Tom Cruise made his first ‘Mission’ possible

Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible”

Tom Cruise clearly has enjoyed a lot of success in his career, and one of those successes has continued to refresh itself over a quarter-century.

When the superstar first was married to “Mission: Impossible” in 1996, it was a virtual guarantee of a double triumph … one of the movies’ top personalities matched to one of television’s most famous franchises. Five follow-ups have resulted to date, with the seventh and eighth editions now in the works – and to see how far the films have come, it’s worth revisiting the original one (which CBS broadcasts Sunday, May 17).

Having Brian De Palma as its director also was a huge plus for the first picture, which does get mired a bit in its narrative of who is double-crossing who and why. The premise means a huge twist for one of the TV series’ staple characters that enraged many fans (and, reportedly, the performer who initially played the part).

The Impossible Missions Force that includes Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is sent on an assignment that lands them in and around an elegant event in Prague, with Hunt using one of the famous “Mission” face masks to pose as someone else (and try as hard as the makeup masters do, not for one second do you believe it’s anyone other than Cruise). A betrayal leaves Hunt the only apparent survivor, and he goes on the run himself when he’s suspected of being the orchestrator of the ambush.

To clear himself and set things right, he assembles a team of his own, notably including tech wizard Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, who has reprised the part in every other “Mission” movie since). Also on board is literally shifty-eyed pilot Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), who has a mistrustful relationship with Hunt from the start.

A lot of talk about computer downloads and illegal arms sales ensues, but what really count — and remain memorable — are the action set pieces, the most imitated one involving Hunt’s infiltration of an office at CIA headquarters by descending into it from the ceiling. The overhead shots of his spidery silhouette against a very bright floor have a mesmerizing effect, and the scene also affirms how much suspense a single bead of sweat can generate.

Also great fun is the stunt-packed climax that pits Hunt against the chief villain aboard a speeding train in Europe’s Channel Tunnel (or “Chunnel”), ultimately involving a pursuing helicopter and an especially effective stick of supposed chewing gum. Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave, Kristin Scott Thomas, an unbilled Emilio Estevez and Henry Czerny (who will return for the next two “Missions”) also are in on the brains and brawn.

(Side note: It likely won’t be heard at the end of the CBS telecast, since networks love to run ads for their other shows over closing credits, but U2’s Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton contributed a terrific take on Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission” theme to the soundtrack.)

The “Mission: Impossible” movies have come a long way since the first, but that opener still has its rewards, both unto itself and as the set-up for all that would follow it.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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