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‘Impossible’ Questions About the ‘M:I’ Franchise Answered

Such as: Which betrayal of Ethan Hunt in a ‘Mission: Impossible’ was the most surprising?

Paramount/Ringer illustration

The sixth Mission: Impossible movie, Mission: ImpossibleFallout, opened this weekend. It is, in five words: very exhilarating and uniquely intense.

(Another five words: Henry Cavill is a mountain.)

(Another five words: There’s a helicopter fight, motherfuckers.)

(Another five words: The mask trick worked again.)

(Another five words: Jeremy Renner is gone now.)

(Another five words: But Solomon Lane is back.)

(Another five words: I’m ready for part seven.)

(Another five words: Have you gotten tired of …)

(A final five words: … me making this joke yet?)

Last week, Ringer editor-in-chief Sean Fennessey answered one gigantic question: Which is the best Mission: Impossible movie? Now, many smaller (but equally impossible) questions will get answered.

What’s the best piece of spy tech from a Mission: Impossible movie that’s not a mask?

There are soooooooo many neat little gadgets that get used in the Mission: Impossible movies. There’s the different sets of glasses with cameras in them, and the remote control balloon, and the cellphone that blocks radio frequencies, and the glue gloves, and the exploding chewing gum, and the insta-inflate landing mat that the one guy throws at the ground when he jumps off the building, and the microdot, and the gun that insert things into a person’s neck (tracking devices, typically), and the gun that inserts things into a person’s head via the nose (bombs, typically), and the big projection screen, and the magnetic suit and accompanying magnetic rover, and the printer contact lenses, and on and on and on. The very best piece of spy tech, though, is a small one that has mostly gone unheralded: the special screwdriver combo thing they use in the first Mission: Impossible when they’re breaking into Langley via the air-conditioning vent in the ceiling.

(What’s special about it is a little piece on it that catches screws that have been unscrewed, preventing them from falling, a thing that’s especially important during the Langley heist because the room they break into has a pressure-sensitive floor and if they’d unscrewed the vent from the inside and a screw had fallen out of the ceiling and onto the floor then everything would have gone to shit. Having the screwdriver combo thing allowed them to break into the room from the ceiling without worry of being caught before they’d even really gotten started.)

What’s the silliest line that gets delivered seriously in a Mission: Impossible movie?

It happens in Mission: Impossible III, which is at least a little bit ironic because Mission: Impossible III is probably the most vicious of all the Mission: Impossible movies (owed in large part to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian, the best villain to ever have existed in the M:I universe). Ethan Hunt uses a special gun to disable a camera as he attempts to break into Vatican City. Then he uses the same gun to fire a metal rod connected to a wire into the top of a wall that closes off Vatican City. Then he hooks a wire reel to his belt and uses it to run the 50 or so feet up the wall. He gets to the top, rolls over onto it so that he’s lying on his back on the top of wall, and the music has gotten very loud and it’s a very cool and exciting moment. Then the camera zooms in on his gorgeous face as the Mission: Impossible theme song crescendos. Then he turns his face toward the camera and says—and I swear to God this is not a joke—he says, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.” (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

What’s the most impossible practical thing that Ethan Hunt does in a Mission: Impossible movie?

Right before the big motorcycle chase scene in Mission: Impossible II, Ethan shoots a bad guy off a motorcycle. The guy goes flying backward (even though Ethan shot him from his underside because the guy was jumping over Ethan with the motorcycle) and the motorcycle continues forward until it skids to a stop on its side. Ethan then runs over to the motorcycle, steps over it so that his right foot is on the right side of it and his left foot is on the left side of it, then reaches down with his right hand—AND ONLY HIS RIGHT HAND—and then very easily and with no real effort whatsoever picks it up off its side so that it’s upright and then rides away. That’s insane. I don’t know a lot about a lot, but I know that bike was a Triumph Speed Triple, and Triumph Speed Triples weigh between 420 pounds and 450 pounds. There’s no way at all Ethan is picking it up off its side without grimacing or straining even a tiny amount.

