J. J. Abram’s entrance into the franchise is immediately striking, thrusting it into the position it would largely iterate from for its future entries. He grounds it, focusing on hero Ethan Hunt’s relationships, showing a lot more interest in character than De Palma or Woo had. Michelle Monaghan transcends the typical girlfriend-to-the-hero role even as she’s kidnapped and toyed around with in the plot, both thanks to her performance and Abrams demonstrating some interest in doing more than that.
The colours are rich, the pacing is frantic, newcomer Simon Pegg crackles, fulfilling the same sort of role as Ving Rham’es Luther and being instantly marked for retaining in future films in much the same way. Philip Seymour Hoffman makes the franchise’s greatest turn as a villain, oozing menace and domineering control. Abrams was wise to frontload the film with a flashforward showcasing his utter domination over Tom Cruise’s character. Abrams also loads the film with one of his unanswered mysteries, and it’s actually deployed rather well here (lord knows it’s more interesting than whatever babble the series would usually trot out for its MacGuffin).
It’s easy to see why the sequels took most of their pointers from this film. Mission: Impossible II was the bigger success by far, despite what revisionist history and changing tastes would have folks believe, but this was definitely the model for the franchise going forward. Three implanted bombs, and a Rabbit’s Foot.