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  • Hi, I'm Michael.

  • This is Lessons from the Screenplay.

  • Whenever a new Mission Impossible movie is coming out,

  • the focus always seems to be on whatever crazy, new,

  • incredibly dangerous stunts Tom Cruise is doing in the movie.

  • Admittedly, this is pretty awesome,

  • but it can sometimes make the Mission Impossible films

  • seem like nothing more than flashy action movies.

  • And while they certainly have no shortage of action...

  • (explosion)

  • ...there's another kind of tension at the heart of the series.

  • They are actually heist films.

  • This has always been true of the franchise,

  • even going back to the original Mission Impossible TV show.

  • And perhaps more than any other kind of sequence,

  • heists present the hero with an incredibly clear-cut goal and difficult obstacles,

  • creating high-stakes scenes designed to keep the audience guessing.

  • So today, my mission is to compare two heist sequences

  • from different Mission Impossible movies...

  • To examine the way they establish goals and convey detailed obstacles

  • ...and how they ultimately subvert expectations by taking an impossible situation,

  • and making it even worse.

  • Let's take a look at Mission Impossible.

  • Just like any sequence in a story,

  • the engine that drives a heist forward comes from the protagonist's desire.

  • In the first Mission Impossible, Ethan wants to steal the NOC list

  • a record of every secret agent and their true identity

  • because he thinks it will help him find the person who set him up.

  • “I deliver the NOC list, Max delivers Job.”

  • In Rogue Nation, his goal is...also to steal a list.

  • Lane had a ledger.

  • It contains the identities of his operatives, his terrorist associates,

  • the entire inner workings of the Syndicate.”

  • Once the goal is established, the first big problem is clear:

  • both of the lists are located in highly-secured facilities

  • there's no way Ethan could get to them on his own.

  • So to achieve the desire, the protagonist is going to need allies

  • "We're going to need some help."

  • or in this case, a team.

  • Each team member is designed to have a specific characteristic

  • that will help the protagonist achieve their goal.

  • In Rogue Nation, Ethan partners with Benji, who we've seen is a tech wizard...

  • ...and Ilsa, a new character who we've seen is a superspy in her own right.

  • In the original Mission Impossible, Ethan recruits two new people.

  • Luther, who is great at hacking...

  • ...and Krieger, who is great at being Jean Reno.

  • This team assembly phase allows the writers

  • to tease the kind of obstacles our heroes will be going up against...

  • "This is the Mount Everest of hacks."

  • ...but it also serves to start creating tension.

  • In both films, the writers give us reasons to suspect

  • that one of the team members is what John Truby calls, a "Fake-Ally Opponent."

  • In his bookThe Anatomy of Story,” Truby explains:

  • "The fake-ally opponent is a character who appears to be the hero's friend

  • but is actually an opponent.

  • Having this character is one of the main ways you add power to the opposition

  • and twists to the plot."

  • In both heists, the newest members of the team are former agents who have been disavowed.

  • She's bad news.”

  • Ethan is about to put his life in their hands, and isn't sure they can be trusted.

  • Unfortunately for him, he has no choice.

  • He's going to need their help if he wants to achieve his desire,

  • because standing in their way are a number of very big obstacles.

  • In a heist sequence, obstacles are the forces of antagonism that the heroes struggle against

  • they are what creates drama.

  • So once the team has been gathered,

  • both films waste no time in establishing the difficulty

  • of the mission they're about to attempt.

  • It's much worse than you think.”

  • It's impossible.”

  • To keep all this exposition engaging,

  • both films cut away from the team to show the actual location of the heist.

  • In the first film, Ethan's narration combines with the visuals

  • to create a kind of tour of the vault system.

  • Ethan: “The only person allowed in the room has to pass through a series of security checks.”

  • We see that the computer terminal is guarded by voice activation

  • William Donloe.”

  • retinal scans, temperature fluctuations, and even a pressure-sensitive floor.

  • Ethan: “All three systems are state of the art."

  • (alarm sounds)

  • Rogue Nation uses this cutaway technique in a different way.

  • Rather than simply providing a tour of the obstacles in the system,

  • the script visualizes the brainstorming process,

  • letting us see which security systems they could easily fool...

  • Benji: “Well that's easy.

  • We just impersonate the agent who stole the ledger in the first place,

  • and I get to wear a mask.”

  • ...and which ones they can't.

  • Ok, I don't get to wear mask.”

  • By letting us actually see the obstacles the team is facing,

  • we get a very clear understanding of each of them

  • and the better we understand the obstacles, the more effective they are.

  • So now that the heroes know precisely what they're up against,

  • it's time to formulate a plan,

  • and it's at this stage that the two films differ the most.

  • In Rogue Nation we know all the main steps of the plan beforehand,

  • and are even shown what success looks like.

  • Ethan: “One of us needs to enter the torus and change the security profile

  • so that the other one can access the computer without being caught.”

  • In the original film, we don't learn what the team's plan is

  • until the next stage of the heist...

  • execution.

  • As the heist begins in Rogue Nation,

  • we've already been told the centerpiece of the plan,

  • but the details leading up to it are surprises.

  • Ethan and Ilsa parachute in, as Benji does tech things and enters the building.

  • And with a quick reminder of the obstacles and stakes

  • Two and a half minutes to switch the security profile,

  • thirty seconds to escape through the service hatch.”

  • ...it's go time.

  • But in the original Mission Impossible,

  • we know their goal and we know the obstacles,

  • but when it comes to how they're going to pull it off, we're completely in the dark.

  • And you really think we can do this?”

  • This lets the reveal of their plan be part of the fun.

  • We're going to do it.”

  • The team shows up as firefighters, responding

  • to fake alarms set off by Luther's hacking skills

  • ...which allows them to access a maintenance room and gain access to the ventilation ducts.

  • Meanwhile, Claire changes disguises so she can covertly poison the coffee

  • of the only person who has access to the terminal, William Donloe.

  • And finally, the film reveals the heist's centerpiece.

  • This is the point of no return.

  • The team is fully committed, and now it's all about building tension.

  • So how do these heist sequences build tension?

  • First, they both feature a "ticking clock."

  • In the firstMission Impossible,”

  • they have a small window of time in which the poisoned man is...incapacitated.

  • In Rogue Nation the ticking clock is a literal ticking clock,

  • counting down how much air Ethan has left.

  • This is one of several visual cues the films use to convey to the audience

  • how close the team is to failing...

  • (Beeps)

  • ...another great way of creating tension.

  • But the best way to create tension is to subvert the audience's expectations.

  • So now: everything must go wrong.

  • In the Rogue Nation heist several problems arise.

  • First, Ethan drops the cards he needs to swap when he's hit by the robotic arm...

  • ...then the water flow is turned back on,

  • so he has to use even more oxygen to retrieve them...

  • ...and once he does they've been mixed up

  • so he's unsure which is the correct one to insert.

  • And all the while Benji is moments away from being caught

  • as the ticking clock is ticking down to Ethan's death.

  • In Mission Impossible, Ethan's initial descent is interrupted by the arrival

  • of William Donloe.

  • But once he is out of the picture, things go smoothly.

  • The temperature is fine, sound is within limits,

  • and Ethan is well above the pressure sensitive floor

  • that is, until a rat appears and Krieger can't keep it together,

  • resulting in one of the most famous moments in film history.

  • This is the crisis of the sequence,

  • and a great example of why it's important

  • for the obstacles to be clearly communicated to the audience.

  • We understand that if Ethan touches the floor, or makes a sound,

  • or doesn't get the right card inserted in time,

  • the mission will be a failure.

  • And now that everything has gone wrong,

  • we are glued to our seats and dying to know what will happen next.

  • In Rogue Nation, Ethan manages to get the proper card secured just in time,

  • while in the vault sequence Krieger manages to lift Ethan back up,

  • and he's able to secure the NOC list.

  • This appears to be a victory, but in Mission Impossible not even the escape is simple.

  • In the original film, as Ethan reaches safety, Krieger snatches the disk from Ethan,

  • and in doing so drops his knife.

  • This provides one last moment of suspense,

  • but more importantly confirms that Krieger cannot be trusted.

  • In Rogue Nation, Ethan drowns and Ilsa has to jump into the tank to save him,