Ethan Hunt is the LeBron James of action heroes: He gets the job done no matter how much dead weight is on his team.
Actually, LeBron’s had it easy compared to Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible” hero. Not only has Ethan rarely had a Dwyane Wade or a Kyrie Irving, he’s barely had a Matthew Dellavedova.
The “Mission: Impossible” movies are known for their exotic locales, elaborate masks and Cruise’s gonzo stunts, including free climbing at Utah’s Dead Horse Point and swinging around outside the 2,700-foot tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
What they aren’t known for are the Ethanettes, the easily replaceable Impossible Missions Force agents, many of whom range from useless to counterproductive.
With “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” opening Friday, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to look back at the franchise — 1996’s “Mission: Impossible,” 2000’s “Mission: Impossible II,” 2006’s “Mission: Impossible III” and 2011’s “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” — with this ranking of Ethan’s team members, from worst to first.
15. Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), “M:I1”: He had one job: hold the rope as he lowered Ethan into the CIA’s black vault to steal the NOC (nonofficial cover) list of covert agents. But Krieger screwed that up when he was frightened by a mouse. What is he, a housewife in a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon? Then he dropped his knife into the room, which alerted the CIA to the intrusion. Sure, the villainous Krieger was pretty good at flying a helicopter through The Chunnel, at least until Ethan blew him up. But, uggh. He’s the worst.
14. Billy Baird (John Polson), “M:I2”: What is it with these awful chopper pilots? Despite his assurances to Ethan — “Anything you need me to get, move or watch, just let me know. I’m your man.” — the Aussie did little more than annoy audiences.
13: Hannah Williams (Ingeborga Dapkunaite), “M:I1”: She kept her eyes on the original NOC list thief during a party in Prague, thanks to special sunglasses and a marking spray. But that’s about all she did besides look pretty and die in a car bombing.
12: Claire Phelps (Emmanuelle Beart), “M:I1”: Presumed dead in that same car bombing, she surprised Ethan by cozying up to him right after learning of her husband’s supposed death. Classy. Like Krieger, she was revealed to be one of the bad guys. She also made terrible coffee.
11. Jack Harmon (Emilio Estevez), “M:I1”: The easygoing hacker palled around with Ethan before nearly ruining the Prague mission by taking too long to breach a security database. Then he was crushed by an elevator.
10. Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott Thomas), “M:I1”: Like Hannah, she didn’t get to do much more than look pretty and die. In this case, she was stabbed to death in an alley. But at least Sarah was never late.
9. Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), “M:I1”: Sure, he was evil. But he obviously was a good agent. He led the team for years and was able to murder every one of its members except Ethan. There’s no way Krieger could have pulled that off.
8: Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), “M:I3”: Yet another bland chopper pilot, Declan didn’t do anything to keep the mysterious Rabbit’s Foot away from Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who’s easily the best villain in the franchise. But at least Declan wasn’t evil. Seriously, though, when is Ethan going to learn how to fly his own helicopters?
7. Zhen Lei (Maggie Q), “M:I3”: She took one for the team by getting shot in the shoulder. But her biggest contribution was showing up half-naked to a party at the Vatican and spilling some wine on Owen so Ethan could impersonate him with one of those fancy rubber masks. Sadly, the talented Q never even got the chance to showcase her fighting skills.
6. Jane Carter (Paula Patton), “M:I4”: Like Zhen Lei, one of her main duties was to simply look stunning, which she did while seducing an Indian tech billionaire (Anil Kapoor) in an effort to stop the launch of a nuclear weapon by a Russian extremist (Michael Nyqvist). She also was skilled in close-quarters hand-to-hand combat, and she kept going even after she was gutshot. Jane loses points, though, for kicking an asset out of a window on the 119th floor of the Burj Khalifa.
5. Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), “M:I3”: She technically was never a member of Ethan’s team, but he trained her, and they worked together during her attempted rescue until she was killed by a tiny explosive charge Owen had implanted in her skull. Trained in the martial arts, she also was able to catch a handgun Ethan tossed, aim and fire, all in one smooth, wicked cool motion. The movie didn’t just reunite Russell with “Felicity” creator J.J. Abrams, “M:I3’s” co-writer and director, it paved the way for her kick-ass role in FX’s “The Americans.”
4. Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton), “M:I2”: The sexy thief risked her life by going undercover — and under the covers — with her ex-boyfriend, rogue IMF agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott). Then she threatened it again by injecting herself with the deadly Chimera virus to keep Ambrose from stealing it. She was last seen making out with Ethan in Sydney. She may have been a terrible kisser, because the next time we saw Ethan, he was engaged to a nurse (Michelle Monaghan).
3. Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), “MI:3”-“MI:5”: Added for a bit of comic relief, the nervous IMF technician was elevated to a field agent in time to help Ethan infiltrate the Kremlin and be framed — and disavowed along with the rest of the team — when it exploded in “M:I4.” As excited as he is to be saving the world on the front lines, all Benji really wants is to wear one of those masks.
2. William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), “M:I4” and “M:I5”: Nearly as capable as Ethan, he even poached one of the franchise’s signature high-tech break-ins from him. Brandt clearly was added to the cast in case a torch passing — a la his taking over the “Bourne” franchise from Matt Damon — was needed. After all, Cruise hadn’t carried a hit movie since “M:I3” five years earlier, and “M:I4” was released during the height of the nonsensical backlash against him.
1. Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), “M:I1”-“M:I5”: Introduced as “the only man alive who actually hacked NATO Ghostcom,” he’s also the only character other than Ethan to appear in every “Mission: Impossible” movie. When he isn’t dropping the names of fashion designers — “my $800 Gucci shoes” this and “my Versace jacket” that — the world’s most intimidating computer geek is well-versed in underwater welding. He’s pretty handy with a grenade launcher, too. Over the years, Luther has become Ethan’s good friend and confidante. Not bad for someone who was hired at the last minute, from a short list of disavowed IMF agents, alongside that worthless Krieger.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @life_onthecouch