ellen hunt is the only thing that could make mission: impossible: fallout better

(well, that and not being imperialist propaganda)

i was under the impression that i was gonna see mission: impossible: fallout, to quote myself, “roughly 45,000 times” before it left theaters. that didn’t end up happening. which is no indictment of the movie or how much i like it or how rewatchable it is. it is my favorite movie of the year so far by a pretty wide margin. and i picked it up on steelbook bluray as soon as it was possible to do so.

anyway, the first time i saw this, i wrote:

“now, this next part has nothing to do with the movie or how good it was, but i had a pretty immediate fantasy of how much better this movie would be if ethan were a woman. i don’t just mean that because most movies would be better if the protagonist were a woman. i’m just imagining that same emotional resonance and history between him and julia and that same tension and reluctant attraction to ilsa and then all three of them seeing each other at the same time for the first time… and the immediate almost affectionate connection between julia and ilsa would’ve taken on a dramatically different texture, and possibly had much more interesting (and more awesome) implications for the future. yeah, i know, there’s never going to be anything like that in a fucking mission: impossible movie, i’m just saying.

it’s really worth noting that i latched onto this idea the first time i saw this movie. and my two subsequent theatrical viewings strengthened it. i had originally planned on watching the movie in theaters while intentionally reading ethan as a woman (we’ll call her ellen for cadence reasons). so the first time i sat down to watch it on bluray, i decided to finally make good on that project. i spent the entire movie imagining the protagonist as an equally capable woman named ellen hunt, and just sort of had fun noticing what it changed or enhanced about my perceptions of the movie. so… as well as i can, let me see if i can reproduce that for you now that i’m removed from the experience.

