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Film / Mission: Impossible

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"This tape will self-destruct in five seconds."

Mission: Impossible (1996) is the first entry in the Mission: Impossible Film Series, starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt.

Jim Phelps is called upon for a new assignment dealing with very sensitive information regarding IMF agents and their cover IDs. He brings in his standard crew, including point man Ethan Hunt, and they plan out how to recover the info. Unfortunately, their mission was compromised horribly and Ethan finds himself the lone survivor and the top suspect as a traitor. The discovery of two other survivors doesn't alleviate his paranoia, so he goes into the list of blacklisted former IMF agents to put together another team to get to the bottom of their original mission and the conspiracy behind it.

Directed by Brian De Palma, the movie became well known for the interweaving and complicated plotting. — and the signature image of the "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop. However, it was (and remains) very divisive among long-time fans of the TV series (due to who the villain is, and the fact the story tends to focus on a single character, rather than a team), and was publicly disavowed by at least two cast members of the original series.

Mission: Impossible provides examples of:

  • Acoustic License: Features a climax where hero and villain are hanging off a speeding helicopter. Following just behind a TGV Bullet Train traveling hundreds of kilometers per hour. In a tunnel. Given this it's probably just as well Ethan Hunt uses visual aids while shouting so that Phelps can properly recognize things are about to get a little 'splody.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Jim Phelps, the main protagonist of the original TV series, is the mole. It seems almost like a deconstruction of what the movie thinks is the 'idea' of Jim Phelps. He's a Cold War agent who ran his own show, but when the conflict is over he finds himself in a low-paying job without a say in policy and a lousy marriage to a woman he doesn't love, so he throws his morals out the window by selling out his country to work for money. Ethan Hunt works as a reconstructed successor to the antiquated "old spy" Jim Phelps, reaffirming his loyalty to his country after they turn on him and ushering in a new era of espionage.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: The film has an air vent infiltration.
  • All There in the Manual: The novelization of this film explains more in-depth about how some of the devices actually work (like the RF meter used by Max's crew when seeing if the NOC list they got from Job was a fake) as well more UST between Ethan and Claire that got left on the cutting room floor.
  • As the Good Book Says...: At the end of the film, the villain quotes the line "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" to Ethan Hunt for his obvious attraction to the villain's wife. Earlier on, the knowledge that the bad guy reads from the Bible became a clue to tracking him down, as well as his real identity.
  • Badass Boast: After Ethan lays out what awaits his crew at CIA HQ, depicting arguably the most secure vault ever conceived:
    Luther: And you really think we can do this?
    Ethan: (Beat) We're going to do it.
    * cue transition with the iconic M:I theme*
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: When Ethan admires Luther's infamous hacking of NATO Ghostcom:
    Luther: *sternly* There was never any physical evidence I had anything to do with that!...that...*smiles* that exceptional piece of work.
  • Batman Cold Open: We see the IMF team finishing up a job before the title sequence.
  • Batman Gambit: Really, Phelps' plan relied on a lot of people reacting in a very specific manner and being able to pull off feats that no one could be certain they could. If Ethan hadn't been able to track down Max to meet her, convince Max that the disc was a trap, be willing to trust Claire at all because of his attraction to her or manage to steal the real list from the CIA, then at best, all they'd be able to do would be disappear and hope whomever they sold the knowledge to didn't have a CIA mole who would report them. And even before all that, A.) if Ethan had been able to reach Phelps at the embassy, B.) if Phelps had actually been followed, or C.) if Sarah had avoided being stabbed, then the entire plan would have fallen apart.
  • Battlecry: Ethan screams a wordless one at Krieger, after hooking his and Phelps' escape helicopter to the back of a Eurotunnel-bound bullet train.
  • Black-Tie Infiltration: The film opens with the team breaking into a social event in the Czech Republic to steal intelligence. Turns out the information they were after was bait to smoke out The Mole, who saw it coming and pinned it on Ethan.
  • Blindfolded Trip: The 'price of admission' for meeting Max is wearing a full-face balaclava with the eye-holes sewn shut.
  • Blofeld Ploy: At the end, Jim shoots his wife instead of killing Ethan when he had the perfect chance.
  • Book Ends: At the end, Ethan is offered another assignment in the same manner as Jim.
  • Broken Pedestal: Ethan greatly admires and respects Jim (and is implied to have romantic feelings for Claire) and is devastated at the realization of their treachery.
