Mission: Impossible or James Bond? – Why I’m an M:I Kinda Guy

Growing up as an adolescent of the ‘90s the discussion of whether you preferred Mission: Impossible or James Bond for your spy-faring feature films was a resurrected area of pop culture discourse.  In 1995 Pierce Brosnan would debut as James Bond in GoldenEye, the first Bond film in six years, the longest gap ever between films in the franchise (at least as of this writing).  In 1996, Tom Cruise would star as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible, the first film adaptation of the TV series that ran from 1966-1973.  I’ve always gotten the sense that James Bond is the more beloved pop culture figure.  He obviously has the wider reach, with a film series spanning fifty-three years and twenty-six films.  But for my money (metaphorically speaking as well as literal money in the form of movie tickets and first VHS (!) then DVD purchases), 007 has nothing on the Impossible Missions Force.

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Sean Connery as James Bond. / Photo Credit – Dr. No

Now, I have nothing against James Bond.  I feel like I should be clear about this up front.  This isn’t meant to be a persuasive essay.  I just, having finally seen Mission: Impossible Fallout this weekend, want to talk spies!  While I’ll be straightforward about proclaiming my love of Mission: Impossible, I certainly don’t want to begrudge anyone their love of the martini drinkin’, lady sexin’, kill-license bearin’, card playin’, flashy car drivin’, super spy archetype James Bond.  I appreciate all he’s added to pop culture.  I dig his legions of loyal fans.  And I think it’s really cool how he’s the only character (that I can think of) we see operate in film the way characters operate in comic books.

What I mean is James Bond first appeared (cinematically, my knowledge of Ian Fleming’s novels is even more limited than my knowledge of the films) in 1962’s Dr. No.  His most recent cinematic outing was 2015’s Spectre.  Over that time, seven actors (Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig) have played Bond.  Time and technology naturally move on around him, reflecting the era in which the film is made, while he pretty much stays relatively the same age.  It’s the same with comic books.  Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider in 1962.  He was fifteen.  Now, in 2018, he’s somewhere in his late twenties (a stretch, in my opinion) or early thirties (far more plausible).  Time stands relatively still for comic characters as it’s always done for Mr. Bond – and I think that’s kind of cool.  Still, for whatever reason, his films just aren’t my bag.

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Pierce Brosnan, my first James Bond (I think) / Photo Credit – Die Another Day

In fact, the only Bond films I can say I’ve seen from start to finish with absolute certainty are Goldfinger, Casino Royale (1967), GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall.  I’ve seen bits and pieces of others, when they’re on TV or something.  It’s just not a series I’m drawn to or feel the need to see each installment.

But I don’t hate James Bond films.  I just sort of nothing them.  They are entertaining in the moment and then forgettable afterwards.  Mission: Impossible on the other hand?  That’s a totally different story!  I really enjoy the films, the characters, and I have some fond movie memories associated with them.

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Jack Harmon (Emilio Estevez), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, obvs), Claire Phelps (Emmanuelle Beart), and Hannah Williams (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) on the first impossible mission we saw! / Photo Credit – Mission: Impossible

I’ve always gravitated more to the tone and mood of the Mission: Impossible films.  In film (or literature for that matter), tone is essentially the attitude toward the subject in the work with mood being the general feeling of the work.  I like the balance of tension, twists, action, humor, and gravity in this series.  And even though I know Tom Cruise and co. are going to end up saving the day in the end, I still always have the “Aaaaagggghhhhh!  Oh no!” moment where, at least for a second or two, I think they might lose.  I appreciate that :).

I’ve also always appreciated – while Tom Cruise is obviously the centre of the series – there’s some regularity in a recurring cast.  I like the feel seeing familiar faces give these films!  Alongside Ethan Hunt we always find Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and showing up with varying degrees of regularity through the series we have Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan), Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), and Jeremy Renner (William Brandt).  I do wish the series would have followed in the footsteps of the J.J. Abrams-led Mission: Impossible III going forward and continued with better gender balance in the IMF team.  By all accounts in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossible Fallout you’d think the IMF is all-male.  Yikes.  That team structure makes me sad.  But I think it’s a rewarding commentary on modern filmmaking to note how weird the team scenes in those predominately male films feel.  I don’t know if I would’ve noticed this as a kid in the late ‘80s.  But now I do notice it and it feels/looks like something’s not quite right; it’s a little out of place or unnatural.

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Zhen and Luther, ready to detonate some fun bombs! / Photo Credit – Mission: Impossible III

Off-and-on gender issues aside for now, I love how these are team films.  It’s one of the reasons I’m draw to them more than to the Bond films.  While 007 is always a solo act, Ethan Hunt can’t do what he does without those he’s working with.  I like the sense of familiarity, the sense of family and the idea that, to do this work, you damn sure can’t do it alone.  It feels more realistic too (or, you know, as realistic as these sorts of movies could ever feel).  Over the course of twenty-two years and six films, we’ve gotten to know some of these people pretty well.  On the team note, another regret of mine with this series (although this is personal preference, not the important idea of gender balance and inclusivity discussed above) is we didn’t get more of Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell), Declan Gormley (Johnathan Rhys Meyers), and Zhen Lei (Maggie Q) after Mission: Impossible III.  Of all the films, that was my favorite IMF team.

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Luther, Zhen, and Ethan rescue Lindsey. / Photo Credit – Mission: Impossible III

On the character relationship note, I was always impressed with how Ethan Hunt’s love life’s been handled across the Mission: Impossible series.  Bond is a notorious lothario, sexing up whomever he happens to be with whether for personal pleasure, information, or both.  I grant the spy life can’t be one that’s conducive to a long term, committed relationship.  But I still prefer how this is addressed in Mission: Impossible.  Ethan Hunt falls for Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton) in Mission: Impossible IIThey asked her to reprise her role in Mission: Impossible III and, when she turned it down, we met Michelle Monaghan’s Julia Meade.  Ethan’s life makes it impossible (heh heh…I so didn’t intend that pun) to hold down a real relationship, ultimately forcing him to do what he can to put her into hiding to keep her safe.  Yet he doesn’t fill that void with casual sexual encounters.  He’s a monogamous relationship sort of guy, despite the inability to realize one due to his job.  Ethan loves Julia, even if he can’t be with her, and he realizes the risks of bringing anyone else into this life.  We see real character growth here.

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Ethan and Julia / Photo Credit – Mission: Impossible III

We also get to see Ethan Hunt grow as a spy across the series.  While Bond’s always been the best there is at what he does (sorry Wolverine, I know that’s your tagline but it fits here so I’m using it), that’s not the case for Ethan.  In Mission: Impossible he was a part of Jim Phelps’s (Jon Voight) IMF team.  By Mission: Impossible II he’s established himself as a great IMF agent on his own and, come Mission: Impossible III, he’s decided to retire and train new agents so he can have a chance at a “normal” life.  Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol shows him as an elite leader within the IMF.  By Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation he’s talking to the record store girl in London (Hermione Corfield) at the beginning of the film to get his mission and she says, “It really is you.  I’ve heard stories…they can’t all be true.”  Over the course of the series we’ve seen Ethan Hunt go from talented team member to living legend.  This sort of growth and development in the character is more interesting to me than the more static nature of James Bond.

Now, I grant there’s not a lot of real depth and/or growth a character in an action/thriller series will go through.  I’m not arguing the Mission: Impossible films are thoughtful and provocative character studies.  Nor will I deny the dimensions they’ve sought to add to James Bond in the Daniel Craig era.  It’s just I like the development we do see with Ethan Hunt more.  I find it more interesting, in part probably because I’ve always been more invested in him as a character and in these movies.

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Daniel Craig as James Bond / Photo Credit – Skyfall

I also like how we’ve seen Ethan Hunt age.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  In each and every Mission: Impossible movie what Tom Cruise does is beyond superhuman.  It’s nuts!  But it’s also par for the course in these sorts of movies.  Still, he gets winded, struggles, and fumbles in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (at least as far as those words apply in an action/thriller) and he hesitates before jumping in Mission: Impossible Fallout in ways he’d never have done in Mission: Impossible II.  To balance the insane action and even-more-insane stunts with the idea of a spy who is aging, at least in his own cinematic way, is interesting to watch.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION

Ilsa and Ethan / Photo Credit – Mission: Impossible Rouge Nation

On the action note, it’s worth mentioning here I hate heights.  I’ve had an on again/off again thing with them over the years.  Once, I even roofed houses!  But now I can’t even consider getting on the li’l rollercoaster at our local amusement park and Kalie can attest to the fact that I once started crying in line for the Ferris Wheel.  So I’m not a heights guy.  But I still love watching all the crazy things Tom Cruise does in these movies!!  Even if I have trouble handling it :).  When he scales the tallest building in the world – Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (2,722 ft above ground) – in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol I can’t watch the scene without tensing and screaming, “FUCK!”  No matter how many times I see it, it freaks me out every time.

