by Alvin G. Burstein
There are two levels on which to enjoy this film. The first is its predictable employment of the features that characterize the whole series of movie adaptations of its television predecessor: the pounding musical theme, the amazing face masks, the fanciful technology, metal crunching car and motorcycle races, bloody hand-to-hand combat, acrophobic dangling, and the familiar mantra, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it….”.
The edge of some of the physical violence is carefully modulated with a dollop of camp. After a fight, the shirt is hardly rumpled, and the suit can merit entrance into a fancy soiree. The risks being run can be enjoyed even more safely than a real roller coaster ride.
The plot, too, is familiar. The Mission Impossible Force must deal with a conspiracy that threatens the civilized word. The degree of threat is such that IMF itself can violate rules, but must not be caught in the act. If it is, “The Secretary will deny all knowledge of….”.
All this is gratifying to IMF buffs. But this episode has another, subtler element. That is the tension between personal obligations and love for the individual and heroic struggles in the service of society as a whole.
In this film the threat to society is posed by a conspiracy peopled by a group called “The Apostles.” The group believes that social perfection can ensue only from the total destruction of society as we know it. A Leninist point of view, but arguably also a jab at religious zealotry. The Apostles have stolen nuclear material and plan world-wide nuclear and epidemic chaos.
In a hint of the personal/institutional tension that the film will explore, it opens with a scene of Ethan Hunt’s—he is the leader of the IMF team—marriage ceremony. The officiant’s invocation devolves into a recitation of the risks the marriage will involve for Julia, his bride, and Hunt begins franticly to protest. He is having a nightmare, and wakes from his restless sleep to receive a package that will begin the IMF war with the Apostles. IMF/Ethan Hunt buffs will recall the backstory of the couple’s painful decision to divorce, for Julia to “walk away,” leaving Ethan unfettered in his role as the IMF leader.
IMF’s pursuit of the Apostles will bring Hunt into the usual encounters with femmes fatales, and Julia will reappear in a way that I won’t spoil by describing. In addition, the issue of individual caring vs. what would aptly be titled “missions” repeatedly arises as the plot unfolds. In an echo of the basis for his divorce, Hunt muffs an opportunity to recover the
stolen nuclear material in order to save the life of one of his colleagues. The decision earns him predictable operational criticism. Hunt, and his IMF team, are contrasted with the Apostle’s by the former’s valuing of individuals at the cost of risking mission failures, and the latter’s unflinching pursuit of their “greater” good.
Many viewers probably won’t care much about that conflict, and will be happy with the film’s pyrotechnics. But it is a complicated and interesting element of the story—and it makes sense of the film’s title.