Mission: Impossible - Fallout: Why Tom Cruise's commitment to daredevil stunts is so integral to the action franchise

Star's obsessive, fearless dedication to feats of bravery sees him risk life and limb beyond all reason to glorious effect

Joe Sommerlad@JoeSommerlad
Wednesday 25 July 2018 18:59
Mission: Impossible most impressive stunts

Tom Cruise returns to the big screen as Ethan Hunt once more this week with the release of Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

Again directed by Christopher McQuarrie - as was the previous entry, Rogue Nation (2015) – the sixth film in the series is drawing rave reviews from critics.

Based on the Cold War spy series that ran on US television from 1966 to 1973, the franchise has gone from strength to strength since the release of Brian De Palma’s original blockbuster incarnation in 1996.

Central to the appeal of Mission: Impossible is the experience and effortless zest of Tom Cruise, who continues to risk life and limb carrying out as many of his own daredevil stunts as possible, despite reaching the age of 56 this month.

As The Independent’s Geoffrey Macnab suggested in his review of the new film: “The Mission: Impossible films don’t skimp on the special effects but one of their defining and most exhilarating traits is that they seem rooted in realism.

“If Cruise jumps off a plane, we will see him doing so in full frame and the sequence will be filmed in a single shot. If he is wrestling his main antagonist on top of a cliff, the camera will pull back so we can see for ourselves that there isn’t any scaffolding or soft landing area, just a vertiginous drop below.”

How much longer the A-lister can keep it up is open to question but he’s due to return next year with another much-anticipated sequel to his iconic 1986 thriller Top Gun.

In Mission: Impossible, Cruise hung suspended from a wire to break into CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and clung to the roof of a speeding train roaring towards the Channel Tunnel.

The John Woo-directed sequel (2000) opened with him free-climbing without a safety net in Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park. He tore his shoulder as he leapt from one butte to another.

In the third (2006), he cracked two ribs slamming into the side of a car as a helicopter blew up a bridge and somehow survived an astonishing free-fall and Tarzan swing between two Shanghai skyscrapers.

Equally breathtaking was his Hitchockian ascent up the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai - the world's tallest building - in Ghost Protocol (2011).

Topping that highpoint was the extraordinary scene in Rogue Nation in which he dangled from the outside of an Airbus A400M as it took off, travelling at 160mph.

That film also contained another set piece for which Cruise trained with free-divers in order to be able to hold his breath underwater for an astonishing six and a half minutes.

No stranger to pain, his latest injury came leaping across a London rooftop in Fallout.

“I was chasing Henry [Cavill] and was meant to hit the side of the wall and pull myself over but the mistake was my foot hitting the wall,” he explained on the BBC’s Graham Norton Show. “I knew instantly my ankle was broken and I really didn’t want to do it again so just got up and carried on with the take. I said, ‘It’s broken. That’s a wrap. Take me to hospital’ and then everyone got on the phone and made their vacation arrangement.”

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Featurette - This Is A Halo Jump

Fallout promises a helicopter scene for which Cruise acquired his first flying licence, a Paris motorcycle chase and even a High Altitude Low Open (HALO) jump, meaning a stealth military skydive at 25,000 feet in which the parachute is not opened until 2,000 feet in order to limit the chance of detection by enemy forces.

Taking place at sunset, McQuarrie’s crew had just three minutes per day to get their shot and it took almost 100 attempts before they nailed it.

“The audience can tell when something’s been cheated so it’s important to be doing it all for real”, the film’s second unit director and stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood explains.

More than just a charismatic presence, Cruise’s example makes the case for practical effects over green screen and CGI like few others, the application of which all too often leave modern blockbusters with an empty, intangible feel.

His flirtations with genuine peril makes it so much easier to suspend our disbelief, however improbable or even ludicrous the overall narrative might be.

He’s putting himself in harm’s way time and again for our entertainment, a gesture almost comically above and beyond the call of duty.

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