  • Butt-Monkey: The CIA vault employee, who gets tagged with a liquid that makes him sick to his stomach long enough for Ethan's rogue team to make a copy of the NOC list and leave. Despite his spotless record, Kittridge has him relocated to a different job.
    Kittridge: I want him manning a radar tower in Alaska by the end of the day, just mail him his clothes.
  • Calling Your Attacks: "RED LIGHT! GREEN LIGHT!"
  • The Cameo: Emilio Estevez's role is unbilled, though it's quite a bit more than a cameo.
  • Challenge Seeker: Luther takes on the CIA job because, in addition to the money, the idea of trying to hack the most secure server out there is tantalizing. Ethan tells him "this is the Mount Everest of hacks", knowing that's all Luther will need to hear to accept (that, and being able to keep all the computer equipment when they're done).
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The "Red Light, Green Light" exploding gum. Yes, it is Chekhov's Gum.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Bible in the Prague hideout, which leads to another use with the mention of the Drake Hotel in Chicago. Also, an attentive viewer will be able to know that Kreiger is a villain due to carrying the same distinctive-looking knife as the one found on Sarah's body.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A slight case. Some random, unimportant extras at the embassy party turn out to be another IMF team observing Ethan's team, which he realizes when he spots them at the restaurant with Kittridge and realizes that Kittridge is suspicious of him.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Marvel Comics published a one-off prequel just before the film was released.
  • Death by Looking Up: Emilio Estevez's character Jack inverts this as he is the one moving up into some spikes.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The film starts off with Phelps as the protagonist and Ethan as the deuteragonist, however, after Phelps is seemingly killed and then later on in the middle of the film revealed to be the Big Bad, Ethan became the true protagonist of this movie.
  • Description Porn: Ethan describing the CIA's defenses in the first movie.
  • Did You Actually Believe...?: When Krieger says that he has leverage to be a part of whatever deal Ethan has with Job because he holds the NOC list, Ethan reminds him that he had two discs with him at the vault and shows off some sleight-of-hand tricks before pulling out the second disc. He then tells him, "Did you actually think I'd let you have the NOC list?", causing Krieger to toss out his disc in disgust. This was actually a con by Ethan to get Krieger to give up the disc he was holding, which actually was the real list.
  • Double Caper: Basically the entire film: Jim Phelps' IMF team thinks they're shadowing a traitor in Prague who plans to sell the NOC list to an arms dealer. Only it's actually a molehunt headed by Kittridge and a second team to expose a traitor on Jim's own team, the traitor is actually an IMF agent himself, and that "NOC list" is actually a tracking program to hone in on whoever tries to load it, with the real list safe at CIA HQ. Since Ethan is the lone survivor, Kittridge thinks he has his man. So now Ethan has to go rogue with a team of disavowed agents and get the real and complete NOC list so he can expose The Man Behind the Man and true mole ("Job") and clear his name.
  • Dream Sequence: Ethan dreams of being approached and grabbed by Jim.
  • Dutch Angle: During the meeting between Ethan and Kittridge, things start getting skewed as Ethan realises he's been framed as The Mole.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Despite the movie being the Trope Namer for "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop. which in turn would set the bar for the high concept scenes and stunts of the sequels, the first film is VERY different in tone from them. There's very little in terms of action scenes until the end - even the titular "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop scene is more tension than action or complex stunts. Ethan's character doesn't have that "larger than life" reputation and presentation the other films give him. It's a much more quiet and psychological film whose tone does clash with its sequels, who would become more known for their action and stunts, when watching the series back to back.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Ethan at the end of the Prague mission.
    Ethan: This is Ethan Hunt. They're dead.
    Kittridge: Who's dead?
    Ethan: My team, my team is DEAD!
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Ethan is distraught when he learns from Kittridge his team was killed on a mission that wasn't even a mission at all:
    Ethan: This whole operation was a mole hunt?...This whole operation was a mole hunt...*buries head in hands*
    Kittridge: Yeah. The mole's deep inside...and like you said, Ethan...
    * Ethan looks up with an Oh, Crap! look of realization*
    Kittridge: You survived.
  • Exploding Fish Tanks: When Ethan realizes that he's been framed, he blows up the Akvarium restaurant's floor-to-ceiling aquariums as cover for his escape.
  • Eye Scream: Jack's death is a literal example: he gets a giant spike shoved through his eye (in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment)
