If you were one of the millions of viewers who watched Super Bowl LII, then you no doubt got a chance to see the Mission: Impossible—Fallout trailer.
This sneak-peek at the sixth installment of the MI franchise promises many familiar staples of the series, including a star-studded cast, stunning visuals, and of course, crazy stunts, complete with a promising looking action sequence aboard a helicopter.
As fun as these features appear however, there is one tantalizing element hinted at in the trailer which intrigues me from a writing standpoint: a compelling internal conflict for the protagonist, Ethan Hunt.
Though often overlooked, I believe this crucial story element is one of the main reasons the MI franchise has been able to separate itself from other action movies. Although there has always been a solid external conflict, there have also been interesting internal conflicts which have driven the storylines forward.
Take a look at the table below to see how the MI franchise has balanced Ethan Hunt’s external conflicts with internal conflicts throughout the series. (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)
|EXTERNAL CONFLICT||INTERNAL CONFLICT|
|Loss of NOC list; infiltration of CIA||Guilt over loss of team; betrayal by team leader|
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II
|Threat of viral epidemic||Betrayal of former colleague|
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III
|Dangerous arms dealer at large||Inability to protect wife; uncertainty about life outside IMF|
|Threat of nuclear war||Framed by own government; loss, at least figuratively, of wife|
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE– ROGUE NATION
|Rogue terrorist group at large||Betrayed by government; conflicting loyalties|
If you’ll notice, many of the internal conflicts in these films have revolved around one central theme: betrayal. It is, therefore, very fitting that the trailer should contain this line of dialogue: “How many times has Hunt’s government betrayed him?”
The trailer goes on to ask the question that should have already begun to form in the viewer’s mind over the course of the MI franchise: “How long before a man like that has had enough?”
This presents a truly compelling internal conflict: what happens when the protagonist of a story begins to doubt whether or not he is fighting for the right side?
This conflict, if written correctly, could lead to the best and most complex MI entry in the history of the franchise. After five films of watching Hunt come out on top, there is a danger that the audience could begin to grow bored with the character. We become used to the pattern of Ethan Hunt facing a difficult antagonist and figuring out a way to outsmart them in the end.
The concept of a strong internal conflict throws an entirely different light on the story. Throughout the series, Ethan Hunt is shown to have a tenacious drive grounded in a solid belief of definite right and wrong. What would happen then, if that foothold were shaken, if Hunt were to undergo a certain “crisis of faith”?
If this concept sounds at all familiar, one need look no further than the ending of Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation. After being continually bested by the intellectual mastermind Solomon Lane, Ethan Hunt is able to come out on top by finding the man’s weak spot: an overwhelming compulsion to destroy the system that he believes created him, MI6. Hunt refers to a “crisis of faith” Lane suffered which led to his ultimate corruption. How fitting would it be then, for Lane, returning as the villain of Fallout, to confront Ethan with the same dilemma: a crisis of faith with Hunt’s own organization, the IMF.
Careful viewers will note that the seeds for this theme were planted extensively throughout the entirety of Rogue Nation. Ilsa Faust refers to herself and Ethan as being “cast aside” by the governments they represent, offering Ethan the chance to leave the IMF once and for all.
Though the MI franchise has always contained a moderate level of internal conflict, as noted in the table above, Fallout has the potential to plunge to a deeper level. This should be seen as no surprise, as modern audiences are craving more fully developed characters and story lines from popular action movie franchises. Most notable among these are the latest entries to the James Bond canon which have served to more fully explore the character’s background and internal conflicts.
As fun as it is watching Ethan Hunt hang from the side of a plane or helicopter, internal conflicts are what ultimately add depth and complexity to a movie. Writers and movie-goers alike should be intrigued by the interesting personal conflicts hinted at in Fallout. For a worst-to-best ranking of the villains from the Mission: Impossible franchise, you can check out my full breakdown here.
Jonathan Vars is a Christian fiction writer from New England, and founder of the writing website voltampsreactive.com. His latest novel “Like Melvin” is currently available on Amazon and Google Books. In addition to writing, Jonathan enjoys running, hiking, and trying not to freeze to death in the winter.