The spy/espionage sub-genre of movies is in no danger of petering out. This year alone brought us big films like The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Spectre, the latest James Bond adventure; not to mention news that another big spy franchise (Jason Bourne) will be continuing, as well.
With so many spies out there playing cloak and dagger games across the silver screen, it’s not surprising that there could be some creative bleed-over between franchises. Mission: Impossible 5 and James Bond 24 were especially similar: both featured stories where the franchise hero had to uncover a secret organization influencing world events, while essentially being on the run without their usual team backup and resources.
However, with both Rogue Nation and Spectre having now been released, fans of each franchise (or both) have started to compare. Even though Bond has been on film since the 1960s, times and tastes change – with Mission: Impossible and its lead Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) having provided audiences with USA-brand spy action for nearly two decades now. Based on some viewer reactions to both Rogue Nation and Spectre, we have to ask: Has Mission: Impossible gotten better than the Bond franchise?
Both the Bond and Mission: Impossible franchises have given audiences iconic espionage agent heroes. The James Bond film franchise has given us six different actors’ takes on the suave secret agent, with the latest being actor Daniel Craig’s more stone-faced and brutal “Blond Bond.” Meanwhile, the Mission: Impossible film franchise has been wholly anchored by action star Tom Cruise, who plays the Impossible Mission Force’s most skilled and resourceful point man, Ethan Hunt.
Obviously, in terms of chronology, Bond has had a longer time to make and maintain his mark as an iconic hero – with great leading men like Sean Connery and Roger Moore wowing audiences back when Cruise was still in diapers. However, the question is: has Mission: Impossible gotten better than Bond now. And in that sense, there’s much room for debate.
In terms of character, Ethan Hunt and Bond have kind of traded places; Hunt started out as a believable and reasonably grounded espionage agent, who has evolved into a super spy as the franchise has progressed. Comparatively, Bond started out somewhat grounded (Connery) and got increasingly fantastical (Pierce Brosnan); however, with the semi-reboot 007 origin story, Casino Royale, attempts were made to re-ground the character for modern audiences. In looking at the latest installments of each franchise, we got Hunt arguably at his best yet (as a super spy and team leader), while Craig’s Bond finally took on some of the classic and fun qualities of his predecessors.
However, once the discussion extends beyond character to the actor playing the role, there’s much less room for debate. Love or hate his personal life, Tom Cruise is still delivering top-notch, one-of-a-kind action movie star entertainment – at a time in his life and career when few others can do the same. There is little argument that even though Craig has put some impressive physicality behind his version of Bond, Cruise pushes things to a further limit – coordinating and performing stunts, on top of producing the M:I films and helping to plan and shape the film. With Craig showing signs of Bond fatigue, and Cruise still going strong towards M:I6, it seems like Mission: Impossible has the edge right now.
Spectre and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation featured pretty similar premises: Our hero finds himself on the trail of a covert syndicate influencing world events – only to find out that the syndicate is also hunting him. After that, both super spies find themselves on the run and cut off from their usual resources, such as gadgets, official mission sanction, and teammates. With two stories that are so similar (and perhaps, generic?), it really came down to how Spectre and Rogue Nation told their respective tales, both narratively and in terms of action spectacle.
Spectre took Bond back to a classic formula of suave spy action, and tried to pull together elements of all four Daniel Craig Bond films into one serialized scheme, orchestrated by a mastermind villain. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation basically offered a series of tense action set pieces stacked back to back, with a mastermind villain and femme fatale (breakout star Rebecca Ferguson) providing fun twists along the way.
While Spectre has been noted as a throwback to the fan-favorite version of James Bond, even those who were pleased with the film’s spy action and wit have been willing to admit that the story wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been – especially when Christoph Waltz’ Franz Oberhauser takes center stage to remix certain elements of Bond mythology. Mission: Impossible 5 may be a collection of set pieces held together (very loosely) by a shadow organization plotline, but Cruise and his Jack Reacher director Chris McQuarrie did a good enough job for most fans of the franchise to overlook narrative flaws and hold up Rouge Nation as one of the best installments in the series.
Taken altogether, neither Spectre nor Rogue Nation reinvented the wheel when it comes to stories of warring espionage factions. It’s really all about which film you felt had fewer weakness, rather than greater strengths.
Both Spectre and Rogue Nation feature plots where our super spy finds out there is some kind of clandestine organization out there, pulling strings in the criminal underworld in order to influence world events. Although billed as intricate and resourceful criminal groups, both SPECTRE and the “anti-IMF” turned out to mostly be hordes of no-name goons, indistinguishable from any evil group in an action movie, with a mastermind boss and one or two vicious lieutenants of note.
