The saying goes that 'all good things must come to an end' – and the Mission Impossible movie series knows it.
Paramount Pictures' multi-billion dollar film franchise has been part of the cultural zeitgeist for almost 30 years. But, with Mission Impossible 7 (MI:7) rumored to be the penultimate entry in the action-spy series, its cast and crew, plus Mission Impossible's global fanbase, are faced with the real prospect that it might finally be 'mission accomplished'.
Before the franchise potentially ends in 2024, though, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his Impossible Mission Forces (IMF) crew have one last opportunity to do what they do best: go rogue and save the world. Kickstarting their final assignment is Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part One, which sees Hunt and company attempt to track down a powerful artificial intelligence-based weapon, dubbed The Entity, before it falls into the wrong hands.
For Simon Pegg, who's played Hunt's trusted lieutenant Benji Dunn since 2006's Mission Impossible 3, the latest film isn't only positioned as thrill rides for viewers, but also act as an celebration of how the series (and its characters) have evolved since the 1996 original.
"With every film, I try and build on what's gone before," Pegg tells TechRadar. "Benji's gone from a wet-behind-the-ears agent in Mission Impossible 3 to this more mature, independent, and storied member of the team. He's committed to Ethan and the IMF, and has no doubts about what he's doing. I think it's really fun to have played that evolution throughout five, nearly six, films."
Blasts from the past
Benji isn't the only familiar face who returned for MI:7. Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), who also featured in 1996's Mission Impossible alongside Cruise, is back for more buddy cop antics with Benji. Not content with bringing back two of the original film's cast members, Dead Reckoning – Part One also sees former IMF director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) make a crowd-pleasing return.
It's these character inclusions, as well as how MI:7 dredges up one of Hunt's most traumatic memories, that semi-roots it in the franchise's past. The addition of Rebecca Ferguson's enigmatic former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust and Vanessa Kirby's Alanna Mitsopolis also give Dead Reckoning – Part One a hefty dose of moral complexity; a suspense-laden trait on which the series has built its success.
"Something I've always loved about these characters is the juxtaposition of their personas," Ferguson says. "Some of them aren't completely good or bad, and it's not an automatic choice [for them to be heroic or villainous]. And we never know why the direction they go in is for the greater good, for themselves, or if it's to simply think four steps ahead of everyone else.
"With Elsa, I think it's constantly wanting to leave something behind, but there's always something or someone who draws her back in. She searches for that in her relationship with herself, or if it's the love of Hunt's group who she's never wanted to be fall in love with. Those little nuances keep you guessing about where her allegiances really lie."
"Alanna is something who's usually so in control," Kirby adds. "But she's facing a force that's bigger than any one human that she's ever known, and it's something that's going to affect the whole of humanity. No matter what kind of organization you're a part of or whether you're the boss of that organization, you're going to be frightened. I really wanted those cracks to show in Alanna because it's more psychologically realistic, so I played her a bit more wrung out this time around. She's neither good or bad, but she might be perceived that way by whose side she takes."
Changing of the guard
As with every new Mission Impossible film (read our Mission Impossible movies ranked piece while you're here), new characters are also introduced as part of said flick's wider narrative.
On the antagonistic side, Esai Morales' Gabriel is Mission Impossible 7's primary villain, whose potential control of The Entity spells danger for humanity. Joining Gabriel on the villains' roster is Marvel alumnus Pom Klementieff' Paris, a silent but deadly assassin who more than proves to be a physical match for Hunt and his charges.
"I laughed when I found out who I'd be playing," Klementieff says. "I just thought of [Guardians of the Galaxy's] Mantis and how polar opposite these two characters are. I think she's a completely different female character than what we've previously seen in the franchise.
"I love what Vanessa and Rebecca have done with Alanna and Ilsa, and what other female actors did with their characters in previous films. But Paris is like a punk and a rebel who plays by her own rules. She also comes across as being slightly insane, which makes her look like a monster. I've been dying to do an action movie for a long time, so it was really fun to portray Paris and bring some crazy female energy to Mission Impossible."
Joining Hunt and his team – when she's not playfully double-crossing them, anyway – is Grace (Captain America: The First Avenger's Hayley Atwell). A mysterious, morally ambiguous thief, Grace finds herself at the center of MI:7's story when she steals one of the two interlocking keys that, when combined, grant access to The Entity.
Initially pursued by Hunt and Gabriel, Grace finds herself being drawn to the former and his merry band of heroes as the stakes grow wildly out of control. Though she's eventually forced to pick a side of the fight, Grace's chaotic nature always means that audiences are left guessing about where her true loyalties lie. And, while that duality was part of Grace's persona from the outset, Atwell was afforded some semblance of autonomy to shape the character as she saw fit.
"When I did the screen test with Tom [Cruise] and McQ [director Christopher McQuarrie], they said 'we don't have a character in the script that we're looking to fit someone into," Atwell explains. "Instead, they wanted an actor they could work with. They said 'if that actor enjoys that challenge, we'll collaborate to create this character as we go along'. And it was really important for me to play someone more nuanced than the traditional archetype you see in action films.
"In the screen test, I would try reading a scene where she's ingenue and completely vulnerable, then where she's calculating and withholding information, and another take with Grace being flirtatious and mischievous to get what she wants. We'd watch the playback and pick out bits that would make her character arc more interesting later in the story, or act as a turning point for her. I think what we ended up with is something who's consistently inconsistent. Here's someone who runs away from the thing she wants the most. At some point in her life, she's thought it isn't safe to trust people and it's better to be on your own. But all she really wants is to belong and have someone look out for her."
The final hurrah?
Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part One isn't the end of the story. Serving as a likely two-part finale to the franchise (or, at the very least, Cruise's involvement in it), Mission Impossible 7 and 8 will effectively bring the curtain down on a beloved espionage-thriller series that'll have been around for 27 years by the time Dead Reckoning – Part Two lands in theaters.
Right now, it's unclear if Mission Impossible 8 (MI:8) will meet its June 28, 2024 release date. Filming is continuing amid the ongoing writers' strike, which has impacted numerous films and TV shows since the industrial action began in May. As Pegg says: "We'll just have to see how it plays out."
However, the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America could also engage in strike action in the near future. Both unions have until July 12, Mission Impossible 7's US launch day, to agree new deals with the Association of Motion Pictures and Television. Otherwise, they'll also down tools, meaning production on MI:8 will be halted.
Whether that happens or not, the latest film's cast will have other projects to concern themselves with, too. Kirby is rumored to be in talks with Marvel to play Sue Storm in its Fantastic Four movie – something Kirby says would "be an honor" to do. Ferguson is discussing the finer details of hit Apple TV Plus series Silo season 2 with showrunner Graham Yost, though Silo fans shouldn't expect its next season to debut anytime soon.
If Dead Reckoning Part One and Part Two are final hurrahs for Cruise in this franchise, it doesn't have to be the end of the line, either. Atwell's Grace could lead it in a new direction, providing she survives the events of MI:8. A prequel spin-off showing how Ferguson's Faust became a mysterious MI6 agent might work, too, as could a buddy cop-style project starring Benji and Luther.
However Cruise's Mission Impossible journey potentially ends, Dead Reckoning – Part One sets up a captivating, rollercoaster-like climax to one of the best action-spy film franchises of all-time. In doing so, it also excitingly explores the series' past, present, and future. Let's hope its sequel equally delivers a barnstorming and fitting end, too.
Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part One is out in the UK now, and launches in the US and Australia on July 12. All six previous movies are available to stream on Paramount Plus.
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