‘Mission: Impossible’ Franchise Recap: Everything You Need to Remember Before ‘Fallout’
The Mission: Impossible franchise is a rarity in that it has been running for over 20 years now within the same continuity without any sort of reboot. Sure, there have been film franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek that go on for decades, but usually, there’s some sort of a soft reboot along the way. But not with Mission: Impossible; it’s been roughly the same series for decades now, and the new film, Fallout, ties back to the original 1996 classic.
For that reason, you’ll want to have the events of the previous movies in your head before Fallout, especially the last film, Rogue Nation. If you haven’t watched these movies in a while and don’t have time to do so before Fallout, let’s take a look back at the plot of every Mission: Impossible film so far.
When we meet Ethan Hunt in the original Mission: Impossible, he’s a hotshot kid who’s working under Jim Phelps in the IMF, the Impossible Mission Force. At the beginning of the film, Hunt and his team attempt to retrieve a NOC (non-official cover) list from an embassy in Prague.
However, the mission ends up taking a turn for the worse; every IMF agent except for Ethan is seemingly killed. This includes Jim Phelps, who is shot and who falls into the river. Jim’s wife, Claire, also dies in a car bombing. It turns out this mission was just a setup; IMF Director Eugene Kittridge was trying to figure out the identity of a mole in the IMF, and now, he’s convinced it’s Ethan.
Ethan flees, and he makes it his mission to find the real mole. He does so with the help of Claire, who it turns out survived the car bombing. In order to lure out the actual mole, Ethan decides he will steal the real NOC list, offering it to an arms dealer named Max (Vanessa Redgrave), who the mole has been working with, in exchange for the mole’s identity.
Ethan gets the list by breaking into the CIA’s headquarters in Langley with the help of Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), a disavowed IMF agent. Meanwhile, Ethan is being pursued by Kittridge, who tries to get him out of hiding by having his mother and uncle arrested and falsely accused of a crime.
Ethan soon runs into Phelps, who surprisingly survived the attack from the start of the movie. Phelps tells Ethan that Kittridge is the mole, but Ethan realizes that the mole is not Kittridge but Phelps himself. Hunt confronts Phelps aboard a train, and in a spectacular final action sequence, Ethan exposes Phelps as the mole, and Phelps dies in an explosion. Everything gets back to normal as Ethan and Luther are reinstated as IMF agents, Ethan’s mother and uncle are freed, and Max is arrested.
Years later, Mission: Impossible II hit theaters. In this film, a company, Biocyte Pharmaceuticals, has developed both a virus and its cure, planning to use the cure for profit. An IMF agent, Sean Ambrose, goes rogue and steals the cure, and so it’s Ethan’s mission to track him down.
Ethan recruits a woman named Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton). She and Ethan develop romantic feelings for one another, but Ethan finds out that she has been recruited because she’s Ambrose’s ex-girlfriend. She pretends to rekindle this relationship for the purposes of spying on him. They discover that Ambrose does not actually have the virus; he only has the cure, and he’s trying to get a sample of the virus from the CEO of Bicycte.
Ethan and his crew, which includes a returning Luther, decide they will break into Bicycte’s offices and destroy the virus. Ethan successfully does so, but there’s still one sample, and in an effort to prevent Ambrose from killing her, Nyah injects herself with it. Ambrose lets Nyah go so that she can release the infection, but Ethan steals the cure, defeats Ambrose, and injects Nyah with it, saving the day. The movie ends with Ethan and Nyah going off together.
We pick up in Mission: Impossible III, though, and Nyah is nowhere to be found. Ethan has retired and settled down with a woman, Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan). They are engaged to be married, but, unbeknownst to her, Ethan still trains IMF agents. He’s drawn back into the field to rescue an IMF agent, Lindsey Farris, who was kidnapped while investigating a black market trafficker named Owen Davian.
Ethan and his crew are able to rescue Lindsey, but they soon discover that a device has been implanted in her head; it goes off and she dies in Ethan’s arms. Ethan, with the help of a new IMF technician character named Benji (Simon Pegg), discovers where Davian is going to be next: Vatican City, where he is selling a mysterious piece of technology that’s being referred to as a Rabbit’s Foot. (In a classic J.J. Abrams move, we never find out exactly what the Rabbit’s Foot is; it’s just implied it’s some sort of dangerous weapon.)
Although he has been reprimanded by the IMF for what happened to Lindsey, Ethan decides to go off on this mission without receiving any sort of official go-ahead, but not before he and Julia have an impromptu wedding. Ethan successfully captures Davian in Vatican City, but shortly after, Ethan and his crew are attacked, and Davian escapes custody.
