Mission Impossible 2 witnessed Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, the dauntless agent of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), scale a 2,000-foot cliff at Utah’s picturesque Dead Horse Point, in what remains one of the craziest stunts in movie history. Cruise, known for performing his own stunts, opted in on this one using his bare hands. This raised concerns for the movie’s director, John Woo.
Director John Woo’s Fears
John Woo, known for a variety of genres, experienced a wave of anxiety over the execution of the stunt. His main task was to effectively portray Ethan Hunt’s fearlessness without compromising Cruise’s safety.
Woo, feeling the responsibility of the actor’s safety on his shoulders, admitted to being angered by Cruise’s decision to participate in such a dangerous stunt, fearing a potential accident. He reportedly refused to watch the monitor during filming. However, Cruise’s insistence on authenticity won out, resulting in an incredibly realistic climbing sequence that continues to stun audiences to this day.
The Execution of the Climbing Stunt
Cruise was supported by a skilled stunt team including professional rock climber Ron Kauk, who served as a consultant, and stunt double Keith Campbell. Campbell was heavily involved in the filming and although Tom insisted on doing all of the stunts himself, Campbell is actually the one doing the “slip off the overhang” stunt.
The action star and his double were both equipped with safety gear during the stunt, including a harness attached to winches, which were securely fastened to small rock ledges on the side of the mountain. These critical safeguards were later digitally erased during post-production, reinforcing the illusion of a free solo climb.
The Challenges for Cameramen and the Use of Multiple Cameras
The cliff-climbing scene involved an elaborate setup of five different cameras to capture every movement and angle of Cruise’s ascent. Each cameraman faced the challenge of accurately capturing the stunt from various positions, from the side of the mountain to the top of the cliff.
The different camera angles achieved a variety of goals, creating a sense of danger and amplifying the tension. Additionally, these multiple perspectives offered a close-up view of Hunt as he navigated the rugged terrain. From his tense fingertips gripping onto the overhang to his knees braced against the cliff’s steep slope, it’s hard not to look away.
Beyond the Tom Cruise Rock Climbing Scene
Beyond Mission Impossible 2, Cruise’s decision to perform his own stunts has become an integral part of his star power. In Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, he scaled the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building in Dubai, in a similarly hair-raising sequence. In Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation, he held on to the side of a cargo plane during takeoff, elevating the franchise once again. Each installment has seen him performing ever more dangerous stunts, ensuring that every sequel is a blockbuster hit.
The actor’s dedication extends beyond the Mission Impossible franchise. In Top Gun: Maverick, Cruise reminds us of his versatility, engaging in a high-speed dogfight scene in a jet. He even manages to maintain composure under intense G-Forces during the flight scenes.
The Mission Impossible 2 climbing scene received glowing reviews, with the British Academy Film Awards and other notable organizations. Audiences praised the scene as a thrill-inducing opener, leading to a significant surge at the box office and establishing the movie as a frontrunner in the 2010’s action sequel market.
Comparisons with Real-Life Climbing Feats
Comparisons can be drawn to real-life climbing feats such as Alex Honnold’s ascent of El Capitan, a climb detailed in Jimmy Chin’s documentary Free Solo. The film, which won a Best Documentary Oscar, PGA, DGA prizes, and was a favorite at Cinema Eye Honors and IDA Documentary Awards, depicts Honnold’s journey climbing Yosemite National Park’s most recognized rock formation without ropes. It’s a gripping watch, much like the cliff-climbing sequence in Mission Impossible 2, albeit with the added intensity of the real-life stakes involved.
While Free Solo does an incredible job of portraying extreme real-life climbing, the Mission Impossible 2 sequence takes artistic liberties to heighten the experience. But the thrill is mutual, as audiences watch Honnold, and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, defy gravity.
Despite occasional deviations from reality and an understanding of the actual dangers involved, the Mission Impossible 2 opening scene remains one of the most impressive. Kudos to the film crew’s diligent efforts in achieving a balance between showcasing an actor’s star power and ensuring safety during potentially dangerous stunts.
Tom Cruise won’t likely stop taking huge risks, always striving to create a thrill for the audiences who love him. His desire to impress continues to inspire the stunts seen in his most recent movies, setting a benchmark for action sequences in the future. Mission Impossible 7 hits theaters this week.