Last week, the second trailer for the upcoming Fast & Furious “presentation” Hobbs And Shaw dropped, and it was just as bananas and ridiculous and awesome as the first trailer. While the movie won’t actually arrive in theaters for another four months, it already seems preordained to make $1 billion. That has much to do with the star power of The Rock and Jason Statham as it does with the draw of the Fast & Furious franchise, one of the most reliable brands for summer blockbusters in the early 21st century.
And yet, while giving all due props to Hobbs And Shaw — who knew The Rock would one day make a hyper-violent live-action redux of Moana that felt necessary?– I feel compelled to offer a caveat. As much as I enjoy the indelibly goofy and good-natured Fast & Furious franchise, the King Kong of modern action cinema, I must express my preference for the Godzilla of this genre, the Mission: Impossible movies. (The John Wick series is Mothra in the analogy, I guess — ascendent but not quite in the big boys’ class yet.)
As the biggest and best franchises situated outside the Marvel and DC monoliths, Fast & Furious and Mission: Impossible parallel one another in other crucial ways. They both position a central leading man (Vin Diesel and Tom Cruise) around a cast of supporting players that have been subbed in over the years to keep the movies vital. You can make obvious one-to-one comparisons in these supporting casts — Paul Walker in Fast & Furious is analogous to Ving Rhames in Mission: Impossible (the steady sidekick), Ludacris in Fast & Furious plays a similar role to Simon Pegg in Mission: Impossible (the comic relief who first appeared in one of the early sequels), and The Rock in Fast & Furious is sort of like Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible (the sexy badass who is both a friend and a foe).
Both franchises also have had similar arcs. While both began with well-regarded and successful origin films, they had to grow into their status as iconic tentpoles. Fast & Furious arguably didn’t achieve its signature tone — uber-muscular action that’s one part winking camp and one part dream logic — until the fourth film; Mission: Impossible hit its stride at about the same point, with 2011’s Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. In a way, both franchises have only gotten better over time, peaking in their popularity and esteem in the back half of the ’10s.
For all their similarities, however, I must give the edge to Mission: Impossible. I have my reasons — four of them, in fact.
1. Mission: Impossible is a showcase for great directors
Whenever people rank Mission: Impossible movies, the one that inevitably winds up at the bottom is 2000’s Mission: Impossible 2. But I would argue that Mission: Impossible 2 is an example of what makes this franchise so interesting. That’s because it’s a film clearly made by an auteur, the legendary Hong Kong action master John Woo. Mission: Impossible 2 is loaded with Woo trademarks: operatic slo-mo shootouts, gunmen who fling themselves through the air while firing two pistols, omnipresent doves. It’s also a little slow and has virtually no plot. But it’s an actual movie and not merely a product that hits the marks in a predictable fashion.