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At this point in cinematic history, one thing is clear: Tom Cruise has essentially earned "superhuman" status via the Mission: Impossible franchise.
Whether he's scaling the tallest building on Earth, nearly drowning himself in an underwater heist (where he reportedly held his breath for six straight minutes), or engaging in hyper-stylized motorcycle fu, you're always watching the marquee idol in the sequence, instead of a stunt man. He's challenged mortality in every movie, and even broke his angle in the latest film: Christopher McQuarrie's action masterpiece, Fallout. His directors and stunt handlers have often complained that it's tough to keep up with him, and one glimpse at these movies explains why: he's the finest action performer in this modern era, risking life and limb for our entertainment alone.
In honor of Fallout, a few of us got together and picked some stand-out moments from the franchise. Sound off in the comments below with your own personal favorite daredevil moment, before heading out to theaters to catch the latest M:I this weekend...
The Rankow Prison Break (Ghost Protocol)
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol’s prison break sequence isn’t its most impressive, elaborate, or gadget-filled. But it’s a perfect introduction to Brad Bird’s take on the action mega-franchise, efficiently introducing characters, relationships, and tone - and quickening the pulse to its breaking point.
We open with Benji (Simon Pegg) remote-controlling the security systems of a Russian prison, in which Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is incarcerated for reasons that aren’t revealed (or important). As Benji orchestrates Hunt’s escape, we get glimpses at the film’s sense of camaraderie, action, and gadgetry. Hunt (and Cruise himself) are introduced with the utmost style: calm, collected, leaping from floor to floor with muscular grace, with a powerful punch and a propensity for going “off-book.” Fuck, I love these movies.
The sequence is also funny as hell, with Benji protesting Hunt’s side-mission with comic exasperation, guards struggling impotently to make a difference, and Hunt, as always, improvising when things inevitably go wrong. All this as a prison riot escalates in the background, to the strains of Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head".
As Hunt escapes with his crew, he delivers an order to “light the fuse” - almost literally to camera. That thrilling theme music kicks in, and we’re jumping up and down to see more. If you’re not grinning by the time the title comes up, you’re probably a guard in a Russian prison. - Andrew Todd
Motorcycle Fu (Mission: Impossible II)
While many (wrongfully) count Mission: Impossible II as being the franchise's nadir, even the majority's choice for 'worst of the worst' contains some superb anti-real action, courtesy of legendary Hong Kong auteur John Woo being behind the camera. After transforming Ethan Hunt into another one of his dual-pistol wielding men of action, Woo has the IMF agent spin-kick a man while pigeons fly out behind him in slow motion.
Make no mistake, Mission: Impossible II is 110% a "John Woo joint", but his pure cinema influence can be felt most during the third act's physics-defying motorcycle chase, which sees Hunt practically pirouetting atop a Triumph Speed Triple SE. It's an adrenaline juiced beauty, as Woo again discovers the intrinsic loveliness in expertly choreographed mayhem. So, even if you (mistakenly) believe M:I II is scraping the bottom of the franchise's barrel, it's author provides an essential American franchise answer to the numerous iconic set pieces he staged in his native land. - Jacob Knight
The Langley Heist (Mission: Impossible)
I might like a couple of the sequels more, but the first Mission: Impossible will always hold a special place in my heart, because it was the first movie I ever saw with contact lenses after a ten year battle with oft-scratched glasses. I really couldn't have picked a better option to finally have perfectly clear vision for a film, the better to see that loathsome bead of sweat pouring down Ethan Hunt's glasses, threatening to trigger the alarms during the film's best sequence: the Langley break-in.
It's amusing that a big summer movie featuring all the explosions and chases one would expect from a '96 blockbuster is at its best during a scene where our hero is virtually motionless - if he makes a sound or does anything to raise the temperature he's, as Ving Rhames's Luther Stickell puts it, "toast". Brian De Palma gets to employ all of his favorite tricks in this one scene - slow zooms, diopter shots (with a rat being one of the subjects!), and even Hitchcock (the list Ethan & Co. are attempting to obtain is in the same wheelhouse as Hitch's famed 39 Steps).
I've seen the film half a dozen times, and I still tense up during the sequence, assuming something will go wrong and our guy will get caught (well, not caught - but the alarm will go off and he'll have to quick-think his way out of it). The set piece is just that well done - even knowing the outcome, it still has the power to keep an audience as silent as the people onscreen. The fact that it also features a guy running back and forth to puke his guts out in the bathroom is just icing on the cake. - Brian Collins
The Burj Khalifa Climb (Ghost Protocol)
Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible death wish is a matter of common knowledge at this point: with every new installment in this franchise (Hollywood's most reliable, far as I'm concerned), we show up to see what sorta mortality-defying hijinks Ethan Hunt will get himself into this time, and over and over again they just keep upping the ante.
I've not seen Mission: Impossible - Fallout yet, but as of this writing my all-time favorite has to be from Ghost Protocol, when Cruise shimmies out onto the surface of Dubai's Burj Khalifa tower, dangling from a rope 150+ stories above the ground. As someone who's extremely not cool with heights, this sequence leaves my stomach churning every time I watch it.
If you're in that same boat, here's a warning: do not look up the images of a shoeless Cruise casually perched atop the Burj Khalifa's radio tower. - Scott Wampler
This article is part of B.M.D. Guide To: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE