Mission: Impossible - Fallout — How Tom Cruise sets his action franchise apart from other movies in the genre
Today, five films later, Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible series is arguably the most complicated, enduring and influential action franchise.
Twenty-two years — that’s how long it’s been since Brian De Palma made Mission Impossible. The makers of that film knew they had lit the fuse wire (come on, play the theme) on a major franchise, but I certainly did not. Catching it on TV, I knew it was outrageously entertaining, a guilty pleasure, especially the stunt involving a train and a helicopter in a tunnel. I also tremendously enjoyed the scene in which Tom Cruise, herein called Ethan Hunt, hangs suspended from a wire at a CIA facility, but I had no clue that it would turn seminal. I knew the theme music was attractive, but I was ignorant about the element that would make film buffs play it in loop to this very day. Today, five films later, the MI series is arguably the best in the action movie genre. At least, it is the most complicated, enduring and influential. And, let’s not forget the mask play.
Now, ahead of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, all one hears about is of the High Altitude Low Jump (HALO) and how Cruise did it, at least in part, in person (without using doubles). We hear how an injury (not related to HALO) kept him off the sets for nine weeks. Still, Cruise returned after seven weeks, pumped up to shoot.
YouTube is flooded with teasers, trailers, behind the scenes videos, and fan tributes. So this isn’t just a movie; it is, make no mistake, an event, mostly because the studios (Cruise is one of the producers) throw money at it. This why Cruise doesn’t want to kill the Hunt in him; the increasingly novel gimmicks and the box-office dollars will do for now.
I was lucky enough to catch Mission: Impossible 2 in the theater. Even then, I was hoping that it was the last we heard of the spy from the fictional Mission Impossible Force (IMF). Wouldn’t Cruise, the biggest fish in the Hollywood pond, have a wide selection of lures and baits to choose from? I remember sitting in Chennai’s Satyam Theaters wondering why in God’s hell did they decide to make the love story between Hunt and Nyah Nordhoff-Hall (Thandie Newton, nowhere in the picture now) such a central part of the movie. Having Hong-Kong-based John Woo as the director does have such an effect on any movie, I guess. I have to admit that I found myself quarreling with what was on screen — and how the impossible part of the stunts was what brought audiences to theaters (weirdly, it hurts a little less when you watch it the second time around).
You might throw the "willing suspension of disbelief" bit at me, but that doesn’t quite cut it. There are others who routinely save the world or kick some ass. There are franchises like Bourne, Bond, Fast and the Furious, Expendables, Transporter and other movies, but none of it is like watching a Mission Impossible film. Why?
Let’s chip away at some answers. It is not just the characters who can do the impossible. Some of the events in the series, too, are hard to imagine as possible. The partial destruction of the Kremlin in Ghost Protocol immediately comes to mind.
We know Hunt is good with motorbikes, even when he is riding against the traffic. We first saw him do wheelies against the villain in MI:2, and he was back doing the same in Rogue Nation. So, when you see him in Fallout on a motorbike again, you should be wary, but people just aren’t. Instead, they are ravenous for the next installment. Many have argued that the series got better with every movie.
MI sticks to its time-tested formula, which it borrows from the eponymous TV series of the late 1980s. Take any of the five films so far, things always go wrong for Hunt. And, when there is no way out, he takes desperate measures. Then the charismatic spy, along with his daredevil team, has to take unbelievable and risky steps to set things right. And, he is always rogue — You don’t have to wait for Rogue Nation (Dir: Brad Bird; 2015) to know that. His boss, played by Jon Voight, apparently dies right in the opening scene of MI.
Each of the MI movies typically opens with a thrill pill. In most of the films, Hunt is given the assignment via a digital recording that self-destructs in seconds. In many movies, this trope is reworked to keep the formula refreshing.
However, it was Ghost Protocol that changed things for me. The movie's build-up to the fourth part had some memorable scenes such as the one on the bridge in MI:3, when Owen Davian, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (the most memorable of the villains), makes a daring escape. But nothing can quite prepare you for the Burj Khalifa sequence in Ghost Protocol.
And, to keep it interesting, they keep adding more characters — Anthony Hopkins left after the first two and Alec Baldwin now retains his part. Jeremy Renner, Hunt’s trusted friend is gone; he had to take up an urgent assignment for Avengers.
Simon Pegg, the lead in the gag-rich Three Colours Cornetto trilogy, is on again as the techie, Benji Dunn, probably because he is the most fun to hang with. The beautiful Rebecca Ferguson is in, too, and that’s good news for everyone. Christopher McQuarrie is back at the helm, mostly because Rogue Nation was no dud at the box-office. He takes sole writer credit this time around.
Credit must be given in finding ingenious uses for the mask. Benji’s self-deprecating jokes about turning into a field agent and using the mask show the popularity of wearing disguises.
Henry Cavill (Superman Returns) and Wes Bentley (the guy next door literally in American Beauty) are surprise packages. Add to that the excellent Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan (Cruise’s wife), Sean Harris (reprising his role as the antagonist, Solomon Lane) and Vanessa Kirby (from Netflix’s The Crown as White Widow here) you have a potent package. The only major actor to keep his part through all six movies is Ving Rhames, who plays the flamboyantly-dressed Luther Stickell.
Lorne Balfe, the composer of critically acclaimed movies such as The Florida Project, has scored 26 tracks for the movie, and the digital album has been released. Eddie Hamilton is back as editor. Rob Hardy, who shot Ex Machina, is the cinematographer.
Critics who have seen the movie are raving about it.
The MI series is based on the Mission Impossible (TV series), created by Bruce Geller, which was aired on America’s ABC network from 1966-73. The show was revived in 1988-90, but was cancelled after two seasons. Paramount Pictures are distributing this film. JJ Abrams, who directed the third installment, is producing the movie under his banner, Bad Robot, along with a host of others. Fallout runs to 147 minutes, the longest in the series till date. The series is one of the most profitable in film history, netting well over 2.5 billion dollars till date. Today, it is coming to a theater near you. Go for it.
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