By Nicolas Suszczyk,
In 1996, the cinematic adaptation of the 1966-73 TV series Mission: Impossible was released by Paramount. It starred Tom Cruise and was directed by Brian DePalma.
By that time, the James Bond franchise had been successfully relaunched with Pierce Brosnan as Ian Fleming’s James Bond in GoldenEye, released one year before.
Over the next 20 years, the Bond saga continued with Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig in the role in the following seven films. Surprisingly, Mission: Impossible, based on the Bruce Geller-directed series, emerged as a franchise that have now reached five films and a sixth one to be released this month.
The Mission: Impossible film series has taken a different path than the 007 film franchise produced by Eon Productions.
Eon has had six Bond actors. M:I has focused on the adventures of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), operative and later team leader of the Impossible Mission Force.
Hunt was a character created for the movies. He didn’t appear on the TV series when the IMF was led by Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) for one season and Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) for six.
With Bond 25 set for an October 2019 release and Mission: Impossible: Fallout coming worldwide in the following weeks, let’s take a look on how both franchises are good in their own way and why the idea that Tom Cruise’s franchise is better than Bond is –- in the words of Roger Moore in Live And Let Die — “a rather sweeping statement.”
Interested in adapting the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming, producers Albert R “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman founded Eon Productions. They got the film rights of all Fleming novels except Casino Royale, which had already been sold to Russian producer Gregory Rattoff. Also, the rights to Thunderball, ended up in the hands of Kevin McClory (a long story in and of itself).
Broccoli and Saltzman made a deal with United Artists, also keen on adapting Fleming’s books.
Over the course of more than 55 years, Eon Productions has been making the James Bond films. There have been bumps, including Saltzman selling his share of the franchise to United Artists in the mid-1970s.
Albert R. Broccoli, known as “Cubby,” passed away in 1996. Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, Cubby Broccoli’s heirs, have carried on the Bond movie tradition. The Eon series is either tied to the Fleming novels or the style that has always characterized previous Eon entries.
The inception of Mission: Impossible film series? Paramount had the rights. The series was originally made at Desilu. Then Paramount’s parent company bought Desilu and consolidated its operations with Paramount’s.
Tom Cruise made the first M:I film the first project of his production company. Filming began without a finished script and the story had many changes. One of the biggest changes from the series was when Jim Phelps (played by Jon Voight) was revealed as a traitor and killed by film’s end. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt would be the IMF leader in future entries.
This caused indignation to two cast members of the original series, Peter Graves and Greg Morris, the latter having walked away of the theatre when he saw Phelps betrayal.
In a similar way, Martin Landau showed his displease with the whole idea of the film, stating that the original team didn’t belong to an action-adventure story but more to a mind game, people who disappeared after their job was done and didn’t stay there to “commit suicide” (in reference to the slaughter of Phelps team during the initial sequence in Prague).
While this “treacherous” approach has turned out successfully for Cruise and his franchise, with each film becoming more and more interesting and thrilling, it’s the exact opposite to what Eon Productions did to Ian Fleming’s novels.
Of course, there are notable differences between most of Fleming adaptations, yet the Bond canon is thoroughly respected. Eon has never gone as far away in making a film out of a Ian Fleming novel where James Bond betrays Her Majesty’s government and is eliminated by another 00 agent. Characters like M, Q or Moneypenny have all maintained their loyalty to MI6 and to 007 in all the movies.
Leaked internal emails discussing the script of the 2015 film SPECTRE revealed that one of the treatments had Bill Tanner (played by Rory Kinnear) as being a traitor to the Secret Service and committing suicide. This, of course, didn’t happen but it would have been a major “Jim Phelps” like situation for the purist Bond fans, considering Tanner and 007 are close friends in Fleming’s novels. I
n a similar way, Rene Mathis apparently betrays Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale, unlike the novel, although he’s quickly reinstated as a good guy in Quantum of Solace in a case of mistaken intelligence. (Although an exchange between Bond and a dying Mathis suggests the latter may have been a double agent all along.)
