We haven't had a memorable skydiving stunt in an action movie -- a truly remarkable and eye-popping skydive stunt -- since Kathryn Bigelow sent Keanu Reeves after Patrick Swayze without a parachute in the brilliant bro-thriller Point Break. Well, it looks like that will change in July once Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise unleash Mission: Impossible -- Fallout on the world. At CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Cruise and the director he lovingly refers to as McQ took to the stage and walked audiences through a mid-air stunt that they have concocted for the sequel... one that, of course, Cruise had to perform himself to make sure they maintained authenticity.
And as I watched, I truly was shocked that Tom Cruise didn't kill himself filming this stunt for Mission: Impossible -- Fallout.
Here's the set up. It's a high-altitude, low-window jump from a massive plane that's traveling nearly 200 mph. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on mission with Henry Cavill's character, CIA agent August Walker. The scene is set at sunset over the city of Paris, meaning they only had three minutes of natural light in which to capture the scene each time they attempted it. (And they attempted it more than 100 times.) The two men argue as Ethan plans to change the plan at the last minute. Only, Walker doesn't want to wait. He pulls Ethan's oxygen line out then makes the jump himself. Ethan has to follow. But because this is a Mission movie, and the stakes need to be even higher than that, Christopher McQuarrie explained:
As Ethan is getting ready to jump out of the plane, because we like to add a complication or two, through the opened gate [Ethan] sees that there's a massive lightning storm over the city they're supposed to be diving into.
That's right. Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill actually jumped out of this very real, and very fast moving plane, and then had to figure out a way to simulate diving through a lightning storm en route to the city of Paris. Spoiler warning: The men get hit by lighting.
Now, Christopher McQuarrie emphasized that Tom Cruise didn't actually get hit by lightning... and the fact that he has to say this, alone, speaks to Cruise's insane commitment to the stunt. McQuarrie spent a lot of the panel explaining just how much training had to go into figuring out jumpsuits and a camera rig that would capture Tom Cruise in midair so that it was ALWAYS clear that this was, indeed, Cruise in the suit and not some stunt man filling in for the A-lister.
Also, to add another impossible wrinkle, in order to get the footage that McQ wants of Ethan tumbling from the plane, a cameraman had to be trained to jump out before Tom Cruise did, and freefall backwards. You read that correctly. We saw, eventually, that McQ got the camera operator to place the rig on his head. And jump out of this rapidly moving plane. And capture Tom Cruise in midair. As the actor explained:
So you can understand why people tell us, 'There's no way you are going to be able to do this. This is not going to happen.' One take a night. That's why it took a year to figure out. We actually had to hire the camera operator, train him how to shoot on film and not just capture an image.
The Mission: Impossible - Fallout scene is spectacular. We saw raw footage of three jumps that they used to get what will eventually look like one long, seamless shot. They involve Ethan leaving the plane to pursue Walker, Ethan getting hit by lighting and sending him into a freefall spin, then Ethan regaining his composure and catching up with Walker midair to reconnect the unconscious agent's oxygen hose and, eventually, pull his parachute before both agents splat down on a Paris street.
It looks remarkable! It looks impossible. And I still can't believe that Tom Cruise did all of this, and survived. As Simon Pegg said from the stage:
The difference between us watching Tom do those stunts to when you watch him do them is that you know he lived. It is a daily stress going to work with him because you don't know if you are going to see him tomorrow. And that can be scary!
See the sequence for yourself when Mission: Impossible -- Fallout hits theaters on July 27.