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.
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