In the showdown of evil masterminds, Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane was certainly more menacing (and deadly) than Christoph Waltz’ “Oberhauser.” Both films had pretty menacing henchman villains, in the forms of Dave Bautista’s Juggernaut enforcer, Hinx (Spectre), and Swedish actor Jens Hultén’s blade-wielding sadist, Janik Vinter (Rogue Nation). While none of the “big boss battles” were all that interesting, Rogue Nation delivered a tense mind-game climax, while Spectre delivered bigger action, with shootouts and vehicular chases ending in an explosive showdown on a bridge.
Despite Spectre‘s fiery finale, the best villain moment (for me) goes to Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust getting into a brutal climatic blade fight with Janik Vinter. Her finishing move certainly left an impression.
Rogue Nation brought back established M:I franchise favorites like Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames, recent additions like Jeremy Renner’s Agent Brandt, and sprinkled in new players like Alec Baldwin’s CIA man, Hunley, and Rebecca Ferguson’s MI6 agent, Ilsa Faust. On the whole, though, Rogue Nation‘s team roster was pretty imbalanced in terms of screen time, with Ethan Hunt, Pegg’s Benji Dunn and Faust taking up most of the mission, while Renner and Baldwin were almost in a separate courtroom drama flick, and Rhames had a glorified cameo. In other words: the film’s “agent gone rogue” story angle came at the expense of the IMF actually having a full-on team dynamic.
Spectre finally brought us back to the more familiar version of 007’s MI6, with Ralph Fiennes stepping in as Bond’s no-nonsense boss, M; Ben Whishaw providing wit as the younger version of Q; and Naomie Harris keeping up the spicy tradition of Moneypenny’s flirtatious play with Bond. Those were fine actors fleshing out iconic supporting roles, and they respectively managed to capture the classic essence of their character, while still giving them modern updates that feel timely and fresh. Unfortunately, Spectre also made use of a “top agent on an unsanctioned mission” angle, which meant that the impressive cast behind the MI6 team had limited screen time – though arguably more so than some other Bond flicks.
This one’s all about preference, which is a good sign. Neither Bond nor Mission: Impossible are slouching when it comes to having impressive team rosters.
Both Rogue Nation and Spectre are blockbuster action spectacles – and both deliver impressive sequences created by great directors and top-notch stunt coordinators and their teams. The question is: which film did it bigger and better?
Spectre opened with an nicely choreographed action set piece in Mexico City, involving Bond battling would-be terrorists within a spiraling helicopter. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation opened with Tom Cruise actually hanging onto the side of an airplane as it took off. Comparing the two is pretty easy: the guy who actually hung off of a plane wins.
After that, Spectre gave us a few nice chase sequences and a good fight between Daniel Craig’s Bond and Bautista’s Mr. Hinx, but some Bond fans felt let down by the revelations of the climax – enough so to have soured on the impressive helicopter chase that ends the film on a similar note that it began.
Rogue Nation‘s claim to fame, on the other hand, was its ability to overcome some massive storytelling gaps by stringing together one of more impressive lineups of action set pieces seen in awhile. Cruise hanging off the plane; that car-to-motorcycle double chase sequence; the underwater heist sequence – Rogue Nation delivered not just spectacle but thrills, often with practical stunt work featuring Cruise doing what he does best.
One strange thing about the spy-action sub-genre these days is how little actual espionage or intrigue there is. It’s clear that many of the franchises – Bourne, Bond, M:I – have prioritized the action over “spy” part of the equation – so in the cases of Rogue Nation and Spectre, it’s probably important to measure how well the twisty, winding turns of espionage were handled in each film.
Truth be told, neither Spectre nor Rogue Nation impressed all that much with their respective stories about secret clandestine evildoers playing global chess games against a heroic spy agency. Both films led us on ominous investigations that constantly kept the bad guys one step ahead of the heroes – but in looking at the villains’ larger schemes, there was little intelligent design to speak of – nor did it require all that much cerebral effort for the hero and his friends to dismantle the criminal syndicate (though that’s more true for Spectre than Rogue Nation).
With both films standing on the same middle ground, what matters is context. The Bond franchise has never really been about heady espionage capers that required the viewer’s brain as much as their eye; Mission: Impossible, on the other hand, famously started its movie franchise with Brian De Palma’s 1996 film, which was as much about mind games and thrills as it was action. Since then, the M:I has tended to veer away from spy maneuvers and more toward blockbuster action, so even though Rogue Nation arguably made more out of its espionage surprises and revelations, Bond action movie tradition gets him a bigger pass for a lack of smart spy storytelling. .
Which did you like better: Spectre or Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation? And which franchise are you most looking forward to at this point? Let us know in the comments!
Spectre is currently in theaters; Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation will be on home video on Dec. 15th.