  • Face–Heel Turn: The infamous - Jim Phelps, the hero of the original TV series, turns out to be the Big Bad in the end. This is why Peter Graves, who played Jim Phelps in the TV series, refused to do a cameo.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In the elevator scene at the beginning, the team panics when Golitsyn suddenly takes the elevator down, blocking off Ethan and Sarah's escape route. Jack can't get the elevator doors open so Ethan and Sarah can hide beneath the box, but fortunately Jim saves the day from his hotel room. This shows that Jim has superior access over the elevator. So when Jack dies minutes later in a freak elevator 'accident', it becomes rather obvious who the actual mole is.
    • Also, in the opening briefing scene, the team ribs Jim about him being put up in the posh Drake Hotel in Chicago during a recruiting trip. This becomes important as Ethan is able to link Jim as "Job", when he finds out the Bible he took from Jim's safehouse was taken from the Drake Hotel.
    • When the team is being ambushed, you can clearly see the assailant's arm crooked around so that the gun is facing Jim's camera. The flashback where Ethan puts it together in his mind shows Jim doing precisely this to fake his death.
    • When Ethan gets ready to copy the NOC list, he initially takes out two discs from his suit, then shelves one. The audience doesn't know why he has two discs on him, but in the next scene, Kreiger boasts about having the NOC list Ethan handed him, only for Ethan to bluff him with a Good for Bad con with the other (blank) disc in order for Kreiger to toss away the real one for Ethan to retrieve.
  • Frame-Up: Ethan is framed by Phelps for the deaths of his allies and being branded as a traitor to the IMF after the Prague mission.
  • Funny Background Event: Krieger is spooked into dropping Ethan when he sees a rat crawling towards him in the vault's air duct. Krieger is able to re-secure the rope before Ethan hits the ground, and when the scene cuts back to Krieger getting Ethan up to a safe level, the rat behind him is belly-up dead.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Max. She likes that her anonymity is aided by her androgynous handle.
  • Good All Along: Disavowed Luther. Although Ethan is leery of Krieger, he's fully trusting of Luther despite his non-IMF status and even hands him the NOC list to control. By the end of the movie, Luther has been taken off the disavowed list and is back with IMF.
    Ethan: So how does it feel to be a solid citizen again?
    Luther: I don't know, I'm gonna miss being disreputable.
    Ethan: If it makes you feel better, I'll always think of you that way.
  • Good for Bad: Krieger is given the NOC list upon pulling Ethan up from the Langley vault (in the novelization, he explicitly tells Ethan to give him the list or he won't be pulled up). He thinks he has leverage by controlling the disc but Ethan shows him the other disc he had on him in the vault and claims it's the real one, saying he'd never trust Krieger with the actual list. Krieger buys it and throws the other one away, only for Ethan to switch the discs in the garbage once he leaves, since Krieger really did have the NOC list.
  • Helicopter Blender: Near the end of the film, Krieger flies a helicopter into a train tunnel and attempts to blend Ethan. The rotors even bounce off the walls with no ill effects, only some pretty sparks. The Rule of Cool is in full force: we are not concerned with the low-pressure area behind the train making flying difficult or the top speed of choppers being too low to follow the pictured train.
  • Here We Go Again!: Ethan takes a plane ride home at the end and is approached with the exact same code that Jim Phelps began the movie with.
  • Hero Antagonist: Kittridge is chasing Hunt because he really does believe that Hunt is the mole.
  • Hollywood Hacking: With the usual triple whammy of Everything Is Online and Viewer-Friendly Interface. When an excuse is needed, Luther types out "ACTIVATE ALARM" on his laptop, creating a false fire detection on a security booth's computer elsewhere.
  • Hyper-Awareness:
    • Ethan meets his IMF superior for a debriefing after a botched mission. He looks around the cafe and recognizes around him another IMF team that had also been present at the botch.
    • The novelization gives us another good example: When he's been hooded and is sitting in the room with Max, he is able to determine the number of doors, material the walls are made from, the direction of airflow, height of the room, and number of people in the room with him before they remove the hood.
  • I Have Your Wife: Kittridge tries this in order to get Ethan to turn himself in, but Ethan is clever enough to see through it and even slightly mocks Kittridge on the ruse (which is part of Ethan's own ploy to keep Kittridge on the line long enough to trace Hunt to London.)
    Hunt: If you're dealing with a man who has crushed, stabbed, shot, and detonated five members of his own IMF team, how devastated do you think you're gonna make him by hauling Mom and Uncle Donald down to the county courthouse?
  • Inspector Javert: Kittridge. Unusual for this trope, he provides vital support to Hunt once he realizes the truth.
  • It's a Small Net After All: After realizing that "Job 314" actually refers to the Book of Job chapter 3, verse 14, Ethan is able to track down the elusive Max on Bible sites online. While it does take him some time, even if he had used the most relevant search terms and stuck to the larger sites in reality it would have taken him at least days to find the right one.
  • Large Ham: Kittridge has Agent Smith-style enunciation.
  • Laser Hallway: The temperature-controlling vent in Langley.
  • MacGuffin: The NOC list is well defined, but it could be almost any kind of "Government Secrets" and the story would be exactly the same.
