'Mission: Impossible' Succeeded by Destroying the Original

It's been 25 years since Ethan Hunt first came into our lives.
'Mission: Impossible' Succeeded by Destroying the Original

Amazingly it’s been 25 years since the first Mission: Impossible movie hit theatres; that’s a quarter-century of exploding briefings, rubber masks, and epic stunts that somehow haven’t killed Tom Cruise … yet. How has this one series succeeded when so many other adaptations of classic TV shows from that time failed miserably? No one’s eagerly anticipating the seventh installment of Paul Hogan’s Flipper franchise, for example.

Looking back at the original film, we can’t help but speculate that part of its success is due to the fact that it not only deviated from its source material it aggressively attacked it. For starters, the whole opening sequence in which Ethan Hunt and the IMF gang steal a floppy disk full of, like 1 MB of highly-sensitive information. The opening scenes ape the traditional set-up of a classic Mission: Impossible episode -- but instead of coming out on top and wrapping up the story in time for an episode of Hollywood Squares, most of the IMF team is violently murdered faster than you can say, “Wait, is that Coach Bombay?”

Right from the jump, these movies upended what we all thought of as a Mission: Impossible story, concocting a scenario in which a lone surviving hero actively works against the IMF and the U.S. government. The most memorable set-piece literally involves Ethan breaking into CIA headquarters like a sweaty marionette.

But most insanely of all, the movie’s villain isn’t some random crook; it’s Jim Phelps, Ethan’s mentor. Which was a solid twist for young audiences at the time but played on a whole other level for fans of the TV show. Phelps was one of the heroes of the original series, and, as we’ve mentioned before, the filmmakers originally wanted actor Peter Graves to reprise the role. But TV’s Phelps wasn’t into the idea of turning the character he portrayed for literal decades into a murderous psycho, so instead, they hired real-life villain Jon Voight

While a lot of us were perhaps too young to truly appreciate it, consider now what an intensely old choice that was; to bring back one of the original characters as a mentor/father figure for our new star, only to reveal in the final act that he’s an evil dickwad. That’s like bringing back Peter Venkman as a hit-man who’s hell-bent on destroying the new Ghostbusters. People were upset that Luke Skywalker was slightly grumpy in The Last Jedi -- imagine if he gunned down Rey and crushed Poe Dameron in an elevator shaft.

Because the source material was seemingly less precious to fans than some of the other pop-culture properties that yielded nostalgia-thirsty reboots, the Mission: Impossible film series was able to wage an all-out assault on the original. And while they obviously retained many elements of the original, they literally exploded others. You’d think Hollywood would learn from the fact that one of most successful, longest-running modern reboots of a classic franchise is the one subverted so much of what was comforting and familiar, allowing the films to truly be their own thing.

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Top Image: Paramount Pictures

Top Image: Paramount Pictures

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