Mission Impossible Rogue Nation Christopher McQuarrie

(Welcome to Team Leaders, a series where we explore how the directors of the Mission: Impossible movies used this franchise as a canvas to explore their pet themes and show off their unique sensibilities. In this edition: Christopher McQuarrie leads the series into the future with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.)

With Ghost Protocol (’11), writer/director Christopher McQuarrie previously put his stamp (albeit anonymously) on the franchise’s future, having been brought in midway through shooting to help re-tool the narrative of animation great Brad Bird’s live-action blockbuster debut. This “doctoring” assignment arrived because of the scribe’s growing history with Tom Cruise, which began on the old-fashioned Hitler assassination adventure, Valkyrie (’08), where McQuarrie tailored the part of rebellious Nazi officer Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg for Cruise after introducing the All-American marque idol to director Bryan Singer at United Artists.

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ghost protocol

(Welcome to Team Leaders, a series where we explore how the directors of the Mission: Impossible movies used this franchise as a canvas to explore their pet themes and show off their unique sensibilities. In this edition: Brad Bird brings his animated sensibilities to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.)

For Brad Bird, there’s no difference between helming animation and live-action. A film is a film, and a director is a director, regardless of the visual mode an artist is operating within.

Handpicked by Tom Cruise (who loved Bird’s work on The Incredibles [‘04]) and longtime compadre J.J. Abrams* – thus solidifying Bad Robot’s ongoing influence on the tentpole franchise – the Simpsons and Iron Giant (’99) architect viewed Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol as an opportunity to branch out and diversify his already impressive filmography; not as some half-assed, insulting means of gaining the acceptance of his peers, the press, or viewers (as animation has long been relegated to being “for kids”).

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(Welcome to Team Leaders, a series where we explore how the directors of the Mission: Impossible movies used this franchise as a canvas to explore their pet themes and show off their unique sensibilities. In this edition: J.J. Abrams brings his “mystery box” methods to the series and reboots it all.)

After Mission: Impossible II made over half a billion dollars worldwide, it wouldn’t seem prudent to re-tool the franchise’s format. However, due to the overblown shooting schedule on John Woo’s first sequel, and the fact that the somewhat compromised final cut received mixed to negative reviews from both critics and fans (on top of Tom Cruise butting heads with the Hong Kong auteur on numerous occasions behind the scenes), taking the Mission: Impossible movies in a new direction makes sense in hindsight (at least from its star/chief creative force’s perspective).

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mission impossible 2 john woo

(Welcome to Team Leaders, a series where we explore how the directors of the Mission: Impossible movies used this franchise as a canvas to explore their pet themes and show off their unique sensibilities. In this edition: John Woo’s graceful Hong Kong transplant, Mission: Impossible II.)

18 years after the May 2000 bow of Mission: Impossible II, it’s somewhat hard to swallow that the movie made $546 million worldwide, mostly because it’s garnered such an awful reputation (with many cinephiles considering it the unqualified nadir of the franchise). Some folks flat out hate John Woo’s Tom Cruise team-up (and fourth American theatrical feature), utilizing it as the prime example in arguments regarding how the United States studio system somehow “broke” the legendary Hong Kong action auteur.

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Mission: Impossible Brian De Palma

(Welcome to Team Leaders, a series where we explore how the directors of the Mission: Impossible movies used this franchise as a canvas to explore their pet themes and show off their unique sensibilities. In this edition: Brian De Palma makes the most fascinating Hollywood blockbuster since Jaws.)

Mission: Impossible was the first movie Tom Cruise ever produced. This fact often gets lost in the conversation when looking back on the 1996 blockbuster (not to mention its subsequent sequels). Nevertheless, the transnational superstar not only built the perfect James Bond clone for himself in IMF Agent Ethan Hunt – all-American, athletic, sexy but never exaggeratedly sexual, and containing a steadfast moral compass to guide his gung-ho screen presence – but also a genre cinema sandbox, in which he could invite some of the most talented artists from around the world to come play.

For each of the first five films in the M:I franchise, a new author was called in to stamp their thumbprint onto its ever-expanding mythology, allowing this initially improbable series to grow into a rather wondrous pulp canvas. Perhaps this is because Hunt’s adventures began during an era where movies weren’t just viewed as brands or “shared universe” starters (ironic, given its origins as a big screen adaptation of an iconic CBS serial). No, Mission: Impossible kicked off in a Hollywood we’d barely recognize these days: where blockbusters were mostly built to be single stand-out films, manned by visionaries unbeholden to the notion of hypothetical sequels or prequels. Instead, their job was to capture our imaginations for a specific moment in time, without any interminable business plan put in place.

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