom Cruise is one of those people.

Much like an elaborate spy operation, Mission: Impossible feels strikingly calculated, each piece of the puzzle adding to the mystery, the exhilaration and, most importantly, the fun. The so-classic-it’s-parodied sequence in which Hunt and his team sneak into Langley as firemen, slip an analyst laxatives and wire down to an untouchable room is the epitome of everything the movie gets right. Much like Ethan Hunt keeping steady inches above the floor, you’ll break a sweat—but you’ll love doing it too.

Moment We Fell in Love

The first time I saw Mission: Impossible I thought it was a lot of fun…and I needed to see it again. It took a second viewing for me to love it, quickly affirming that love the minute the movie whips out its balls and kills off half its cast. Recognizable faces like Kristen Scott Thomas and Emilio Estevez were enlisted by IMF to reclaim the coveted NOC List, only to see their plan ripped apart by an unknown assailant. Watching Estevez fly face first into a roof of spikes is a shocking moment. Emilioooooo!

The sequence makes a clear statement: you have no idea what’s about to happen. And it’s a lovely, lovely feeling.

Final Thought

You’ll find people who favor the other two films over this original—M:I 2 for John Woo’s bombastic set pieces or J.J Abrams’s M:I 3 complete with amplified team aspects (which, if you ask me, pale in comparison to the glimpses of the IMF team in the original)—but it’s the first movie that continues to resonate as something unique. Yes, it’s a blockbuster, but it’s also cinema, weaving dazzling special effects, Danny Elfman’s un-Elfman-like score, sharp cinematography and a handful of engaging performances by the likes of Cruise, Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Jean Reno and Ving Rhames, into one satisfying package. Even after watching this movie in my twenties, I still leap off the couch, hands in the shape of a pistol, pretending to be a spy. Wait, pretending? No. I am a spy.

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