I've seen a number of spectacular things since arriving at CinemaCon a few days ago - the unexpectedly impressive first trailer for Aquaman, legitimately frightening footage from the new Halloween, Cher suddenly appearing on the Colosseum stage to perform an ABBA song - but nothing I've seen this week has been quite so jaw-dropping as the presentation given for Christopher McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible Fallout at yesterday's Paramount Studios panel.
When Tom Cruise and McQuarrie came out onstage, we expected them to present a new trailer for the film (which hits theaters on July 27th), or maybe just show off some footage from one of the film's many set pieces. Both of those things ended up happening, but first Cruise and McQuarrie walked us through the film's biggest stunt: Tom Cruise and co-star Henry Cavill doing a freefall at 35,000 feet, in a single-take action sequence which required a crew member to strap a camera to his head and stay just a few feet away from Cruise at all times.
This stunt, without question, is the craziest thing Tom Cruise has done for this franchise yet (and, yes, I realize this is saying something, what with the parade of insane stunts Cruise has already performed for the Mission: Impossible series).
Cruise and McQuarrie's presentation began with a lengthy explanation as to how the stunt was conceived and executed. An animatic showed Cruise leaping out of the back of a massive cargo plane, following along in the wake of Cavill's character. The camera had to stay on Cruise at all times - sometimes literal inches from his face - and also needed to follow him down through the air to where a now-unconscious Cavill was plummeting to the Earth, where he then had to execute a complicated oxygen-mask exchange. All told, the shot would take up about a minute of screen time.
The process of putting this shot together was staggering: the cameraman who followed Cruise out of the plane had to time his own jump - backwards, out of the same plane - perfectly, and needed to remain a precise distance from Cruise's face in order to keep it visible to the audience (McQuarrie was determined to make it clear that the stunt was authentic). On top of all that, McQuarrie wanted this sequence to occur at dusk, which meant the production only had a three-minute window every day to get the shot. As it turns out, it took over 100 attempts (!!!!) to get three usable takes.
"We had to shoot this over the (United Arab Emirates)," Cruise noted. "We wouldn't have been able to do this anywhere else. They were...very helpful."
Once they'd walked us through the technical process behind the stunt, McQuarrie unveiled another surprise: raw footage from those three usable takes. What we saw was essentially the animatic brought to life, the entire thing rendered infinitely more impressive for being real. There was Cruise leaping out of the plane. There was the close-up, which necessitated the camera being three inches from Cruise's face. There was Cruise diving down, down, farther and farther until he reached a floating Henry Cavill. There was the moment where Cruise had to switch out Cavill's oxygen tank. The entire thing, even in its roughest form, was absolutely mind-boggling, immediately the craziest thing Cruise has done onscreen.
After this, McQuarrie showed us a 10-minute action set piece from the film, set on the streets of Paris. I'll leave plot specifics for you to discover later, but the sequence involved Cruise ramming a police van with a dump truck, escaping up a series of increasingly-narrow alleyways, hopping onto a motorcycle, riding through opposing traffic around the Arc de Triomphe, and barely evading capture by French police after his bike strikes the hood of a passing car. Everything here is just as impressive as anything you've ever seen in a Mission: Impossible movie, though perhaps a bit more visceral: I got a real sense of danger watching this footage, the feeling that something could have gone horribly wrong at any given time. On more than one occasion, the action onscreen had me wincing and clenching my fists with anxiety.
There are moments where this franchise appears to be doing its best to kill Tom Cruise, and Mission: Impossible Fallout seems to be positively overflowing with those moments. After the set piece footage, we were shown a new-ish trailer for the film (meaning: it was about half-and-half previously-unseen material), where we saw Cruise doing yet another bonkers stunt which had him dangling off a helicopter.
Mission: Impossible Fallout may well be the biggest, baddest entry yet in this long-running franchise, and I can't wait to see how all this madness plays in context when the film opens on July 27th. Get hyped, friends, and get hyped with confidence - it's unlikely we'll see a more thrilling action spectacle this summer.
This article is part of B.M.D. Guide To: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE