Mission: Impossible's Director Just Proved He Doesn't Get What Makes the Franchise Great
Christopher McQuarrie stands by his most controversial choice, but it speaks to a deeper issue for the franchise.
Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie have made history again with Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, but the duo are already getting flack for one of the film’s most controversial choices.
Dead Reckoning finds Ethan Hunt (Cruise) facing his most impossible mission yet. But this time around, it’s not the bonkers stunts presenting a challenge, but the struggle to fulfill his ultimate objective: protecting his loved ones from harm.
Dead Reckoning sees the departure of fan favorite Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a disavowed international agent who sacrifices herself to protect the latest addition to Ethan’s team. Her death came as a surprise to many, and it’s also brought its fair share of backlash. McQuarrie himself was prepared for a strong reaction from fans, citing his decision to kill Ilsa as a “tough” one. “But it was one we knew we had to make for the movie to have stakes and for the movie to remain Mission,” the director told USA Today.
The franchise, according to McQuarrie, “is primarily Ethan's journey.” Throughout that journey, he ends up losing people he cares about the most: it’s just a given. Those losses formed a “continuum,” one that McQuarrie and his crew had to find a new way to adhere to in Dead Reckoning. “It was a really tricky conversation for us to have,” the filmmaker says, “and we knew that there would be some reactions to that — but we also knew this is the reality of the world that's been created over seven movies.”
Said reality also allows the Mission: Impossible films to treat is heroines as interchangeable, even disposable, whether they mean to or not. The women that appeared in the early Mission: Impossible films were little more than Bond Girls, either untrustworthy sexpots that would eventually betray Ethan or capable (but not too capable!) agents that Ethan would be obliged to save. As his story continued and the films got even bigger, however, so too did the roles of his supporting cast. Thandiwe Newton’s Nyah Nordoff-Hall, Lea Seydoux’s Sabine Moreau, and Michelle Monaghan’s Julia Meade are all examples of female characters done right ... though they were usually killed off in their introductory film, or swiftly written out of the sequels.
Ilsa represents a rare case for women in the Mission: Impossible films. Not only is she a direct challenge to the genre’s most reductive archetypes, she’s the only female character that’s played a substantial role in more than one M:I film. She’s also gotten remarkably close to Ethan over the course of three films, which could explain why McQuarrie and co. chose her as the casualty that would devastate him most. Narratively, it does make sense. But it also speaks to one of the most annoying trends for the franchise.
It should be noted that Ilsa is the first team member that’s died on Ethan’s watch since Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell) was killed in Mission: Impossible III. He’s managed to save every member of his team since, but in most cases, that team member is a man. Most of the loved ones Ethan has lost have actually been women, like Marie (Mariela Garriga), a casualty that Dead Reckoning introduces via flashback. Even Ethan’s ex-wife had to fake her own death to avoid the ire of his enemies. Women have, admittedly, been Ethan’s weakness from the very beginning, but why is it always the women suffering for it?
Mission: Impossible may be all about Ethan’s perpetual quest to save the world, but the women that support him in his pursuit have always been a highlight. Even before Ilsa, characters like Maggie Q’s Zhen or Paula Patton’s Jane were constantly stealing the show. Cruise has always been great at building up his female co-stars — Ilsa herself became a fan favorite for this very reason — but McQuarrie seems to think that there’s only room for Ethan’s story moving forward.
Perhaps Ilsa was taking up too much space in the grand scheme. But if that’s the case, then it may be time for McQuarrie and Cruise to rethink their ultimate objective. There’s room for more than one journey (and perhaps even another lead) in this franchise, as Ilsa’s popularity has already proven.