Mission: Impossible 7 Callback to the First Movie Is More Than Fan Service

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One is bringing back familiar faces from nearly 30 years ago in the new trailer, and there appears to be a chilling reason for this.

Tom Cruise and Mission Impossible 7 Cast
Photo: Paramount Pictures

The world has changed, but Ethan Hunt has not. This is a refrain said time and again about Tom Cruise’s superspy in the Mission: Impossible movies—to the point where it’s become almost something like a prayer or affirmation about Ethan’s preternatural need to gamble with everyone’s lives… and win.

Yet the familiar spiel lands with a lot more gravitas in the latest Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One trailer when it’s delivered by Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny). “Our lives are the sum of our choices,” Kittridge intones with an oily touch of fatalism. “We cannot escape the past. Ethan, this mission of yours is going to cost you dearly.” 

When spoken by Ethan’s old IMF boss from the 1990s, as well as the seeming antagonist of the first Mission: Impossible film, it really does feel like the ghosts of the past have come back, and Ethan will be forced to reckon with the fact that “the world is changing, [and] truth is vanishing.”

It’s also a nice bit of fan service, at least on the surface. Until Christopher McQuarrie came back to direct a second consecutive Mission: Impossible movie via 2018’s Fallout, these films had been fairly standalone, complete with different tones and directors. A new film meant a new style, a new aesthetic, and even a new IMF director, with little thought paid to things like continuity or canon. However, McQuarrie used his second adventure with Ethan as an excuse to dig into Ethan’s old personal pains, namely by bringing back his wife from Mission: Impossible III (2006), Julia (Michelle Monaghan). And now by revisiting Kittridge in Dead Reckoning, McQuarrie is excavating Ethan’s professional anguishes too. But this isn’t just about winking to the longtime fans.

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We can be told until the end of days that Ethan doesn’t change like the world around him, but the juxtaposition of who Kittridge and Hunt are nearly 30 years later brings home how much Tom Cruise’s hero, and his movies, have transformed as the star prepares to bid farewell to Ethan Hunt via the imminent two-part finale.

Consider that in the Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One trailer, Ethan is devoutly attached to his team, so much so that you might even call them his family (alas the Fast & Furious movies have practically patented that word). Ethan is asked by Luther in the new trailer what his ultimate objective is. “Your life will always matter more to me than my own,” Hunt responds, even going so far as refusing to accept that any of their lives can matter more than this mission. Elsewhere in the trailer, Ethan warns his latest nemesis, “If anything happens to them, there’s no place that I won’t go to kill you!”

Obviously we’re made to fret about the danger faced by Ethan’s IMF colleagues—and it does concern me that Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust seems to only appear in sequences set in Venice and a Middle East desert!—but we’re also seeing a strikingly different Ethan than the one who last broke bread with Kittridge.

In the original Mission: Impossible, Ethan and Kittridge only meet after a mission in Prague turns into a disaster with (seemingly) every member of Hunt’s team killed. After 20 or so minutes of getting audiences to warm to familiar faces of ‘90s and ‘80s cinema like Jon Voight, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Emilio Estevez, they’re all suddenly dead, and Kittridge thinks Ethan is responsible. Ethan seems shaken too, but not to the point where he is unable to immediately suspect his old mentor Jim Phelps (Voight) is actually a traitor when the old-timer turns up alive in London. (Indeed, it turns out Phelps was the real traitor all along!)

Back during that movie, the mission was paramount to Ethan, and even his closest friends were expendable. This film was also much more clearly the Tom Cruise show, largely jettisoning the ensemble aspect of the 1960s TV series on which these movies are based. For what it’s worth, Kittridge is also far less grandiose too in the first film; he’s just a politically savvy technocrat who was too smug to realize he’d been set up to blame Ethan for an IMF disaster.

Compare that now to the Ethan of Dead Reckoning Part One, an unstoppable ubermensch who absolutely refuses to believe the lives of millions (or billions?) being at stake are more important than the three pals he works exclusively with. And the difference isn’t just in what Ethan says, but how we feel about it too. Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Ilsa are all fan favorites, and each has helped humanize Ethan and bring the character out of his cipher-like shell better than any bland attempts at giving him a house and wife in the suburbs.

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Each of these characters have added to the flavor of the movies, particularly in the McQuarrie era which has finally made good on the original idea that these movies can be espionage ensembles, even if Ethan is still the star who’s running point (and running, running, and running some more). They’ve also added to Ethan’s personality. In McQuarrie’s first installment, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), Ethan seems genuinely baffled if touched when Benji insists that he is Ethan’s friend—which of course comes to the edge of disaster by the finale of that movie when Benji has a bomb strapped to him. And in Fallout, Ethan at last seems to have found someone in Ilsa who he doesn’t have to hide from or change who he is around.

Within that movie, Ethan is also forced to acknowledge he values his friends as much as the mission, particularly since the film’s plot kicks into motion because Ethan chooses to save Luther over retrieving some handy-dandy Movie Plutonium™. Nonetheless, having Kittridge on screen again brings this dilemma into sharper relief as the series prepares for its grand finale in next year’s Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two.

Ethan has changed a lot since 1996. Alas, the world has too, with the snide but well-meaning patriot in Kittridge now appearing to have fallen in with corrupt conspiracies himself. It’s probably worth noting that Vanessa Kirby’s White Widow is also back as the daughter of Max (Vanessa Redgrave), who was last seen trying to bribe Kittridge in ‘96. We have a hunch we might find out how deep those talons sunk in…. and what Ethan will do to keep them from the only people he’s ever really cared about after all these years.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One opens on July  12.