Your mission…

Just in time for the fourth installment in Tom Cruise’s action franchise, Paramount offers an “extreme” collection of Mission: Impossible Blu-rays. And by “extreme,” I mean “three old releases packaged together in a cardboard sleeve.”

Cruise (Minority Report) is Ethan Hunt, agent extraordinaire of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), a top-secret government agency that sends its operatives into terrifying field ops which typically include rubber mask creation, skyscraper base-jumping, and motorcycle kung-fu.

Three films with three directors, three distinct tones, and three different Tom Cruise haircuts.

As I said, these are Blu-rays which you’ve seen before and likely read reviews. Regardless, let us soldier on!

Mission: Impossible
The Mission — Brian De Palma’s resuscitation of the popular brand introduces us to Ethan Hunt and his tendency to get framed. After a mission goes off the rails and his team gets wasted, Hunt finds himself on the run, challenged to clear his name by executing a daring break-in, and doing some cartwheels on a high-speed train.

The Debrief — There are a lot of smoke and mirrors, but De Palma largely delivers a consistently entertaining spy film populated by good character work from Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction) and Jon Voight (National Treasure), and giving Tom Cruise a prime action hero role.

Avowal — The culminating train sequence remains one of my favorite action scenes in recent memory.

Disavowal — Emilio Estevez getting a face-full of elevator spike. R.I.P.

The Tech — The 2.35:1/1080p (MPEG-2 encoded) transfer is sub-standard, at times grainy, soft, and not much prettier than your standard-issue upconverted DVD. No lossless tracks, just straight Dolby 5.1 audio pushing the sound. Extras: The same recycled featurettes looking at the Mission: Impossible franchise, the train scene, the spycraft, the action scenes, the international spy museum, agent dossiers, and some puff pieces on Tom Cruise.

Mission: Impossible II
The Mission — Legendary Hong Kong action director John Woo takes his turn in the director’s chair, spinning a tale of a newly coiffured Ethan Hunt who joins forces with a femme fatale (Thandie Newton, Crash) to stop a loose cannon agent (Dougray Scott, Hitman) from unleashing a biological weapon. There will be much slow-motion gunplay and dove flight.

The Debrief — As much of a John Woo apologist as I am, I just can’t conjure enough goodwill to give him a pass for this optical migraine. The slick spy feel of the first movie is discarded in favor of a more traditional action picture, which doesn’t fit with the franchise. Ethan Hunt turning into a cartoonish hybrid Chow Yun Fat and Evel Knievel isn’t good for anyone. Meanwhile, there is zero chemistry between Cruise and Newton. And the rubber mask gag is wildly overused. Also, how do those motorcycles magically switch from road tires to off road studs?

Avowal — It’s an exercise in self-absorption, but Cruise’s rock-climbing opening is actually sort of stunning.

Disavowal — That motorcycle chase should have been awesome, but it’s not. It’s moronic.

The Tech — A slight upgrade in visual fidelity over the first, delivering a cleaner picture. It’s a 2.35:1/1080p high definition widescreen utilizing the MPEG-2 codec, but the details pop a bit more. Same selection of orthodox Dolby 5.1 audio (English, French and Spanish). Old extras again: Commentary from John Woo, three making-of featurettes, an alternate title sequence, more Cruise featurettes, and a Metallica trailer.

Mission: Impossible III
The Mission — JJ Abrams is next up and refreshingly allows Ethan to carry out his impossible mission with the help of a team. The mark this time is Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Moneyball), a gunrunner with powerful contacts. And if Ethan dares to scoop him up, he just might find himself with an explosive device implanted in his brain.

The Debrief — My favorite of the three. Mission: Impossible III captures the espionage of the first and weaves in the satisfying, big-time action the second tried for. Granted, the “Ethan Hunt framed and on the run” bit has run its course, I’ll let it slide given Abrams’ slick direction and ability to stage a gimmick-free action scene. If you can make a one-shot sequence of Tom Cruise running through Shanghai exciting, then you’ve got some juice as an auteur.

Avowal — The freeway assault scene? Magnificent.

Disavowal — The Old White Man Cabal takes it up the kiester once again.

The Tech — A superior technical treatment (a crisper 2.35:1/1080p MPEG-2 transfer, and loud but lossy Dolby 5.1 audio) is offset by only one (familiar) extra: a commentary track with Cruise and Abrams.

THE VERDICT
Not Guilty. Two out of three movies are good, but this set is merely a collection of old stuff.

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