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The Secret to the Success of ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ Was Embracing Action Over Pathos

Christopher McQuarrie had to stop himself from plunging Ethan Hunt into a hell of his own making.
Mi Fallout
By  · Published on July 31st, 2018

Christopher McQuarrie had to stop himself from plunging Ethan Hunt into a hell of his own making.

How vile can a hero become before an audience checks out? There has been a myriad of examples regarding the antihero archetype. Mad Max immediately springs to mind with his quest for revenge against the road punks that stole his family from him. The Punisher is the star of multiple reboots as well as his own comic book series. Vengeance and heroism often mix awkwardly well together. We’ve come to expect and enjoy the concept.

We’re certainly cool with Captain America and James Bond busting a cap in a bad dude’s ass, but we get hot and bothered when Batman or Superman sink to such levels. Given the context and the history we’ve spent with the character determines our reaction when necessary evil exposes itself. In the world of espionage and global terrorism, we’ve seen Ethan Hunt obliterate several baddies. Scraping the bottom of morality is part of the job, but we’ll only let him descend so far into those dark depths.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’

Mission: Impossible – Fallout was once a much darker movie than what we got. In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie details how Hunt’s character originally adopted the John Lark persona for a much longer period of time. In doing so, Hunt would actually be forced to commit murder during the Solomon Lane breakout sequence rather than the terrifying nightmare premonition witnessed in the final product.

However, once you choose that path, the film must be consumed with the emotional aftermath of such heinous actions. You can kill in the name of your cover in one scene and then immediately flip back to IMF mode in the next.

“That was gonna be the plot of the whole movie: Ethan assumes the villain’s identity, but looks like himself. And, he must go on convincing people that he is the villain, which forces Ethan to have to do darker and more horrible things in pursuit of his aim, the first of which was breaking Lane out of prison.”

McQuarrie was disturbed by how one decision forced the other personas out of the picture. Plot over character. That’s a no-no.

“In clinging to that idea, I realized that the movie was not moving forward. It was becoming more about that idea as well as much more intellectual. It was happening at the expense of all the other characters, and the movie was just getting very long before getting back to the things you’re obligated to do in a ‘Mission: Impossible.'”

We all know that Tom Cruise‘s main motivation for making these movies is to place himself in ever-increasing danger by strapping his carcass on planes and jumping from the highest points on the planet. By embracing that desire, McQuarrie keeps the Mission: Impossible franchise on track. Fallout takes the Fury Road route, forcing its narrative to form within its set-pieces. Characters bond and push the plot forward as they’re plummeting via a HALO jump, or yelling at each other during a London foot chase.

McQuarrie withholds discussing whether he would ever allow Hunt to take an innocent life, but the point is that once that decision is made, it consumes the entire narrative. Those moral quandary sagas are a dime a dozen. On the other hand, the practical stunt insanity forced into celluloid in Fallout is unlike anything else out there. McQuarrie knows what masters he serves.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)