(A close second place is at the end of Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation when, after the IMF traps Solomon Lane in a human-sized aquarium made of bulletproof glass, Ethan pushes the whole thing over onto its back. I am perfectly fine being led to believe that Ethan Hunt can run something like 40 miles per hour, but I am not perfectly fine being led to believe that Ethan is possessed of a the Rock–like level of raw strength.)

Who has the best signature attack move in a Mission: Impossible movie?

It has to be Ilsa’s leg attack, right? The one where she runs up and jumps and wraps her leg around someone’s head and then whips her body around, thus slamming her victim onto the floor.

Is there a good part of Mission: Impossible 2?

Gah. This movie was a total fumble. In the Fennessey article mentioned earlier, he described Mission: Impossible 2 by saying, “Every filmmaker in the series who has followed has had something to prove to audiences. Woo—like his predecessor Brian De Palma—was already a legend. But something had gone missing.” That, I think, is an exactly right assessment. John Woo should’ve been able to make a tremendously fun movie here, but he just didn’t. It was, quite simply and unfortunately, a wasted installment in the series (nearly nothing from M:I2 remains in the Mission: Impossible movie blood today, and M:I2 is literally the only Mission: Impossible movie you can say that about). That said, there was one good part, and that’s the rock-climbing scene at the start of the movie (and even that is nearly ruined by the soundtrack choice).

What’s a Mission: Impossible–themed question you’d ask Hollywood if Hollywood was a singular person?

Isn’t it weird that the people behind Mission: Impossible plotted on replacing Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as the centerpoint of the franchise with Jeremy Renner when they brought in Renner for Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, similar to how they tried to take Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne series and spin it off into a Renner-centered franchise? What is it about Renner that makes Hollywood want to do that? Can’t we just give Renner his own thing? Hasn’t he proved that he can carry his own movie already? Or am I just way too in love with Renner’s surprisingly effective tough-guy-with-few-words trick to be able to see clearly?

Which Ethan Hunt–instigated crash in a Mission: Impossible movie was the most harrowing to watch happen?

There are two types of crashes in a Mission: Impossible movie. There are ones that happen by accident, and there are ones that happen by Ethan Hunt’s hand. And with regard to ones that happen by Ethan Hunt’s hand, two of them sit just a little bit taller than all the rest: (1) When he drove a BMW off a parking perch 500-plus feet straight down and crashed it face-first into the concrete below him because he was trying to hurry up and get there so he could disarm a nuclear bomb (Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol); and (2) When he crashed his helicopter into another helicopter to bring it down over a snow-covered mountain range in Asia. Between those two, the helicopter crash was just a tiny bit less harrowing than the car one, BUT ONLY because the helicopters crashed into snow, and, I mean, look, I know how dumb this sounds but: snow just always looks so soft on TV and in movies. Crashing into a bunch of snow seems (to me) like crashing into just a ton of pillows. Concrete, on the other hand, is always just that: concrete. Willfully driving a car 122 miles per hour* straight the fuck into a concrete wall is just too wild to look past.

*The car fell for right about six seconds. If we assume that the BMW he was in weighed about 3,000 pounds, and we also assume that gravity works the same in the Mission: Impossible universe as it does in ours, then that means the car was traveling at a rate of approximately 122 miles per hour when it hit the ground.

**It took me, like, 25 minutes and several different science websites to figure this out, so I hope you appreciate it.

Which near-death experience for Ethan Hunt in a Mission: Impossible movie had the best “HE’S BEEN SAVED!” ending?

The most famous part of Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol is where, after realizing that the strip of fabric he’s used to make a makeshift rope so he can run down the side of the tallest building in the world is several feet too short of the broken-open window that he was supposed to have made his way to, he runs and jumps and glides out into the sky like a goddamn flying squirrel, untying himself at what he thinks is the exact right moment, sending himself flying toward the window. He ends up misjudging the fall by just a few feet, and so rather than landing safely in the room he’s supposed to be in, he crashes into the side of the building, saved from falling to his death only by the quick hands of his fellow IMFers. It’s wildly exciting and tense, as most all of the Ethan Nearly Dies moments are in the Mission: Impossible movies. Here’s the thing, though, and this is the reason that scene actually finishes second in this category: You know exactly how it’s going to play out as soon as he realizes that he’s going to have to try to jump to the window. Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt is standing there watching Ethan and Ethan takes off running and you go, “OK cool. Get ready. Brandt is about to save him by the shoestrings here.” That’s why the Burj Khalifa near-death thing, while absolutely iconic and even more absolutely stunning, can’t win here.

