The best blockbuster franchise currently active is Mission: Impossible. Full stop. No debate. They’re not all of the same caliber, of course — sorry John Woo — but the last four are just aces when it comes to big action movies. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is super iffy on the script front, but good gravy are these action sequences frequent and beautiful. Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie have proven themselves an unbeatable combination as star and writer/director, and their latest just continues that trend.
Their commentaries are always filled with equal parts enthusiasm and knowledge, and their latest is no different. They talk a lot, but they don’t waste a word. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
Commentators: Christopher McQuarrie (writer/director), Tom Cruise (writer/director’s friend and co-worker)
1. The opening dream sequence was originally conceived with Alec Baldwin as the minister, but he was unavailable to come to New Zealand at the time so they switched to Sean Harris. “Now it’s unimaginable to me that it could be anyone else.”
2. When they first sat down to discuss where to go with the script McQuarrie asked what it is Cruise wanted to do, and his reply was that he wanted to resolve the story of Ethan (Cruise) and Julia (Michelle Monaghan). It’s apparently a topic that fans broach with Cruise all the time.
3. Cruise loves that McQuarrie chose Homer’s The Odyssey as the book holding his next mission dossier as he wanted the movie to be an epic. “We felt that the franchise had earned it.”
4. This is McQuarrie’s second M:I film as director, and he approached it as an all-together different director “to honor the franchise” and its history of having a new director for each film.
5. The pre-credits sequence was intended to be ten minutes but it kept growing as they added more elements, so they looked for longer examples to excuse their own. They happily found that The Departed (2006) is close to twenty minutes. They last until 16:24 here.
6. Parts of the early alleyway meeting with Ethan and Benji (Simon Pegg) were filmed while Cruise’s ankle was broken. He thanks McQuarrie for being patient with him.
7. They tested shorter cuts of the film per the studio’s request, but each attempt saw the scores plummet. Cruise told them “it doesn’t matter how long it is, it matters how long it feels.”
8. McQuarrie wanted Ving Rhames as Luther to finally have his moment this time around.
9. “I never thought we’d get Wolf Blitzer,” says McQuarrie, but while he’s being kind let’s be real — the Wolf will cameo in anything. They sent him a Wolf Blitzer mask as a thank you.
10. Cruise absolutely loves the opening credits. “What we realized when cut it all together is ‘my god there’s a lot of action in this movie,'” adds McQuarrie.
11. They debated all through filming as to whether or not Hunley (Alec Baldwin) would die. “It’s something that we ultimately knew we had to do but didn’t want to do it.”
12. They built the hallway seen at 18:57 so cinematographer Rob Hardy could film a nod to John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967).
13. The role of Erika Sloane required someone who immediately exudes power and Angela Bassett was the obvious choice.
14. It was Cruise’s suggestion to remove any closeups of Ethan during the first face off between Hunley and Sloane. “It’s very that you have the star of a movie come in and say ‘stop cutting to my close up!'”
15. The shot at 21:02 of the military jet rising into the sky against the moon is entirely CG, and “it’s the first time I’ve seen an entirely CG shot where I don’t want to shoot myself.”
16. “This guy is just a movie star,” says movie star Cruise of Henry Cavill.
17. The HALO sequence saw them jumping out of the plane at 25,000 feet, and it’s all done live in a single shot. The city lights below are added in post, but the jump and fall are 100% real. “We talked about this for a year. How are going to get this shot?” The camera operator for the scene is wearing a camera mounted to the top of his own helmet, and the whole thing is a legitimately thrilling sequence. Here, I’ll let a very excited and proud Cruise tell you about jumping out of the plane for the scene. “Now he’s backwards. He leaves backwards. I’m coming right at him. Now I have to get from there I have to get within three feet, not two feet ten inches, not three feet and two inches. I have to be right at three feet to be in focus. Now I go past him in that and we had a window of three minutes to get that shot. Now I do this spin, now you’re in my face,I’m up on my back, he’s going up and around. It really is a dance between the two of us. I had to always make sure that the sunset was on my left shoulder. Now we’re traveling at 200 miles an hour at times toward the ground. I’m coming in, it’s like a sprint, boom, I have to hit him. When I hit him, I have to hit him, I don’t know where I’m gonna hit him on his body, I just have to try and take him out and down. And not break his neck, my neck, and not entangle the chutes, deploy his chute or my chute. Any of those things could have led to serious problems.” They built the largest wind tunnel in the world to train and considered filming some of the sequence in there, but it didn’t look real enough.
