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What to remember about the Mission: Impossible movies before Dead Reckoning

What movie is Gabriel from? When was the White Widow introduced? Who’s in those flashbacks? We explain

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) looks particularly uncomfortable and dead-eyed wearing a suit and standing in a brightly backlit nightclub next to Alanna Mitsopolis, the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), a blonde woman in white who’s all up in his personal space and playing with the knot on his necktie in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Photo: Christian Black/Paramount Pictures

There aren’t as many Mission: Impossible movies as there are Fast and Furious titles or Marvel Cinematic Universe entries. But the M:I movies have been running on the big screen for nearly 30 years now, so even dedicated fans can be forgiven for not remembering every detail from every labyrinthine espionage plot, and for not necessarily wanting to cue up a 17-hour rewatch just to get up to speed on a movie that will itself likely need a rewatch before its direct sequel comes out next year.

Not to worry. If you want to go see Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, but aren’t sure whether you remember all of its predecessors, this handy guide will provide a catch-up free of spoilers for the new movie, though it does feature some broad spoilers from the previous six.

Which Mission: Impossible movie introduced Gabriel, Dead Reckoning’s villain?

Gabriel (Esai Morales), a man grey hair and a grey-and-white goatee, stands in a wood-paneled train cabin and stares into the camera as his lackey Paris (Pom Klementieff) looms threateningly in the background in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Photo: Paramount Pictures

None! The trailers and the movie itself make Gabriel (Esai Morales) seem like a villainous figure from an earlier entry in the series who’s back to haunt Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) after a previous story. But that isn’t true — this is the first time Gabriel (and Morales) has appeared in a Mission: Impossible movie.

So which movie are the flashback scenes in Dead Reckoning Part One from?

The new movie includes some flashbacks that may cause even hardcore fans of the series to think, Wait, did I miss this in my annual rewatch? Those brief scenes, featuring images of a younger Ethan Hunt, are not from a previous Mission: Impossible movie. They’re newly added backstory, a light retcon for a character whose background was a bit murky. They don’t rely on previous knowledge, even if they seem like they do.

Who’s the woman with Ethan in the flashback scenes?

It would make sense to assume that we’ve seen this woman before, back when Tom Cruise himself was younger, in the series’ early days. But the first two movies don’t mention any previous relationships for Ethan, and after that, he’s an odd combination of wife guy and monk. As far as anyone knows, the flashback woman is just another lady whose peril puts Ethan on the edge.

What crimes got Ethan Hunt sent to the IMF in the first place?

The reason it seems like Dead Reckoning Part One is referring to some long-forgotten Mission: Impossible lore when it brings up Ethan’s past is that generally, these movies have doled out extremely (and blessedly) little backstory over the years. Most of the little we know about Ethan — and to a lesser extent, his friends — comes via action sequences.

We know, for example, that Hunt scaled the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and that he sometimes initiates foreplay with women by causing a near-fatal car accident, because these are things that happened in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Mission: Impossible 2, respectively.

Dead Reckoning is the first movie to imply that Impossible Missions Force (IMF) recruitment is anything beyond a more secretive cross between bringing people into the CIA or the Navy SEALs. In this movie’s telling, it’s something that talented young people with some kind of troubled past get sworn into, kind of like a less cartoonish Suicide Squad. It’s implied, then, that Ethan had some kind of youthful criminal past. But for now, implications are all we really get; there’s no further information seeded in the first six movies.

Who is Eugene Kittridge, and when did we last see him?

Government operative Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny), a gray-haired man in a dark gray suit, stands in a dim grey room and speaks on the phone as a male figure with his back turned stands behind him in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Photo: Paramount Pictures

There is one genuine, prominent series callback in Dead Reckoning: the return of Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny), a character from the very first Mission: Impossible movie back in 1996. He isn’t the mastermind behind that movie’s bad-guy plot — that’s Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), Ethan’s mentor — but Kittridge is a major antagonist in the film as the head of the IMF, who believes that Hunt is the organization’s traitorous mole.

Kittridge is the guy in the famous canted-angle Prague restaurant scene where Ethan escapes by blowing up an aquarium. (“I can understand you’re very upset.” “Kittridge, you’ve never seen me very upset.”) Though Kittridge is pursuing Hunt throughout Mission: Impossible — and he seems suspiciously ruthless about it — he ultimately restores Ethan’s good name with the agency after Ethan sends incriminating evidence about the real mole to him.

Kittridge has not been seen since, but has presumably remained affiliated with the IMF in some capacity. (On screen, though, his stern boss role was taken over in subsequent movies by figures including Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, and Alec Baldwin.)

