Mission: Impossible 4 is a go. Tom Cruise is back on board as IMF agent Ethan Hunt with MI3 director JJ Abrams returning on as a producer. Considering MI3 is arguably the best of the spy-loving, plot-twisting series, that leaves a big pair of shoes vacant. So who should fill 'em?
As with my Five Folks Who Could Direct 'The Avengers' Instead of Jon Favreau list, the goal here is practicality. Sure, it'd be nice to see Martin Campbell bring some Casino Royale fun to the Impossible Missions Force and it'd even be interesting to have Brian de Palma return to calm the franchise with a little less action and a bit more intrigue, but let's face it; even with the talent involved, how many A-list directors will be clamoring to helm the third sequel to a film franchise that started in the '90s based on a TV show from the '60s?
However, unlike my Avengers list, I'm going to change things up by picking candidates based on the hypothetical tone Cruise, Abrams and Paramount may be shooting for MI4.
The Grounded Secret Agent
Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible kicked things off without a myriad of explosions and over-the-top action. Sure, there were helicopters flying in train tunnels and a bunch of Bond-esque gadgetry, but it did kind of mark one of the last times secret agent thrillers were, well, secret agent thrillers and not bombastic action films. Should Paramount want to go that route again, I'd love to see Niels Arden Oplev take a crack at the material.
Oplev may not yet be a common name to most people outside of Sweden, but his film adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a taught, well-paced thriller that's got style to spare. Granted there's not much big-budget action in TGWTD, so Oplev may not bring an extensive knowledge of pyrotechnics and digital compositing to the picture, but that's where JJ Abrams' guidance comes in. But if mood and intrigue are the order from MI4, Oplev is a solid choice who could probably be picked up for a little less than a number of other directors given he's outside the Hollywood system.
The Asian-Inspired Ass Kicker
For my money, Mission: Impossible 2 is the worst of the series. The script was full of twists that seemed goofy even for a franchise that once made audiences believe in explosive bubble gum. I'd chalk that up to screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, two gents who should probably stick to science fiction, and not director John Woo. Granted, MI2 had a few of Woo's stylistic cliches, but the action was still ass kicking.
So if the studio wants to unite a great Asian director with a better script this time around, Johnnie To should be up for the job. He can handle multi-threaded storylines no problem, as evidenced by his Election trilogy, and elaborate action choreography, as seen in Breaking News. To, a prolific producer and director in his native Hong Kong, has never made the jump to Hollywood nor does he appear as though he wants to, so he may actually be the longest shot on this list. Then again, we've got to have a little bit of indulgence when weighing a roster like this.
The Technically Proficient B-lister
Mission: Impossible 3 may have been the best of the series due entirely to JJ Abrams, but prior to MI3 he was really only big to the TV world, and a TV A-lister is, at best, a B-lister for the big screen. So if Paramount wants to opt for another B-lister who knows how to deliver spectacle on a budget, how about Jonathan Mostow? He delivers audience pleasing mini-blockbusters, but I think the man's an underused talent in Hollywood. Terminator 3 and Surrogates are both flawed, yet more impressive accomplishments than most give them credit for. Plus Breakdown is a great, no caveats necessary thriller, so he's got that notch on his belt.
He is currently attached to a big screen Swiss Family Robinson, though IMDb lists a 2012 release date for that, so his schedule should be pretty open in the meantime. And even though he's never knocked one out of the park for a big studio, I do think Mastow is one good script and one talented set of producers away from rising a rung or two up the Hollywood ladder.
The 'Wait, Who is That?' Guy Who Will Get it Done on Budget and on Time
I was trying to think of TV show episodes that came across as bigger than their obvious budgets with spectacle that rivals that normally found on the silver screen and I instantly thought of the Battlestar Galactica season 3 episodes Exodus Parts 1 and 2. That two-part arc (the apex of BSG, methinks) managed to pack in an inordinate amount of special effects and drama, even for a sci-fi series, and turns out it was directed by Félix Enríquez Alcalá (let's pretend he didn't also direct the awful BSG TV movie Razor). Is he the absolute best man for the job? No, probably not. But if deceptively large scale is the name of the MI4 game, plucking him from the TV world isn't such a bad idea.
The All-Around Studio Package
MI4 needs drama, intrigue, and high-concept studio stylings from someone who has proven capable of filling seats at the box office? James Mangold fits the bill. Identity, Walk the Line, and 3:10 to Yuma have shown he can entertain in a number of different genres. He's got a keen eye for ensemble casting (even if you don't like any of the three films, there's little denying their terrific casts), so I've no doubt he could put together a great team to surround Ethan Hunt. Plus he just got done working with Tom Cruise on the yet to be released Knight and Day, which I personally think looks like action-with-a-smile fun.
The other four directors on this list are all talents I think could deliver unique, fresh entries to a franchise most people are lukewarm towards, but of the five, Mangold is the only one I think has a genuine shot of being picked by Abrams and company. But hey, those are just my quick list picks; and I know I have some atypical tastes. So what say you? Who would you like to see captain Mission: Impossible 4?