The sixth instalment in the franchise, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is simply one of the most jaw-dropping action offerings of the year. Here, in their own words, Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie break down the six action sequences you need to see to believe.
If you’re a fan of the M:I franchise, you would know by now that Tom Cruise does most of his own stunts. For Fallout, Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie took the quest for death-defying action realism to extreme lengths. If you think that Ethan Hunt and team are slowing down anytime soon, think again. MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW
6. Rooftop chase
Filmed in London, what was meant to be a comparatively simple chase sequence almost landed the entire production in hot water. “Tom nailed the stunt but he knew right away he had broken his ankle,” recalls McQuarrie. Filming had to shut down for six weeks.
5. The opening chase
The first major stunt sequence in Fallout takes place in Paris, where Ethan Hunt is at the centre of a high-speed chase involving a motorcycle, a classic 1986 BMW M5 automobile, and an armored truck. The shoot required briefly shutting down some of the most popular tourist sites in central Paris, including the Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue de l’Opéra leading up to the Grand Opera itself.There was one hitch though, recalls Cruise. “A safety rig for my motorcycle wasn’t working correctly, and we were losing time. McQ came to me and asked what I wanted to do. I just started the bike up and said, ‘My friend, we have got to shoot. You just put the camera out there and I will come around this corner as fast as this bike will possibly go.’ We just lit it up.”
According to stunt director Wade Eastwood, “It only takes one knock in the wrong place on your head and it can be a fatal accident. I was so relieved when it was all over.”
4. Hanging by a thread
This stunt sequence shot in New Zealand involved Cruise climbing up a rope dangling from a helicopter flying at roughly 2,000 feet, and then free-falling 40 feet onto the payload at the end of the rope and bouncing off of it. According to Cruise, the stunt was in the design and planning stages for two years.
“It was definitely one of the most extreme things we did on this movie, but you can’t get this stuff on a green screen. It’s very technical: you have to figure out what the helicopter can hold, the payload, where you can put the cameras, what the angles can be. All the rigs have to check out, any little particle that comes off and hits the rotor blades is a real problem.”
3. A real cliffhanger
The climactic fight sequence between Ethan Hunt and Henry Cavill’s villain, August Walker, was set on Norway’s Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock), a small plateau with a razor-sharp cliff that drops more than 600 meters into a fjord. While the spot made a spectacular location for the fight scene, it proved to be an intensely challenging place to shoot.
“Tom and Henry were up there in the freezing cold on very treacherous terrain,” says McQuarrie. “At that point Tom still had his broken foot so it was extremely uncomfortable for him.”
The production was beset by weather delays, and at one point it was unclear if they would be able to finish shooting before winter set in for good. They did, but about 15 minutes after the last crew helicopters took off, a blizzard buried the entire location – equipment and all – in snow. Some of the gear had to be left until it could be recovered the following spring.
2. Helicopter chase
Another of the film’s many spectacular sequences is an adrenaline-fuelled helicopter chase preceding the climactic cliffhanger. It was shot in the treacherous canyons of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Cruise went through intense pilot training to learn some of the stunt piloting the movie required. There was simply no room for error.
McQuarrie claims that he cannot think of an aspect of the aerial sequence that was not dangerous. “Most of the stunts that we’ve done with Tom in the past have had a safety mechanism built into them, like a release cable or something that catches him at the last minute, like when he climbed on the Burj Khalifa or the side of the A400. This sequence was all up to Tom. If he made any slip of the controls it would all be over. It was very nerve-wracking, and every time they came back I breathed a sigh of relief.”
1. The HALO jump
A High Altitude Low Opening, or HALO, insertion is a special parachuting technique used by elite military units to land undetected in enemy terrain.
On the Mission: Impossible – Fallout shoot, Cruise became the first actor in a major motion picture to jump out of a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III from a height of more than 7.5 kilometers in the sky. “Honestly, very dangerous,” admits the actor.
In the scene, Hunt jumps out of the C-17 to rescue Walker, who has jumped out of the plane and then been knocked unconscious by a lightning strike. The effort to rescue him involves a complicated series of skydiving acrobatics that even seasoned skydivers find challenging to master. Add to that the fact that McQuarrie and Cruise wanted the scene to take place at dusk, meaning they only had one chance to capture it each day, and they faced yet another impossible challenge.
Cruise would make between four and six rehearsal jumps each day. Then, just before sunset, when the light was ideal, McQuarrie would film the final jump of the day.
“We had three minutes to get the shot,” says the director. “And if we didn’t get it we knew were coming back the next day. So over the course of the day the tension would build.
In addition to being an astonishing piece of stunt work, Tom was helping the camera operator – and, of course, acting while he’s doing all that.”
After the shot, the team would gather in the video van to see if the scene had worked. “The whole team was waiting to see if we got it,” says Cruise. “There were many days when we didn’t. I would bring everyone in to review the footage to look at exactly what had happened, why it hadn’t worked and what we needed to do differently.”
The sequence was broken down into three sections, each involving extensive training, meticulous planning and days of rehearsals and shooting. “We thought the first part was going to be impossible, but when we got to the second part, the first jump seemed easy,” says Cruise with a laugh. “Finally we got section two, and everyone was so pumped. Then section three ended up being just gruelling. We had to figure out how to match it to section two when I finally tackle the Walker double. I was just trying to hold onto him and the centrifugal force almost pulled my arms out of the sockets. The tendons in my arms and my shoulders were pushed to the extreme. Craig, our camera operator, went through that also.
“After McQ, Jake [Myers, producer] and I looked over the last take of section three, we called the crew together and showed it to them,” adds Cruise. “It was like we all made the decision together: That was a wrap – the movie was finished! Everyone was so excited and proud of what we had accomplished. When that moment happens, it is an amazing feeling and one you don’t ever forget really.”