Most action film franchises, upon locking down a formula and a star, cycle through an array of directors whose job is merely not to mess things up. Not so with the Mission: Impossible series. Each of the Impossible movies features a distinct directorial imprint, and Sean Witzke, as part of Grantland’s excellent Tom Cruise week, has made an erudite video essay that notes the influences Brian de Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird brought to bear on the series’ first four installments.
Of course, there’s another auteur at work here: Tom Cruise. Cruise handpicked each of the franchise’s directors, and as Witzke notes the series is as much a study of “how a movie star ages”—or, given Cruise’s still-limber stunts, how a movie star doesn’t—as it is the story of a spy doing impossible things over and over again.