[WARNING: This article contains Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation plot spoilers!]
There are a ton of things that the Mission: Impossible franchise is known for like crazy Tom Cruise stunts, elaborate heists, intense chase sequences and, of course, those 100% accurate identity-changing masks. The tech is a bit ridiculous, but the first Mission: Impossible movie sells it well enough. Mission: Impossible 2, however, goes face-ripping nuts. M:I 3 and Ghost Protocol manage to rein the concept back in, but it’s still a very delicate element to work with. You either get it right or it isn’t going to work one bit.
Fortunately, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie uses the tech well in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, but during a recent roundtable interview, he did note that they came close to taking the disguises a bit too far. Here’s what he had to say about his approach to incorporating the masks:
“There was obviously the leftover from Ghost Protocol and we baked in a lot of stuff for fans of the franchise, but we also made a movie that was for the uninitiated. We always said, ‘You have to walk into this movie having never seen a Mission: Impossible movie before.’ Therefore, a guy can’t just pull off a mask. You have to introduce the mask technology and you have to make it part of the reality of this movie. And so that was where the introduction of the mask became obligatory.”
Now, of course, the way they introduce the mask in Rogue Nation is by having Benji (Simon Pegg) fantasize about finally getting to wear one. However, at one point, that wasn’t all the mask action Benji got. McQuarrie shot a scene that featured Benji wearing a mask in the field, but he had to cut it:
“We developed this mask machine that was the 3D printer and brought back this idea of Benji wanting to wear a mask, that he always wanted to wear a mask. In the 10-minute chunk of the movie that we cut out, he really got to do it and he shows up very unexpectedly, so it was really richly rewarding. And he showed up as Alec Baldwin and it was this really fun moment and he pulls off an Alec Baldwin mask and it’s Benji and you’re like, ‘F*ck!’ And that’s how they’ve escaped from Alec Baldwin, and you cut back to the embassy and you see Alec and everybody come out of the embassy and leave, and then you see Alec Baldwin come out of the embassy alone and you’re like, ‘Did I just miss a reel or what’s happening?’ Alec Baldwin realizes it before you do, and you cut back to the car and Benji pulls off the Alec Baldwin mask and then reaches under his sleeve and pulls this tab and his Alec Baldwin body suit deflates because he’s so much bigger than Simon.”
It sounds like a fun scene but, clearly, there were reasons he couldn’t include it. McQuarrie further explained:
“All of the elements that made the scene work were also things that led the audience down a path they didn’t want to go and confused them with information they didn’t need. Also by the time you got to the real mask reveal in the movie, you felt the audience saying, ‘There’s just too many of these mask gags in the movie.’ And so we looked at this whole chunk of the movie that is Alec Baldwin at his absolute finest, he’s so good in this scene, it’s Alec just taking a monologue and just chewing it up with his back teeth and just loving every minute of it and he has great zingers – and it’s Tom Cruise just being torn apart by Alec Baldwin. And Tom, I said, ‘I’m sorry, but does this feel weird that you don’t have anything to do in this scene?’ And Tom goes, ‘I got a front row seat, man. This is the greatest.’ He’s just sitting there in handcuffs with Alec Baldwin just destroying him and it just didn’t earn itself there, and the audience was basically telling us, ‘You’ve gone one step too far.’ And we were terrified of that mask gag thinking, ‘They’re gonna see it coming. They’re gonna see it coming’. And the nice thing is that for the people who do, they enjoy it just as much as the people who don’t. And it hinges on 30 seconds of screen time in an earlier scene. At one test, I cut just a little deeper just to like get us through a scene and I took this little 30 second chunk out and it took away the things you needed to believe in order for that thing to work.”
I really would have liked to see Benji have his big moment and to see more of Baldwin being Baldwin, but Rogue Nation moves along so swiftly, it would have been a shame to risk ruining the pristine pacing. Let’s hope some of this material winds up being part of the DVD/Blu-ray special features menu. There’s definitely a chance the filmmakers might want to save Benji’s first mask moment for a future installment, but if McQuarrie is talking freely about it now, perhaps they’ll share it.