Both James Bond and Mission: Impossible have a story dating back to the 1960s, with the first 007 film Dr. No released in 1962 and the first episode of the TV series aired in 1966. However, there are significant differences.
The TV series Mission: Impossible ran for seven seasons, with a revival of the show (again starring Peter Graves as Jim Phelps) ran from 1988 to 1990. Six years after the end of the revival, the first movie of the cinematic saga was released.
But with the film saga wiping Phelps away and turning each story into Ethan Hunt (and his team) movies, the legacy falls short in comparison to James Bond’s, where there’s a sort of unbroken bridge between Dr. No and SPECTRE for more than 50 years.
The cinematic Mission: Impossible had one film released in the 1990s, two films released in the 2000s and (almost) three released in the 2010s.
These films have cut most of the threads with the original series so there’s always the feeling they owe next to nothing to the fans of the original TV production.
Just like Peter Graves and Greg Morris felt upset about Phelps turning on the IMF, many followers and enthusiasts of the original series would have felt the same. This didn’t stop Tom Cruise to follow the franchise on his own way.
The story of James Bond began was Fleming’s first novel was published in 1953. Older Bond fans have followed 007’s exploits for decades.
Those who grew up watching the Sean Connery James Bond films in the big screen were born in the 1950s, and from that decade on we have more generations of Bond followers: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.
Summing all that up, this makes nine generation of people who consumed the books, films and comics attached to Bond, not counting the famous merchandising tied to the franchise as the toy Walther PPKs or Corgi’s toy Aston Martin.
We know that grandfathers, fathers, sons and probably grandsons are into Bondmania and might follow every new film from the series as there are entire families that are enthusiasts of a football team, even if there might be the eternal Connery vs. Moore or Brosnan vs. Craig debates around.
With Mission: Impossible, it is more likely than this debate of sort can be much stronger, because when comparing the series to the films we are comparing two different worlds. There are a few connections to remind us where everything came from — the masks, the “self-destructing” message, Lalo Schifrin’s theme.
A father or grandfather who watched the TV series is more likely to reject the films and a son or grandson is more likely to be little interested into the “mind game” proposed by the series.
In the case of the Bond films, we are talking about different sides of the same glass. Therefore, in every movie Eon tries to please the generations that will go to watch its movies.
GoldenEye is a good example of how Eon aims to please all generation of Bondophiles: the marketing machine promised a Bond firmly set into the 1990s, yet the final result was more of a retouch of the classic Bond into the new era. This film still stands among the ones who most fans are pleased with and whom many generations consider among the best in the series.
Different Hero, Universe
James Bond and Ethan Hunt may have things in common, but they’re different spies. It could be say that Hunt “stole” some of Bond’s antics lately (wearing a tuxedo, going to exotic locations) as well as Bond also “stole” some of Hunt’s actions (going rogue in three of the four latest films). But they both represent different things to their governments.
Historically, Bond has been, as Alec Trevelyan had put it, “Her Majesty’s Loyal Terrier, defender of the so-called faith.” A man respected by his superiors, even considered “the best they have” as Judi Dench’s M pointed out in The World Is Not Enough or “the agent she trusts” as another version of Dench’s M referred to in Quantum of Solace.
In both Skyfall and SPECTRE, when Bond goes rogue, he does it for M – in the first case to ambush the man threatening her life, then carrying on the posthumous mission she left for him after she died.
So, the idea of “Bond is the best we have” has been a cloud that remained above every one of the skies of the 25 films. Nobody among the Service has questioned his talent or his intelligence.
On the contrary, Ethan Hunt and the IMF had been regularly questioned by his government, disavowed and tagged as a liability to the national security.
In all the movies except Mission: Impossible II he’s chased by his own people or framed as a traitor until he adverts the plan of the opposition and cleans his name at the same time. While most of James Bond’s mission had been officially sanctioned by Her Majesty’s Government, Hunt and most of the IMF’s missions are often behind the eyes of the CIA or any other government agency.
There we have two different kind of heroes: a British spy, “Her Majesty’s Loyal Terrier”, the man M wishes him good luck after the debriefing; and the cool and resourceful action hero whom the government continually chases and disavows, their pain in the neck, until they find out he was right and they need him back in action.