Davian then kidnaps Julia, telling Ethan he has 48 hours to deliver him the Rabbit’s Foot or else she will be killed. Ethan is captured by the IMF because he has been going rogue, but Operations Director John Musgrave helps him escape and tells him that the Rabbit’s Foot is in Shanghai. So Ethan gets the Rabbit’s Foot and delivers it to Davian, but we learn that Musgrave is a mole who’s planning to sell the Rabbit’s Foot to terrorists. Ethan takes down Musgrave, finds and kills Davian, and rescues Julia. With the mission successful, he and Julia leave for their honeymoon.
Five years later, we meet Ethan in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in a Moscow prison, where he has purposely gotten himself locked up in order to find information on a man named Cobalt, who is trying to purchase Russian nuclear launch codes. Ethan escapes the prison with a man by the name of Bogdan, who has more information on Cobalt.
Hunt goes to the Kremlin to try to find out more about Cobalt, but a bomb goes off at the building, and Hunt is framed for the crime. As a result, the IMF is disavowed, although the IMF secretary actually orders Ethan to keep on with his mission. The secretary is killed, and her intelligence analyst, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), joins Ethan. We later find out that Brandt is actually an agent who had been assigned to protect Ethan and his wife, but Julia was killed under his watch, and now he blames himself.
Ethan learns that Cobalt is a man named Kurt Hendricks, who is trying to start a war between Russia and the United States by launching nuclear weapons. He stole a device during the Kremlin explosion, and now he’s about to acquire launch codes at the Burj Khalifa.
So the IMF heads there, with the plan being to trick Hendricks into thinking he’s talking with the man he arranged a meeting with but actually having him meet with an IMF agent in disguise. However, Hendricks figures out what’s going on and flees with the real launch codes.
Hendricks heads to Mumbai to take control of a military satellite, and Ethan doesn’t have time to stop him before he orders a missile to strike San Francisco. However, Ethan fights Hendricks in a parking garage and is able to use a device to disable the missile just in time.
In the final scene, we find out that Julia is actually still alive, and Ethan had her death faked so she could be protected with a new identity. Ethan and Julia smile at one another as he, Brandt, and Luther (who sat out this movie but returns in the final scene) prepare for another mission.
A few years later, in Rogue Nation, the fallout of the end of Ghost Protocol is dealt with. The director of the CIA, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), shuts down the IMF entirely, saying they are obsolete and citing the damage they continuously cause around the world. Meanwhile, Ethan is hot on the tail of a criminal organization known as the Syndicate, a sort of anti-IMF that’s secretly behind a series of seemingly unconnected attacks and disasters around the world. The CIA, and especially Hunley, does not believe that the Syndicate exists.
With the help of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an MI-6 agent who has gone undercover with the Syndicate, Ethan attempts to put a stop to them, all while the CIA is hunting him down. Benji also helps, deciding to risk being jailed by the CIA to do so. Ethan discovers that the head of the Syndicate is a man by the name of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a former MI-6 agent.
By jumping into an underwater facility, Ethan successfully obtains an encrypted file that Lane is after and that is worth billions of pounds, but it can only be unlocked by the Prime Minister. Faust hopes to use the file in order to quit her mission infiltrating the Syndicate, but that doesn’t work, as her MI-6 handler discreetly deletes her copy, not knowing Ethan has his own.
Lane ends up kidnapping Benji in order to force Ethan to give over his copy of the data unencrypted. So at a charity event, Ethan enacts an elaborate plan which results in the British prime minister revealing that the Syndicate was actually started by the British Secret Intelligence Service; the chief of the MI-6 did so without authorization and tried to cover this up after Lane took it over and went rogue. Hunley is in the room for this revelation, so now he has realized that Ethan was right about the Syndicate being real. Ethan also tranquilizes the Prime Minister and gets him to unencrypt the data.
After viewing its contents, Ethan destroys the data. He meets with Benji and Faust; Benji has a bomb strapped to his chest, and Lane, speaking remotely through Benji, orders Lane to turn over the data to Faust. But Ethan reveals that he memorized all of the data, using that to lure Lane out of hiding and force him to let Benji go. After outrunning Lane’s men, Ethan draws Lane towards him and tricks him into becoming trapped inside a bulletproof box. Lane is subsequently arrested.
Ethan asks Faust where she will go now that she is free, but she doesn’t know. They hug, and Ethan wishes her luck, with Faust telling him he knows how he can find her. Having seen Ethan’s good work, Hunley decides to reinstitute the IMF, and he becomes its new secretary.
Now, we have Fallout, which is as close to a direct sequel as we’ve seen in the Mission: Impossible franchise and which sees Solomon Lane return; this is the first time a villain has appeared in two Mission: Impossible films. Luther, Benji, Ilsa, Julia, and Hunley all return as well, although Brandt sits this film out, as Jeremy Renner was busy.