  • Megane(kko): Nearly every character in the movie dons glasses at some point.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Kittridge when he realizes the "Red Light, Green Light" gum on the aquarium is about to blow up.
    • Phelps when he realizes Ethan put on the video glasses, proving to Kittridge that he was still alive. Phelps has another one shortly after when he's on the helicopter and Ethan pulls out the exploding gum. Unlike Krieger who is merely confused, Phelps knows exactly what is about to happen.
    • Krieger and Ethan share one when Krieger drops his knife down the shaft, thus revealing that they were in the vault.
  • Pop-Star Composer: The theme was rearranged by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr..
  • P.O.V. Cam: In the party scene in Prague, this shot is used for many characters who work in Ethan's team.
  • The Precarious Ledge: Ethan walks across a ledge on a massive glass building.
  • Psycho for Hire: Krieger.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: After discovering Ethan Hunt has stolen the NOC List literally right out from under Donloe's nose, Eugene Kittridge tells an associate, "I want him [Donloe] manning a radar tower in Alaska by the end of the day. Just mail him his clothes."
  • See You in Hell: Kittridge gets a pretty awesome line when he thinks he's going to nab Ethan as the IMF mole:
    '''All right, Hunt. Enough is enough. You have bribed, cajoled, and killed, and you have done it using loyalties on the inside. You want to shake hands with the devil, that's fine with me, I just want to make sure that you do it in hell!"
  • Self-Serving Memory: A subversion in that the Consummate Liar isn't the person with the flashbacks, but rather the person he's speaking to. When Jim calls out Kittridge as the mole, Ethan already knows Jim is, but Ethan verbally plays along while we see flashbacks to the Prague mission where Ethan puts Jim in position to kill every team member and stage his own death. When he muses that the mole must've needed help to blow up Hannah in the car, he first thinks of Claire as the culprit (and he'd be right), but he doesn't want to believe it, so he imagines the scenario again with Jim blowing it up with a detonator at a specific time.
  • Ship Tease: Jack and Sarah flirt with each other before and during the Prague mission. The ship is quickly sunk when both are killed before the first act is over.
  • Shoe Phone: Jim Phelps builds a gun from components disguised as a stereo.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Silence Is Golden: The vault scene has almost no music, making the scene even more intense.
  • Slasher Smile: Psycho for Hire Krieger sports one when he attempts to decapitate Ethan with the helicopter blades and nearly succeeded if the propellers did not get caught in the tunnels.
  • Smug Snake: Kittridge is practically giddy at the restaurant when he not-so-subtly implies to Ethan that he's in big trouble. He gets a rare heroic version of the trope at the end of the film when Ethan reveals to him that Phelps is alive.
    • "Good morning, Mr. Phelps."
  • Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome: Jim Phelps. The cast of the original show along with its fans were most certainly not pleased.
  • Time Marches On: In the opening, Jim Phelps smokes a cigarette so that the people sitting around him don't notice the smoke caused by his briefing tape self-destructing. Nowadays commercial flights are strictly non-smoking.
  • Traintop Battle: The finale occurs atop a speeding TGV inside the channel tunnel. Unusually for the trope, they can barely move because of the enormous wind resistance.
  • Tranquil Fury: Ethan goes into this when Kittridge accuses him of being the IMF mole.
    Kittridge: I can understand you're very upset.
    Ethan: Kittridge, you've never seen me very upset.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: As Jim Phelps tells Ethan a long story about how the mission went bad, Ethan imagines something completely different.
  • Wham Shot: Ethan going over what happened as the audience sees It was Phelps who killed his own team and set this up.
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: When Phelps lies that Kittridge is the mole, he claims he betrayed them because he had become useless after the fall. He's actually talking about himself.
    Phelps: …when you think about it, Ethan, it was inevitable… no more Cold War. No more secrets you keep from everyone but yourself, operations you answer to no one but yourself. Then one morning you wake up and find out the President of the United States is running the country - without your permission. The son-of-a-bitch! How dare he? You realize it’s over; you’re an obsolete piece of hardware not worth upgrading, you’ve got a lousy marriage and sixty-two grand a year.
  • You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost: Happens to Ethan twice. And both of them were behind it all.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: The team successfully catches the mark possessing the NOC list and leaving to meet his buyer. Then the team (sans Ethan) and the mark are killed one by one and the list is in the hands of the assailant. Only the mark wasn't a mark, the list wasn't the list, and the mission wasn't a mission.

Flight Attendant: Excuse me. Mr. Hunt? Would you like to watch a movie?
Ethan Hunt: Oh, uh, no thank you.
Flight Attendant: Would you consider the cinema of the Caribbean? Aruba, perhaps?

Alternative Title(s): Mission Impossible 1997