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The aforementioned Burj Khalifa – GAH!!!  I have the utmost respect for Tom Cruise for doing all these stunts himself…but it does make me question his sanity.  Yikes! / Photo Credit – Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

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This mountain climbing scene is pretty rough to watch too. / Photo Credit – Mission: Impossible II

There’s so much I’ve enjoyed in these movies over the years but I also have a lot of really good memories associated with them too.  I think, in a lot of ways, that ends up being one of the major factors in how we see films in the long run.  If we have great memories associated with a film, no matter what the critics at large say, it will always mean something important to us.

When I first saw Mission: Impossible in the early summer of 1996, I was thirteen-years-old.  It provided me with my very first ….wait…holy shit!…what the fuck?!? film experience :).  The plot twists were so enigmatic it took me many viewings to be sure I’d pulled it all together correctly.  I remember driving home from the theatre with David, ten-years-old at the time, and our cousin’s girlfriend (who took us to the movie) and NONE OF US had any idea exactly what had happened.  We talked about it the whole way home and for many, many weeks after.  I loved that!  A truly mind-bending mystery/thriller is all too rare.  And Mission: Impossible was the first film to show me the potential power and entertainment of that sort of movie.

Also, let’s just say this – the scene where he’s hanging down in the computer vault in the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA is probably the most iconic scene in Tom Cruise’s entire career!  Even more than the Risky Business underwear slide/lip sync routine, I’m saying this takes the cake.  Just the other day I was talking generally about the Mission: Impossible series with Mom and, as soon as I mentioned it, she mimed hanging over the floor and catching the sweat off of her glasses :).  I love it!

MI 1

THIS SCENE!!!!  I’d go so far as to say this isn’t just Tom Cruise’s most iconic scene but it’s one of the most iconic scenes in all movie history. / Photo Credit – Mission: Impossible

With so many viewings, multiple great lines from that film – random ones too – worked their way into David’s and my vocabulary over the years.  Randomly we’ll just look at each other and say, “Red light!  Green light!” or “Negative!  Golitsyn is on the move!”  I still say, to no one in particular, “I’m not the only one who’s seen you alive” when I put my glasses on too.  Kalie often says I speak two languages – English and movie/TV quotes.  (Kalie, it’s worth nothing, speaks English and a decent bit of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and is playing around with French and Arabic too (so, no matter how much I love these movies, she would be a FAR better spy then I ever could).)  I’ve always felt a film – whether something iconic like Star Wars or something smaller and goofier like Eurotrip – that works its way into your heart and mind enough to be regularly quoted in your life is a special bond.

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Hello scene I reenact in the mirror like three times a week when I take my contacts out and put my glasses on. / Photo Credit – Mission: Impossible

Moving from middle school to high school to college, David and I watched and rewatched Mission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible II, and Mission: Impossible III often.  By the time Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol came out in December of 2011, I was in the middle of my very first year teaching at Mercyhurst.  As you grow up and life gets busier, you don’t have the time to dedicate to reviewing films you love in the way you did when you were younger.  So my experience of the later films in the series is different.  It doesn’t mean I don’t love them too.  I do!  I just can’t obsessively watch them as I did during my youth with the first three.  Given this busy nature of life, I actually missed Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation in theatres.  I’m not kidding or exaggerating when I say this legitimately bothered me.  Like I felt physically and emotionally uncomfortable with it.  It sat weirdly in my stomach, the idea of missing the latest chapter of this series I grew up loving in the theatre.  But I eventually saw it (and loved it!) and I rectified this oversight with Mission: Impossible Fallout, having seen (and loved!) it yesterday.

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The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) and August Walker (Henry Cavill) run for safety with Ethan Hunt. / Photo Credit – Mission: Impossible Fallout

There’s just something fun about the spy genre.  The globe-hopping!  The disguises!  The gadgets!  The plot twists!  The double crosses!  It doesn’t surprise me it’s survived as long as it has as a genre, always changing with the times from the Cold War era stories we once told to the modern ones reflecting our current post-9/11 world.  These sorts of stories are faux-snapshots of our real world while being larger-then-life in every way.  For me, I’m always going to be a Mission: Impossible kind of guy.  When it comes to my spy thrillers, Ethan Hunt’s my hero-of-choice and as long as Tom Cruise wants to keep making these movies and jumping from insane heights and performing crazy stunts, I’ll be along for the ride.

Now, dear read, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to let me know what your thoughts are on the matter.  Are you more of a Mission: Impossible person like I am?  Or do you prefer a Mr. Bond, James Bond for your spying entertainment?  This blog post will hopefully not self-destruct in five seconds because I spent a lot of time writing it and I would be sad if it did.

