We can be told to the end of days that Ethan isn’t changing like the world around him, but the juxtaposition of Kittridge and Hunt nearly 30 years later makes it clear just how much Tom Cruise’s hero and his films have changed, and the star prepares prepares to bid farewell to Ethan Hunt in the upcoming two-part finale.
Consider that in the Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One Trailer Ethan is loyal to his team, so much so that you could even call them his family (unfortunately). Fast & Furious Movies practically patented that word). Ethan is asked what his ultimate goal is in the new trailer by Luther. “Your life will always be more important to me than my own,” Hunt replies, even refusing to accept that any of their lives can be more important than this mission. Elsewhere in the trailer, Ethan warns his newest nemesis, “If anything happens to them, there’s no place I won’t go to kill you!”
We are obviously concerned about the danger posed to Ethan’s IMF colleagues – and it worries me that Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust only appears in sequences set in Venice and a Middle Eastern desert! – but we also see a strikingly different Ethan from the one who last broke bread with Kittridge.
In the original Impossible Mission, Ethan and Kittridge only meet after a mission in Prague turns into a disaster and (apparently) every member of Hunt’s team is killed. After about 20 minutes, during which the audience has become familiar with familiar faces of 90’s and 80’s cinema like Jon Voight, Kristin Scott Thomas and Emilio Estevez, they are all suddenly dead and Kittridge believes that Ethan is responsible. Ethan also seems shaken, but not so much that he can’t immediately mistake his old mentor Jim Phelps (Voight) for a traitor when the classic car turns up alive in London. (In fact, Phelps turned out to be the real traitor the whole time!)
Back then, during the film, Ethan’s mission was paramount and even his closest friends were expendable. This film was also much more clearly the Tom Cruise show and largely eschewed the ensemble aspect of the 1960s television series on which these films are based. Kittridge is also far less grandiose in the first film; He’s just a politically savvy technocrat who was too smug to realize that he should blame Ethan for an IMF disaster.
Now compare that to the Ethan of Dead reckoning part one, an unstoppable superman who absolutely refuses to believe that the lives of millions (or billions?) at stake are more important than the three friends he works exclusively with. And the difference isn’t just in what Ethan says, but in how we think about it. Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Ilsa are all fan favorites, and each of them helped humanize Ethan and pull the character out of his cipher shell better than any boring attempts to get him a house and a wife give suburbs.
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