18. Cruise refers to Edge of Tomorrow (2014) as All You Need Is Kill. Ugh.
19. The stand-in in the bathroom is played by Liang Yang who they met on Edge of Tomorrow where he worked as Emily Blunt’s stunt double.
20. The quartet of locals who come into the bathroom improvised their dialogue, and McQuarrie “didn’t know anything they were saying until a week before we finished the movie.”
21. Cavill improvised the “reloading of his biceps.”
22. The blood on the bathroom floor is digital, and the scene didn’t get any laughs from test audiences until it was added. Test audiences are weird.
23. The word “fuck” is bleeped on the commentary because Paramount Home Video is run by a bunch of spineless dicks. McQuarrie asks if they can say it, Cruise says yes, but it’s still bleeped. Listen to Cruise people!
24. The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) and her brother Zola (Frederick Schmidt) are secretly the son and daughter of Max (Vanessa Redgrave) from the first Mission: Impossible (1996). She’s the Max referenced at 36:34. Cruise loves that.
25. The sequence where Ethan meets the Widow in the club was shot across a month as they filmed some and took a day break to shoot the foot chase where Cruise broke his ankle. They returned to it a month later but were unable to wrangle the same extras which drove McQuarrie nuts.
26. Cruise wants to make a British gangster film with Schmidt.
27. The “what if” sequence at 44:13 where they show the hijack and subsequent killing of dozens of police officers under the overpass was a concern as paparazzi and Parisian gawkers lined the other side of the river watching. They hung 300 feet of silk across the archways so that people wouldn’t see police being murdered, and the unintentional but welcome effect is the “eerie light” across the scene.
28. The helipad is atop Paris’ Ministry of Finance, and it’s reportedly never been used. It’s rated to hold four tons, but the military helicopter here weighs fourteen, so the pilot couldn’t actually land it and instead had to hover just barely off the surface.
29. Parts of the truck chase through Paris were filmed while it was raining, but while it initially concerned them — it wouldn’t match other shots where there’s no rain — nobody seems to notice anyway.
30. The sequence where Ethan and August kick out the windshield needed a second take as Cavill’s first kick sent it flying through the air. “I was like ‘Hey Superman, try to make it look hard. Give it some effort!’ says McQuarrie.”
31. “That’s not acting,” says Cruise at the shot of him run/limping away after the motorcycle crash.
32. The female cop who crosses paths with Ethan and his team before being shot was written as a male cop, but Cruise suggested it would be more impactful with a woman.
33. Sean Harris was upset that his character Solomon Lane wasn’t killed at the end of M:I – Rogue Nation as he only wanted to do one movie. They tried to comply but couldn’t figure out the right way to do it before realizing it wasn’t the right thing to do. Producers at the time told Harris it wasn’t a problem as his character wouldn’t return, and immediately — while finishing up Rogue Nation — McQuarrie and Cruise began thinking about bringing him back because Ethan needed to break him out of prison to accomplish his next mission.
34. The scene where Ethan and his crew arrive at their hideout and Hunley (Baldwin) is there was filmed while Cruise’s ankle was broken and Baldwin was overdue for a double hip replacement operation. They blocked in so both men could basically lean on the table between them.
35. Baldwin agreed to return on the condition that his character would die.
36. Harris approached the scene where he plays Benji playing Lane as Benji “thinking he’s giving the performance of a lifetime, so he’s overdoing it.” McQuarrie told him “no offense, but you should overdo it more often. You’re really good at it.”
37. “That’s the first swear word in a Mission: Impossible movie,” says Cruise at 1:25:18 when Cavill drops the f-bomb.
38. Cruise suggested in post-production that Hunley’s final words be simply “Go,” so Baldwin sent McQuarrie several versions of the line recorded on his iPhone.