Is anyone else in Dead Reckoning related to Mission: Impossible?

Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), the only character besides Hunt to appear in every Mission: Impossible movie, is back for another adventure. But another Dead Reckoning character has a connection to the 1996 series-launcher Mission: Impossible as well: the arms dealer Alanna Mitsopolis (Vanessa Kirby), better known as the White Widow.

Who is the White Widow, and which Mission: Impossible movie is she from?

The White Widow, who had a supporting part in 2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, has a much more prominent role in Dead Reckoning. Though this doesn’t figure directly into the story, Fallout revealed that Alanna is the daughter of Max (Vanessa Redgrave), the mysterious woman Ethan contacts to sell classified information to in the first film, as part of an elaborate plan to root out the true IMF mole.

In Fallout, the White Widow isn’t one of the main villains, but she’s generally up to no good — or at the very least, she’s out to enrich herself. She’s brokering the distribution of some stolen plutonium, and she assigns Hunt (undercover as a terrorist named John Lark) a sub-mission in exchange for the material. Hunt has more pressing concerns (saving the world, etc.), and the White Widow doesn’t appear to ever learn his true identity (though she doesn’t seem terribly concerned with whether he’s the “real” Lark).

Who is Ethan Hunt’s IMF team, and who do they report to?

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, in a black beanie and leather jacket) and Simon Pegg (in a black-on-black suit) stand in a semi-circle in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One Photo: Paramount Pictures

Dead Reckoning Part One includes a winking primer on the IMF that attempts to clear up where, exactly, the organization fits into an actual government hierarchy. (It’s mostly explained through hand-waving.) But while the earlier films had Hunt either assembling various combinations of talented IMF agents or going it alone, his regular team for the past couple of movies has consisted of Luther (Rhames), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who is not and never has been an IMF employee.

What’s the deal with Ilsa Faust, and where did we last see her?

Faust is an MI6 agent that the team meets in 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (the fifth movie in the series) while she’s deep undercover pursuing the same bad-guy organization that the IMF is chasing. Her MI6 boss in that movie is involved with the bad guys. He attempts to frame her before she teams up with Ethan & co.; after that experience, she seems interested in leaving the spy world behind.

The team intersects with Ilsa again in the sixth film, Fallout, when MI6 has again sent her after the same bad guy Hunt and his team are pursuing (though in this case, she is supposed to kill him, while Hunt needs him alive). After some initial conflict with the IMF team over their cross purposes, she again joins up with them in an unofficial capacity. Eventually, they turn the target over to her MI6 bosses, resulting in Ilsa’s reinstatement in her home country.

What’s Ethan Hunt’s relationship with Ilsa Faust?

Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), hair pulled back in a ponytail, stands in a nondescript yellow-brown room with a bright light behind her in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Photo: Paramount Pictures

Are Ethan and Ilsa romantically involved? It’s mildly unclear, especially given Ethan’s marital status. Hunt and Faust clearly have an intense bond, perhaps forged by their mutual experience as rogue spies sometimes pursued by the organizations they’re supposed to be working for. Though they don’t exactly share traditional physical intimacy (no sex or even kissing), she offers to run away with him in Rogue Nation, and in Fallout, Luther characterizes her as one of the two most important women in Ethan’s life.

Who’s the other one? Ethan’s ex-wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan). They were married in Mission: Impossible III, but off screen between the third and fourth movies, she and Ethan decided their marriage placed her in too much danger, and they separated. (Actually, her death was faked.) They reached a sort of closure when she reappeared at the climax of Fallout, helping the team defuse a bomb. (Ethan, of course, saved her life, among many others, by deactivating the detonator.) Julia also met Ilsa there, and they seemingly shared an understanding of their devotion to a man they can’t really spend their lives with. It was a bit weird.

The short of it is, Ilsa is deeply important to Ethan and they generally share bittersweet “Would that we’d met each other under different circumstances…” vibes.

What about the Syndicate? Or the Apostles? Which was it, again? Does that stuff matter?

In Rogue Nation, the Syndicate was a group of spies conspiring to create a new world order from within various organizations — basically, the M:I version of the Hydra revelation in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In Fallout, remnants of that group reformed as the terrorist outfit known as the Apostles. Neither of these groups carries over into Dead Reckoning, so don’t worry about it!

What’s the deal with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Jean Reno, and the annoying pilot guy from Mission: Impossible 2?

None of them are in this one.

Anything else I need to know going in?

For the most part, the main storyline and villains of Dead Reckoning stand alone; even the familiar heroes don’t really require six movies’ worth of backstory to understand. But maybe keep in mind that Ethan Hunt has always known close-up magic.

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