For many Mission: Impossible fans, the second movie from director John Woo is the worst of the entire series. Those people are joyless and wrong.
Luckily, those with taste who stan for Mission: Impossible II are finally being validated in a neat Easter egg from the latest installment, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, out July 26.
Warning: Spoilers for Mission: Impossible — Fallout ahead.
At the end of Fallout, a long battle across most of Europe brings the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) to a mountainous region in Indochina, where the team splits up to diffuse a pair of nuclear bombs planted somewhere in a village of thousands. While most of our heroes deal with those nukes, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt hijacks a helicopter (in mid-air!) to pursue August Walker, aka Henry Cavill’s brawny CIA agent secretly working for the evil organization of the week, the Apostles.
Their battle basically plays out as helicopter dogfighting until their choppers crash into each other and August and Ethan end up fist-fighting on a mighty steep cliff. Naturally, their fight ends with Ethan and August climbing up the side of the cliff without harnesses. After vanquishing his foe, Ethan is left climbing a big ass rock in an image familiar to anyone who remembers Mission: Impossible 2.
Look closely, and you might catch Tom Cruise smirking. It could be from relief after escaping a gruesome death, or it could be Cruise winking to the audience: You remember this, don’t you?
Of course you remember Mission: Impossible 2. Specifically, you remember its heart-pounding intro, where Cruise free climbs a mountain in Moab, Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park. (Tot to be confused when he climbed the Burj Khalifa, the mega-skyscraper in the United Arab Emirates with the most basic of urban climbing equipment, in 2011’s Ghost Protocol.)
It’s probably the most enduring scene out of anything in Mission: Impossible 2, which remains unpopular with fans and critics. Though the film’s release predates Rotten Tomatoes, it has a telling 57% “Rotten” score and an equally abysmal 43% audience score.
Tom Cruise really did that stunt for real too, by the way. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly from 2000, John Woo revealed that he was terrified for Tom Cruise — who had only a “thin safety cable” — that he couldn’t look at the monitors during shooting the scene.
“I was really mad that he wanted to do it, but I tried to stop him and I couldn’t,” Woo said. ”I was so scared I was sweating. I couldn’t even watch the monitor when we shot it.”
With Fallout, the Mission: Impossible series takes an extremely rare opportunity to reference itself. That’s because, outside of recurring characters, the franchise is structurally episodic. It’s not important that you see any of the movies in order, or even at all. In fact, Fallout — the sixth in a series going on for twenty years — is the most steeped-in-saga entry of Mission: Impossible yet, with familiar faces like Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) and Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).
It’s unknown if Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie had the same problem. Probably not, given that he was the one who strapped Tom Cruise to a moving airplane just a few years ago.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout hits theaters July 26.