  • the movie now opens with a dream sequence of a lesbian marriage ceremony. we know julia later remarries to a man named erik, so she might be bi. (honestly, you can’t really know somene’s sexual orientation unless you straight up ask them what they identify as.) i’m honestly gonna assume that ellen is a lesbian. it’s my silly reading of a mission: impossible movie for crying out loud, i’m not too worried about how it looks.
  • we saw the way solomon lane tried to control ilsa in rogue nation and while there was never an explicitly gendered nature to his motivations there was certainly a very specific dynamic that can be read along gendered lines. with ellen instead of ethan in the picture as lane’s greatest adversary who finally took him down, the specter of him tainting ellen and julia’s wedding in ellen’s dream takes on a slightly richer character. with ethan we just got guilt and protectiveness of a loved one that conforms to very expected patterns of male/female gender roles. (this is largely subverted by how much fucking agency the end of the movie gives julia, but still.) it’s not just generalized fear of him as an interloper, and ultimately as the bringer of destruction. he doesn’t belong there, in any sort of position of authority. it feels even more wrong than it already did.
  • ellen will spend the rest of the movie wracked with guilt. in ethan’s case this is largely attributable to his actions and their consequences. and like, i’m not at all trying to make light of how interesting and unusual this is to see in the readily apparent characterization of the big hero of a tentpole franchise movie. but… with ellen, there’s an added layer of guilt that society just heaps on top of women just for existing and doing anything and having any agency of their own. she has to be a strong enough person to know the difference. it makes an already sympathetic character even more sympathetic.
  • accompanying this, every time ethan is looked down upon by his superiors for his reckless or unorthodox behavior, it’s just kind of… badass action hero things. ellen will have dealt with skepticism before she ever even went on a mission. the increasing frustration and bewilderment of her superiors at her “antics” are, like ethan, assuaged only by her literally saving the fucking world. but as a woman, and a queer woman at that, she’s on the edge of being brushed aside and considered unreliable even more than ethan or any other cliche action hero.
  • at the exchange in berlin, some of their contact’s skepticism of ellen likely arises from the fact that she’s a woman. when he says his gut tells him “nothing” about her, he’s very subtly hinting that she is nothing.
  • walker’s overbearing, competitive behavior towards ethan takes on takes on an entirely new layer when it’s towards ellen. in their first argument when she justifiably criticizes his methods and explains the values of hers, he completely dismisses them as silly and unhelpful. she has to push down her frustration with his belittling attitude like she has so many times before to get to where she is. only by continually being the best, only by showing time after time that she can get the job done has she been able to get to where she is. she’s not going to give this asinine man the satisfaction of letting him get to her.
  • yeah, this reading makes the bathroom scene awkward as hell, but ilsa got in there, so bite me. (and ellen chasing those random guys off with a “u want some too???” is awesome as hell instead of just funny.)
  • the immediate electricity and blatant respect between ilsa and ellen isn’t just “yeah these two are into each other,” it’s also just… the relief of “oh thank the fucking goddesses there’s another woman here to see the bullshit i’m dealing with. can you believe this clown?” ilsa’s gentle condescension of “you must be new” to walker represents a more powerful dynamic shift given the clear solidarity between her and ellen as women. with ethan, he was outnumbered only in terms of their pre-existing friendship/alliance. here, he’s outnumbered in terms of gender dynamic as well, so no matter how pigheaded he is he knows he has to stow his bullshit for a while.
  • i’ve said this before, but white widow is clearly gay (i don’t have any justification for this it’s just a huge vibe i get from the way vanessa kirby plays her), so her flirtation with ellen makes a lot more sense than when it was with ethan. and the badass nightclub fight is just… even more badass when it’s three queer women just shutting down those hired guns.
  • white widow’s brother’s suspicion and downright rude behavior towards ellen makes even more sense than it did towards ethan. as does white widow’s solidarity in clearly somewhat favoring ellen over her own brother.
  • the showdown-esque scene where lane is being taken off the helicopter and ellen is just pacing nervously but still imposingly is just… wonderful to imagine with her instead of ethan, tbh? like. women just don’t get to take up space in quite the same way in movies like these usually? and just. his super mansplainy brand of villainy is just such a perfect foil for ellen? such an effective specter to just have hanging over everything she does?
  • benji’s enthusiastic support for ellen chasing walker across london might come off as a bit more patronizing if he weren’t so blatantly impressed by her. luther’s general protectiveness of her definitely comes off as more patronizing.
  • walker’s threatening ellen with a picture of julia packs even more of an emotional punch given the gender dynamic. just like solomon lane in the movie’s opening, this interloping man is touching a relationship that is between two women. it feels even more scary and wrong this way.
  • i always had trouble reading the scene where luther tells ilsa that if she really cares about ethan she’ll stay out of the final confrontation because she’s one more thing than ethan can afford to worry about. but with ellen instead of ethan, something finally clicked into place for me. that motherfucker was mansplaining her relationship to her, and telling her how to show that she cared. when ellen comes back in the room and ilsa unhesitatingly tells her “i’m coming with you” and she warmly says “i know” and the music gets all sweet and intense… that’s a moment of solidarity. (and even with ethan instead of ellen, ilsa is still pretty much saying to hell with telling me what to do, did you ever think i might need to be there to protect him?)
  • ok so… something that i’ve thought and talked about a bit is how in its current form, fallout has lane using the two most important women to ethan as pawns, which could easily play in to some of the most regressive kind of gender bullshit you sometimes get in blockbuster movies… but it actually manages to resist falling into a lot of the most obvious traps. it’s mostly mitigated by the fact that julia is very much her own woman and she’s very much shown to have an extraordinary amount of agency and self-confidence, while ilsa is very much acting in accordance with what’s best for herself. that being said… how much more solid would this be if it were also a woman whom lane was trying to get revenge on by using two women she loved as pawns? if it were a woman that stopped him? even in its current form, it is one of these two women–ilsa–who stops him, but still… imagine if everyone involved except the bad guy was a woman. i’m just saying… it’s not bad in its current form, but this actually makes it even farther from potentially problematic.
  • ok and we’ve circled back to how i got here in the first place. everyone is splitting up to go look for the bombs until an unnervingly familiar voice cries in surprise, “ellen?” ellen turns to face her ex-wife, her eyes full of hurt and fear and guilt. “julia?” everything stops. the scene plays out just the same way it did before. but later, when ilsa says “oh i like her” in that Tone Of Voice that makes me weak, when julia tenderly touches ilsa’s arm in the tent at ellen’s bedside… with all three of them explicitly being queer women… yeah. i hope julia’s new husband is poly, because julia is absolutely gonna be in a lesbian triad with her ex-wife and her ex-wife’s new girlfriend.



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