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RogerEbert.com and the Mission: Impossible Movies

With “Mission: Impossible - Fallout” hitting theaters tomorrow night, it’s time to look back at how Ebert and our other writers have felt about the previous installments. Below is a collection of all of our “Mission: Impossible” reviews, as written by Roger Ebert, Matt Zoller Seitz and Brian Tallerico. 

Roger Ebert first met Tom Cruise’s version of Ethan Hunt in May 1996, when the first “Mission: Impossible” came to theaters as not just a TV adaptation for a star vehicle for Cruise. Ebert’s first sentence in his 3-star review for this movie keyed into a problem he’d have with almost all of the “M:I” films: “I’m not sure I could pass a test on the plot of ‘Mission: Impossible. My consolation is that the screenwriters probably couldn’t, either.” He later adds because this movie in particular is the work of “a master of genre thrillers and sly Hitchcockian wit, it’s a nearly impossible mission to take the plot seriously.” 

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But as if predicting the appeal of what would become a massive, enduring franchise, Ebert wrote: “The bottom line on a film like this is, Tom Cruise looks cool and holds our attention while doing neat things that we don't quite understand -- doing them so quickly and with so much style that we put our questions on hold, and go with the flow.” He concluded with: “When the movie is over, it turns out there wasn't anything except the flow. Our consolation, I guess, is that we had fun going with it.”

On May 24, 2000, Ebert reviewed the first sequel in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, John Woo’s “Mission: Impossible II.” Awarding the film three stars, Ebert deemed Hunt a “007 for our time” in his opening paragraph. That James Bond comparison lingers throughout the piece, as he discusses the “M:I-2” villains as being in “the Bond tradition,” while talking about how the fate of Thandie Newton’s character (that she survives the movie) goes against what usually happens to Bond girls. But when it comes to whether this second 'Mission: Impossible' holds up to bond movies, Ebert concedes that “it’s more efficient than the Bond pictures, but not as much pure fun.” 

Ebert was less impressed by “Mission: Impossible III,” directed by J.J. Abrams. In a 2 1/2-star review published on May 4, 2006, Ebert further expressed a slight indifference to Hunt, saying that he’s “in some respects the least inquisitive man in action movie history.” He writes: Why does Ethan risk his life and the lives of those he loves to pursue objectives he does not understand? The answer, of course, is that the real objective of all the ‘M:I’ movies is to provide a clothesline for sensational action scenes. Nothing else matters.” 

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But Ebert’s final paragraph is a stinger, and perhaps reflective of how a lot of viewers felt about the franchise after this installment: “I saw ‘M:I’ and ‘M:I II’ and gave them three-star ratings because they delivered precisely what they promised. But now I've been there, done that, and my hope for "M:I IV," if there is one, is that it self-destructs while mishandling the Anti-God Compound."

Years later, Ebert shared moviegoers’ excitement when “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol” came out, and when it had Cruise dangle on the side of the world’s tallest building. In his 3 1/2-star review of the film, published on December 14, 2011, Ebert called that sequence “one of the most spellbinding stretches of film I’ve seen. In the way it's set up, photographed and edited, it provided me and my vertigo with scary fascination.” He went on to praise the movie’s “unexpected director,” Brad Bird, saying that although this is his first live-action movie, “You’d think he’d been doing thrillers for years.” Ebert closed the review with a funny anecdote from Clint Eastwood about his own wild stunts making “The Eiger Sanction,” circling back to Ebert’s bewilderment about how Cruise could have pulled off his Burj Khalifa stunt.  

In 2015, Matt Zoller Seitz reviewed “Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation” and gave the film four stars, calling it “glorious” and cheering on the many crazy things that Cruise does in the movie. Seitz wrote that “’Rogue Nation’ feels like it could’ve been a movie by [Buster Keaton’s] most fervent disciple, Jackie Chan … it has a loose, hurting quality.” In closing, he said that the movie “knows exactly what it wants to be, and makes sure that Tom Cruise never stops running.” 

And what of the latest one, Brian Tallerico’s four-star review of “Mission: Impossible - Fallout”? You’ll have to read that by clicking here, but safe to say that he thinks those comparisons to “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Die Hard” are warranted.

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