Why 'Fallout' Proves Mission: Impossible Is Hollywood's Best Franchise
It was 22 years ago that Tom Cruise first played Ethan Hunt, the secret agent at the centre of the Mission: Impossible franchise.
In that time, Cruise and his IMF colleagues have fended off countless international enemies, done a lot of running, had no visible time to eat or sleep, and even had a sojourn to Australia (we will never forget the 2000 Sydney-set second installment).
Film franchises have become oversaturated in those two decades (sequels made up eight of the top ten movies in the US two weeks ago), but as the likes of Marvel, Transformers, Star Wars, and DC quickly run out of ideas and vitality, the M:I adventures have only gotten better. In fact, it’s by far the best and most reliable big-budget franchise out there.
The latest, Mission: Impossible - Fallout (in cinemas Thursday), is the pinnacle of the franchise, and what action movies should be: breathless and impactful action sequences that combine excellent choreography and a lack of frenetic editing, committed performances, real world urgency, and a gripping but uncomplicated story. How is an action franchise hitting its highs after 22 years and six movies, when most new franchises are starting off on the wrong foot, before spiralling further into bloated and nonsensical territory?
Has Mission: Impossible cracked the magic formula of popcorn movies? Here’s some ideas about what keeps the franchise fresh, two decades in.
1. A commitment to good, currently relevant, but also fun stories
Blockbusters have long loved to be ripped-from-the-headlines - the Cold War was thrown into the boxing ring with Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren)’s match in Rocky IV, the nationality of villains shifts with who Western governments thinks we should be demonising - but Mission: Impossible is able to spin the political climate without it feeling goofy or opportunistic. They’re also more character and plot driven than their comic book franchise counterparts, focusing on a select few story lines and characters instead of attempting to cram nearly 30 lead roles into 150 minutes.
This translates into immediacy. While you know that there isn’t an actual Ethan Hunt or IMF out there trying to stop various geopolitical disasters (we can dream, though), it always feels like there’s a whole lot more at stake than when a band of superheroes thoughtlessly demolish a major world city for the upteenth time over some fancy stones.
Without giving too much away, Fallout is cut from this now-classic M:I franchise story mould: influenced by current affairs and detailed enough to offer a fair amount of twists and turns but could still be summarised in a single sentence (in this case, the encroaching threat of nuclear war), but also boasting plenty of death-defying set pieces and victoriously well-done action scenes along the way to still make it a fun night at the cinema. We want thrills, sure, but we also want escape, and M:I brings that in spades.
2. A changing roster of directors
Mission: Impossible has never stayed still for very long. While the franchise has found most of its critical success with frequent Tom Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (writer of Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, and Edge of Tomorrow), helming previous installment Rogue Nation as well as Fallout, he is the first returning director to the series. Until now, M:I has always shaken up its vision and creative team each time: the first outing in 1996 was by Brian De Palma (Scarface, Carrie, The Untouchables), the second by John Woo (The Killer, Face/Off), and the third in 2006 by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Super 8).
This keeps M:I fresh with new visual ideas and approaches, the franchise never becoming too content with one aesthetic or approach to keep audiences coming back - all directors have extremely different styles, evident in their most popular films before and after.
While Cruise has always been a committed performer, doing the rock climbing sequence at the beginning of Mission: Impossible II himself, McQuarrie’s tenure has been marked by an increased commitment to practical effects, with his mega-rich star hanging off a flying plane for Rogue Nation.
They serve to only make the films slicker, more sophisticated, and visceral, giving a much more immersive experience than we’re used to in blockbusters.
“We’re always thinking about the experience you’re going to have, which is one of the reasons Tom does all the crazy things he does in these movies,” McQuarrie said at a recent IMAX screening of Fallout in New York City.
“It’s not that Tom is a daredevil, it’s not that he’s a crazy showoff. What he does by doing these crazy stunts is he gives us the opportunity of a subjective first person experience when we’re watching it.”
3. Rebecca Ferguson, star of Rogue Nation and Fallout
Mission: Impossible’s consistency at starting fresh carries over to its cast, where the recurring members can be counted on your fingers. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and Ving Rhames’s computer hacker Luther Stickell are the only characters to appear in every single film, with only Simon Pegg, Michelle Monaghan, Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin, and Sean Harris appearing in more than one.
But they’ve been joined Rebecca Ferguson as former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust, who ever since entering in an unforgettable basement interrogation scene in Rogue Nation has become the franchise’s latest secret weapon. As Faust, she is breathtaking, bringing emotion and depth to what just could’ve been an action showpiece.
M:I doesn’t keep characters around lightly, so Ferguson’s recurring, pivotal involvement and popularity begs a question: could she be being primed to take the lead in the next decade or so? Despite nearing 60, Cruise is only doing more and more stunts, but his antics have an end date in sight - it’s hard to imagine him doing that helicopter stunt in Fallout when he’s 70.
M:I is only getting more popular, with Fallout celebrating the biggest opening weekend for the franchise in the US. There’s no sign of Mission: Impossible taking its last ride any time soon, even as other franchises fizzle out. When Cruise decides to step behind the desk instead of on the back of a plane, Ferguson should should be first in line. With her in the front seat, Mission: Impossible will live on to give us more of what action movies should be for decades to come.