Both Bond and Hunt have also different backgrounds. While Bond had that mysterious quality where nobody seems to know where he came from or his life beyond the Secret Service –we do in Skyfall and SPECTRE, but he tends to resist remembering or any mention to his past before MI6-, we know Hunt’s full name (Ethan Matthew Hunt, mentioned in Mission: Impossible III), who his parents are and where do they live, and being in semi-retirement a party at home scene where he shares some time with his future wife and her family and friends – something unthinkable of the solitary James Bond.
Bond enjoys the good traits and has bon vivant manners: he has his Martini done in a special way, eats the best food, feels confident in a tuxedo or a business suit (which he uses in many situations where a man wouldn’t, like shootouts or close quarters fights). Hunt shares some of those traits but only when the situation or mission calls for it: noticed how he is in t-shirt for a debriefing with the Secretary in Mission: Impossible III and how he quickly gets rid of the tie when wearing a suit, while Bond most of the time stays fully suited.
Ethan Hunt also surrounds with a different universe than James Bond. He was romantically involved with only one of his “Hunt Girls,” Thandie Newton’s Nyah in Mission: Impossible II.
It was intended that he would have an affair with Jim Phelps’ wife Claire in the first entry of the series, but this was later discarded to avoid more eyebrow-raising towards the then new coming action hero.
By Mission: Impossible III, he marries with a physician working in a hospital, far from his world of danger. He even changes subjects when his friend agent Luther Stickell asks him about a young female agent he trained, if he and she had something, which denotes he was uncomfortable with the question.
In Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, he kisses team member Jane Carter only for the sake of a cover (“I’m playing a hunch, don’t hit me,” he tells her). And there’s a slight romantic tension between Hunt and disavowed MI6 agent Ilsa Faust in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, but things never go beyond talking.
On the other hand, Bond is known for his womanizing and with any of his leading girls he would end up in bed or (at least) kissing her.
Bond never avoids romance or sex any time he could have it except with young ice skater Bibi Dahl in For Your Eyes Only, fascinated by the aging Bond played by Roger Moore.
While some of his female counterparts are only some sexual entertainment for him, he genuinely cares for many of them and they care for him, namely Paris Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies and Kara Milovy in The Living Daylights. And he falls in love for Tracy Di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale and Madeleine Swann in SPECTRE.
In the case of Hunt, the “romance” is more tied to friendship. In the Mission: Impossible saga there are few words of love but a lot of words related to friendship and team work..
At the end of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Hunt concludes that the mission was successful because of team work and analyst-turned-agent William Brandt is even afraid to tell Hunt that he failed the mission to protect his wife (whom he believed dead in a staged assassination to preserve her life).
Something similar happens in the next film when Benji Dunn insists on joining his disavowed friend on his rogue mission to uncover the Syndicate. “I am a field agent, I know the risks. More than that, I am your friend. So I’m staying!”
Has Mission: Impossible taken over the place of James Bond? Although some may rightfully think it has the edge in the execution and frequency of the action scenes in a film, the answer is definitively no.
Both are different franchises, with different action heroes, and different generational targets.
James Bond has a place in popular culture that is impossible to remove. This is why some rag articles point different kind of artists as “the next Bond” or as “the next Bond girl” or “the next Bond singer.” That speaks of an indelible cultural identity which Mission: Impossible still has to achieve since it all seems to be limited to Tom Cruise, his stunts and the slight connection to the TV series.
It’s easier (not in execution, but in concept) to make a Mission: Impossible film to a much flexible audience than to the somewhat traditional, generational James Bond audience where all the ingredients of the formula are essential to make this kind of film that has to be enjoyed by kids, teens, adults and elderly men.
Mission: Impossible, being a younger franchise ,has a broader target in the fans of the action genre without caring about what the purists of the series may say. While Mission: Impossible is part of the Action/Adventure genre, James Bond constitutes a genre unto itself. And this way, they’re both great and entertaining productions.