39. There’s a stitch at 1:34:22 combining two sequences into one as Ethan runs across the rooftops and then jumps the alleyway. The early shots were filmed five months after the jump itself as this is where Cruise broke his ankle. He finished the shot thinking only he had to get past the camera, and when McQuarrie came to see him after the shot he found Cruise laying down with his foot up and iced. “Did we get the shot?” asked Cruise, he replied yes, and Cruise said “Good, ’cause we’re not coming back. It’s broken.”
40. McQuarrie apologizes as having a character refer to “Indian controlled Kashmir” is apparently an insensitive way of saying it. “As an ignorant American I didn’t know enough.”
41. “My favorite cut in the movie,” says McQuarrie at 1:51:00 as we go from the bomb to a concerned Julia.
42. They were discouraged from filming the end of the long take showing Cruise climb the rope to the moving helicopter, maneuver onto the skid, and approach the door — not because it was additional danger for him but because it was “boring.” That is insane to me, and those people should be fired from the movie business forever. The behind the scenes footage shows Cruise yelling back that he’s doing it anyway.
43. McQuarrie didn’t initially want to have Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) to be tied up by Lane because it would make her a damsel in distress. “I realized what a damsel in distress really is is a damsel who needs to be saved.” She obviously saves herself which makes the scene work.
44. The bit with Lane hanging Benji came from Harris asking early on to let his character kill Pegg’s character. “I’m the funny one,” said Harris, so McQuarrie wrote the scene between them so Benji would get choked out and nearly killed.
45. The Kashmir sequences were filmed in New Zealand, including the helicopter chase, but the brawl that ends it was filmed in Norway on Pulpit Rock. It was also Cruise’s first day of filming after returning from his broken ankle.
46. The shot at 2:15:02 is real. It’s in Norway where they had been filming on a cloudy day, and as they lined up the shot the clouds parted and the sun shine came across the landscape. “We were so lucky.”
47. They knew from early conversations on the film that it needed to end with Julia and Ethan together to end their story together.
48. Ferguson improvised her lean in to whisper in Julia’s ear after saying goodbye to Ethan.
49. They love “curtain call” end credits showing the cast again along with their various beats, and they even tried it on Valkyrie (2008) but quickly realized it was the wrong kind of movie for that.
50. They repeatedly mention having worked together on nine films, but per IMDB their collaborations number only eight — Valkyrie, Jack Reacher (2012), Edge of Tomorrow, M:I – Rogue Nation (2015), Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016), The Mummy (2017), M:I – Fallout, and Top Gun:Maverick (2020). I can only assume the ninth collaboration is the masterpiece below.
51. The two spend the entire end credits complimenting each other, complimenting the entire rest of the cast and crew, and making plans for future collaborations. Well, Cruise is making plans and laying out their entire futures while McQuarrie tries and fails to resist. At the premiere in Paris, the film ended, the credits came to an end, and Cruise leaned over to McQuarrie and said “Yeah, we can do better.” And they will.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“You came on and saved my bacon on Ghost Protocol.”
“[child’s voice] Is this mission impossible?”
“I have a box off-screen.”
“You’re looking for the accidents, and so there’s moments where I really get kicked.”
“The fun is watching these two guys that we know are the heroes of the movie getting their asses beat.”
“Look how beautiful France looks.”
“I’m driving in between these cars at high speed. That was… it’s uncomfortable.”
“No, that isn’t a reference to Pulp Fiction.”
“His foot is broken in every shot of the foot chase.”
“One wrong extra can really take a scene apart.”
“What’s being said is often just as important as who is listening.”
“Everybody could have been electrocuted! [laughter]”
“I cast a baby and looked at it and was like this is just too much business in the scene and it’s getting in the way.”
Again, I’m not the biggest fan of the story beats here as some dumb turns happen simply to get characters from point A to point B, but the action sequences are as brilliantly executed as any we’ve seen. The commentary track — one of three on the release — is equally fantastic as the pair show equal love for film in general, this film in particular, and filmmaking itself. These guys love movies, and it’s an infectious addiction. Add these two to the short list of filmmakers whose commentaries are must-listens.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.