Instead, it’s the underwater scene in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. In it, Ethan has to hold his breath for three minutes in an underwater tank to swap out a codeboard so that another member of his team can successfully break into a place that needs to be broken into. Things (of course) go a tiny bit wrong and so Ethan ends up dead, floating around in the tank, and everything is horrible and dour and there’s no possible way for him to get out of this particular predicament. EXCEPT BUT THERE IS because the woman Ethan was with (who did not jump into the tank) jumped in and saved him, and me writing about it has zero percent of the magnificence of the moment but trust me when I tell you that watching it happen on a movie screen three years ago was an incredible amount of exciting.

Which betrayal of Ethan Hunt in a Mission: Impossible was the most surprising?

Fucking John Musgrave in Mission: Impossible III, no question. His betrayal wins in part because the other two main betrayals (Jim Phelps in Mission: Impossible and August Walker in Mission: Impossible — Fallout) were betrayals that you could see coming before the movie even started (Jon Voight played Jim Phelps and Jon Voight’s face is uncommonly unsettling, so for sure you knew he was going to turn out to be a villain; and the August Walker betrayal was hat-tipped in the trailer for Fallout). But mostly Musgrave’s betrayal wins because the reveal that Musgrave was working with the bad guys came in the seconds after we’d all just watched the main bad guy shoot Ethan Hunt’s wife in the head in front of Ethan, which, at that moment, was the most turbulent and unsettling thing we’d ever watched happen to Ethan Hunt. And so Ethan was just sitting there, tears in his eyes, so broken that his body wouldn’t even allow him to make a single sound, and then, completely unexpected and without any indication that the scene was going to be extended, we see John Musgrave sit down across from Ethan. (It was a masterful deception, really. Billy Crudup played Musgrave, and his face is the total opposite of Jon Voight’s face. Also, Musgrave earlier in the same movie helped Hunt not only escape from capture, but also hide from the government.)

What’s the most bizarre behind-the-scenes tidbit that accompanies the mythology of Tom Cruise performing his own stunts in the Mission: Impossible movies?

Let me offer up two things here: (1) The stunt coordinator for Rogue Nation said that Tom Cruise trained until he could hold his breath for six minutes, which I definitely 100 percent do not believe but also I kind of believe it just enough that I feel like I have to mention it. (2) It was reported that, during the Langley heist scene, Tom kept bonking his head on the floor when they were filming the part where Franz Krieger (Jean Reno) loses control of the rope and Ethan drops down to within a couple of inches of the floor. As a way to counterbalance himself to keep it from happening, Cruise loaded his shoes with coins so that they’d be heavier and help keep his body from teetering back and forth like a seesaw.

What’s the funniest “I don’t know. Sorry.” look that Ethan gave to someone who was about to watch him do something extremely dumb in a Mission: Impossible movie?

The top two finishers:

Second place: In the opening scene in Rogue Nation, when Ethan, after having snuck his way onto a plane, straps himself to a bundle of bombs and then parachutes out of the back of plane with them. (One of the soldiers on the plane had gone there to see why the back hatch of the plane was open. He walked down there, saw it was open, turned around to fuss with something, heard a noise, then turned around and saw Ethan strapping himself to the bombs. Ethan gave the “I don’t know. Sorry.” look, then ejected the parachute.)

First place: In the prison break scene in Ghost Protocol, when Ethan, about to escape from prison, decides to break into another part of the compound to rescue one of his friends before leaving. (The prison is all run electronically, so Benji, the main tech person of the later M:I movies, simply hacks into the prison and opens the doors that need to be opened for Hunt to escape. Hunt, who decides to break out one other prisoner who he knows will be killed soon, demands that Benji open up a different section of the prison so Hunt can go get the guy. Benji refuses, and so Hunt just stands there, waiting for Benji to open what Hunt wants him to open. Several prison guards are trapped in a room and they can see Hunt waiting. Hunt looks at them, gives them the “I don’t know. Sorry.” look, and then stays waiting until Benji finally opens the door.)