May 30, 2017

McQuarrie Offers Insights on the Tone of Mission: Impossible 6

Image: Christopher McQuarrie
Mission: Impossible 6 writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, speaking on John August and Craig Mazin's Scriptnotes podcast (via Collider), offered some insights into what fans can expect from his second entry in the movie series based on the classic TV show. Speaking from Paris, where he's currently filming exterior action sequences with stars Tom Cruise (American Made) and Henry Cavill (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), McQuarrie told the podcasters (both highly successful screenwriters themselves) the next movie would feature less globetrotting and more human drama.

When McQuarrie was announced as the first recurring director in the film franchise's history, the choice raised some eyebrows since one of the series' hallmarks was the fact that each entry felt different, offering a new director's vision. The director himself is clearly well aware of that, and wants to very clearly differentiate his next Mission movie from his first one. One of the ways he intends to accomplish that is by working with a new cinematographer. Robert Elswit (Tomorrow Never Dies), who defined the look of the last two Mission: Impossible movies, will not return. Instead, McQuarrie is working with Rob Hardy (Shadow Dancer), who's most famous for bringing a very distinctive look to Alex Garland's Ex Machina.
That happened from the conversation I had with Rob Hardy, I said I want to do a very different Mission: Impossible. The franchise relies on a different director every time. That’s what it’s sort of become known for. And so I want to maintain that, even though I’m coming back. And to that end, I’m going to defer to you on certain things. And Rob said, okay. I said, so how do you like to shoot? He said, “Well, I tend to shoot pretty much on a 35 and a 50mm lens. Everything.” Which terrified me, because I tend to start at 75mm. And so 30 and 50 I reserve for very specific things. He shoots everything. He covers scenes in it.
He'll also limit the globetrotting.
I was determined, unlike the last movie, to spend more time in one location. I went back and I looked at the first movie, which started in Prague, and realized that they’re in Prague for the first half of the movie. So, I sort of pulled back a little bit on the globe-trotting.
While thrilling locations all around the world are one of my favorite aspects of spy movies, I am not opposed to this approach. The television show, after all, did not generally hop from country to country within a given episode. (And, for me, it's the show that should always be the touchstone, not previous Cruise movies.) But it's also not as if Mission: Impossible 6 won't have globetrotting. It's just going to spend more time in a given place. But announced locations include Paris, London, India, and New Zealand.

Perhaps most of all, though, McQuarrie intends to set the next film apart from the previous two by making the mission more personal for Ethan Hunt, and giving the character more of an arc. This strikes me as dangerous territory. J.J. Abrams' Mission: Impossible III tread similar ground with mixed results. The James Bond producers struck gold by mining more personal ground in Skyfall, but then faltered when they attempted to repeat the trick. In a spy franchise where the hero works for a government agency, you simply can't have every mission be personal. Fortunately, it sounds like McQuarrie is aware of that potential pratfall, and also aware that it would be a mistake to make the franchise too dark. He's also aware of his responsibility working on a franchise like Mission: Impossible that "your movie leaves it so that another chapter in the franchise can exist."
You worry all the time, am I taking this in a way that it can't go? And we have this conversation all the time about tone. Because [Ghost Protocol director] Brad Bird really changed the tone of the franchise and Rogue Nation embraced that tone completely. At the beginning of this I said to Tom, “I don’t think we can do that three in a row. I think now it’s going to become cute. I think we need to take it another direction still.” And we did. But now we find ourselves going, you know, are we going where Bond went where Bond became–serious. It’s another kind of tone. Which, by the way, has not hurt their bottom line at all. They’ve really found their place. But we can’t go there. We were sort of laughing because we were looking at Rogue Nation and saying, “Well thanks, Bond, for not doing that anymore, so we’ll do it.” Now we’re looking at it and going, “But we can’t keep doing that.” We suddenly hit that same wall and understood why Bond went the way they did. And we’re at this kind of emotional crossroads with the franchise saying well how dramatic can you take Mission? It’s not going to a dark place. It’s going to a more emotionally dramatic place.
I'm glad it's not going to a dark place, and I'm glad that McQuarrie clearly realizes the difference between "dark" and "emotionally dramatic." It seems like some directors of major tentpole movies don't make the distinction. And lest one fear that this movie will depart from the series' trademark action setpieces, fear not! 
I started with more of an emotional story for this character and more of a character arc within it. It’s definitely more of an emotional journey for Ethan Hunt in that movie. But then the action comes in. And the ambitions of that action, so there’s a sequence at the end of the movie which is fabulous. It’s never been done. It’s all photo real. It’s going to be incredible. You then have to create the contrivances for that sequence to happen. And then there’s only a few locations in the world where you can shoot that sequence. So suddenly you find yourself going, well, I have this resource and that resource, and I have to put them in my movie. Why are they in my movie? And now I’ve got to explain that.
These are just a few choice nuggets from an hour-plus podcast that's well worth listening to in its entirety. Check it out here. Mission: Impossible 6 is currently shooting, with a release date of July 27, 2018. Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Kirby, Alec Baldwin, Sian Brooks, and Sean Harris co-star, along with Angela Basset, who was recently announced to play the head of the CIA (a position occupied by Baldwin in the last film). She previously played a CIA director on J.J. Abrams' TV series Alias.


Tom Kochinski said...

Hi Tanner, love the site.

You note that Skyfall mines more personal territory. I would argue that Bond hasn't had an adventure without mining personal territory since The Living Daylights. To smaller and greater degrees, there's always now an element of "this time it's personal... again."

Licence to Kill - goes rogue on revenge mission for Felix.
Goldeneye - revenge against Orumov / then 006.
Tomorrow Never Dies - reuniting with old flame Paris, and the fallout from that.
The World Is Not Enough - redeeming himself for King's death; emotional manipulation by Elektra; kidnapping of M.
Die Another Day -- getting revenge for capture in Korea and proving himself to M.
Casino Royale -- Vesper's betrayal.
Quantum of Solace -- goes rogue on revenge mission for Vesper's betrayal.
Skyfall - loss of faith by M; proving he's still got it to himself and her; revisiting his past.
Spectre - rogue mission; fighting his long-lost brother by adoption; settling accounts with Mr. White and healing emotionally with his daughter.

Tanner said...

I definitely agree with you, Tom--especially in the Craig era, for which LTK now seems like sort of a blueprint. I think TND is stretching it; that one doesn't really feel so personal, though I'm sure the Paris backstory was, as you point out, put in to make a more personal connection. But while it's sometimes nice and sometimes works really well (such as CR or SKYFALL), I don't think it's necessary every time. There's already a built-in story mechanism in such a series: he is a spy, and he gets missions. It's his job to go on them. I'm getting pretty tired of Bond (or Hunt for that matter) going rogue in every movie!

None of which is to say that personal storylines are bad, I just want to be clear. But they have more impact in a long-running series if they're deployed with some strategy rather than scattershot.

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