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Jane Carter (Paula Patton), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, again, obvs), and William Brandt (Jeremey Renner) get down to business. / Photo Credit – Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

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22 thoughts on “Mission: Impossible or James Bond? – Why I’m an M:I Kinda Guy

  1. I have to admit, I’m probably more of a Bond Fan than Mission Impossible. Though I owe a large part of this to nostalgia, the films regularly being shown on TV every Sunday which ended up becoming a regular viewing for me, I think I just find the more traditional solo-act spy more appealing. That being said, his libido could probably do with being pegged down a couple of notches.

    That being said, the Mission Impossible theme tune is such an iconic bit of music one can’t help but hum along. Though I’m a bigger Bond fan, I can say without a doubt that none of the Mission Impossible films I’ve watched have disappointed me (Something that can’t be said for all the Bond films, surprisingly enough).

    As always, a brilliant post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. YOU ACCEPTED THE MISSION!!! Aaaahhh! I’m extra excited by your comment because of how I ended the post :). Haha, I love it!

      I think it makes sense, even with your being a bigger Bond fan, that you might not love all the films. ‘Mission: Impossible’ is a six film series so far. James Bond is TWENTY-SIX! It’s only natural that every single one wouldn’t be an out-of-the-park hit for you. However, I really like your point about the “traditional solo-act spy.” Because I think you’re right. I think the solo spy is the more classic take on the genre. I hadn’t even thought of that! And I totally get the regular viewing thing, too. Another reason I feel I ended up liking the ‘Mission: Impossible’ series better is I watched those films more often. Regular, repeated viewing breeds a very real connection. Do you have a favorite Bond?? I’m always excited to ask James Bond fans that. I like to know everyone’s favorite Bond.

      And, okay, how could I write a whole post about ‘Mission: Impossible’ and NOT MENTION THE THEME SONG?!?!? Holy crap! That’s one of the most iconic parts of the whole thing! And I love it too! Wow…I owe you one for correcting my ridiculous oversight here. Thanks Will!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Cool post Michael. It’s Bond for me. I agree with what Will says in that Bond is rooted in nostalgia and there are many titles to pick and choose. From a toy point of view the biggest-selling toy car ever is the Corgi 007 Aston Martin DB5 with all its gadgets. Such a great toy. Also agreeing with Will that Roger Moore is my favourite Bond – even though he is completely cheesy many times over – however, being exposed to Moore’s films the most growing up that’s who I see as classic Bond. Add to that a wealth of iconic villains, vehicles, locations, gadgets and classy songs like Live and Let Die, Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, Nobody Does it Better, Bond is pretty hard to beat even for something as well made as MI.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YOU ACCEPTED THE MISSION TOO! I’m always excited about comments but I’m learning I’m extra excited about them on this one, given the ending line :).

      I think the sheer force of Bond’s history does pose a challenge for any spy story to counter. If my casual googling of the publication date for the ‘Casino Royale’ novel is correct, he’s been around for sixty-five years! He’s, rightly, EVERYWHERE. I didn’t even think of the toys! I remember seeing some of them when I was a kid too. Good call on the classic Bond tunes too ;). They are another brilliant way Bond ties to popular culture. I’m always excited to see who does the theme for the latest Bond film.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a Bond girl! I have watched every single Bond movie, and in fact, once my kids were old enough- we watched them as a family in order from the beginning to the most recent one. But…these MI movies are good, and I’ve been debating watching them in order, as I haven’t seen them all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ANOTHER TAKER ON THE MISSION! YAY! Aww, it’s so awesome you have a Bond-based family tradition like this. As I was reading this I realized, for whatever reason, neither of my parents were big Bond fans so they weren’t a big part of my youth. OH! Who’s your favorite Bond?!? And does everyone like the same Bond or is your family divided among different Bond camps?

      Also, obviously, I totally think you should watch all the ‘Mission: Impossible’ films! While they don’t have to be watched in order, it does add to the experience and makes it more fun too. If you want to see ‘Fallout’ in the theatre though, I’d recommend you at least see ‘ Rogue Nation’ first as many characters carry over.

      Like

  4. I’m so opposite in the sense that I find the MI movies entirely forgettable. I’ve only see 3 though I think (3 movies, not only III), so I’m definitely not caught up. But 007 on the other hand – I don’t remember every detail but I remember far more. And they are a lot more fun to watch and have me on the edge of my seat more.

    That’s my two cents. Nothing deep behind it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes I don’t know if there is much depth to be found in things like this. I mean I have a lot of reasons I prefer ‘Mission: Impossible’ but, at the end of the day, I latched on to them more as a kid and built great memories around them.

      Also, YOU ACCEPTED THE MISSION TOO!!!! This post has been up for a few days but I’m still super excited about that :). Haha, yay!!! So, as a Bond fan, who would you say is your favorite Bond??

      Like

  5. I agree with you 100%. I’m curious to know what you’re review is for Mission: Impossible Fallout! If I had to be honest, I felt that the latest instalment in the franchise was a little bit predictable. What do you think?
    I’m reblogging this btw:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WOOO HOOO! I’ve finally got someone else in the comments who loves ‘Mission: Impossible’ more like I do. Take that 007 ;). THANK YOU FOR ACCEPTING THE MISSION. Yay!!! Also, thanks for the reblog. Hopefully we’ll find even more M:I fans along the way.

      I’d agree with your take on ‘Mission: Impossible Fallout’ too. I had a lot of fun and am thinking about going to see it again but it used several classic setups/tropes we’ve seen before as opposed to new twists, turns, and scenarios like they usually do.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Truuue. I truly believe that Mission:Impossible is better than James Bond because of the sheer multitude of dimensions to the movies of the former. Where 007 relies on his individual strengths to keep the movie going, M:I incorporates futuristic technology with a stable, unchanging team. That, in my opinion, is the biggest between the two franchises.
        Hey, did you put out a review for Infinity War yet? I’ve been wanting to read one for WEEKS!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. YES! It’s the team thing! I’ve always wondered if that’s why many people like ‘M:I II’ least. Ethan has Luther, Nyah, and Billy of course – but I think that one feels the most like a solo act (but I love it all the same). And who doesn’t love their gadgets?? I often imagine how cool it would be to have and pull off one of those masks/vocal changers as I go through my day-to-day life :).

        And I did write a review/reaction of Infintiy War! You can check it out here – https://mycomicrelief.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/avengers-infinity-war-expectations-vs-reality/. I’ll be excited to hear what you think! Also, I’ve been working on that post about Thanos I promised you for the last two months. It’s finally almost polished! What can I say? I take my time :). I know you’re blog’s been expanding and you’ve had less comic/MCU-centered stuff but if you’d still like the post, it’s yours. If not, that’s fine too! Don’t feel bad – I can always throw it up here ;).

        Liked by 1 person

      3. God, I can relate to you so much!
        Also, thank you for taking the time to write a guest post for me! I will definitely want to put that up on my blog, and I’d want to see how my readers respond to it.
        I wish I could say that I have come up with something too, but tbh, I do not have the kind of expertise to write a movie review yet. In fact, I could actually do with a few tips for writing a structured movie review from you! I am relatively new at blogging, so any advice you have will be super helpful. Thank you in advance:)

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Haha, I don’t know if I’d say what I do is “structured” :). But, in all seriousness, I don’t look to do a straight review. I don’t believe I have the credentials to act as a film critic nor can I talk about camera angles, lighting, and stuff like that. Instead, I approach it more as writing a “reflection” or a “reaction” about the film. I talk about what I know and I know narratives and I know my feelings, so that’s what I discuss. I’ll look at the film and ask myself, “Is there something I can say about this that’s unqiue to me? What’s anchored in my feelings and my perspective?” If so, I do that. That’s what this piece was, a look at my emotional connection to ‘Mission: Impossible’ as a fan of the series. It has nothing to do with film theory and everything to do with my vantage point.

        If I don’t have anything unique or fun to say, I don’t write the piece. A lot of films I see I don’t end up writing about. Others take time. I have ideas for pieces on both ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Ant-Man and The Wasp’ that are still in my head because I haven’t developed them yet. And ‘Black Panther’ came out in February! If I tell myself I HAVE to write a review because I want a post to put up, it comes out feeling forced or generic. So if it feels fun and organic, write! Don’t worry about it being “a review” so much as it being yours. I enjoy your site and I think, new to blogging or not, your written voice is strong. Be true to that and I think the rest sort of sorts itself.

        In class, I often give my students reflection questions to write on when we watch films. I do the same with my writing here sometimes, looking to address a specific issue in a film as opposed to trying to do a formal review. I’ll ask myself “How does this film present love?” or “What spoke to me so deeply here? Why have I seen it a dozen times?” or “Why do I hate that character so much?” Anything like that helps me when I want to write something but I’m struggling to find an angle.

        Liked by 1 person

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