Even by his own high daredevil standards, Tom Cruise's latest antics in Mission: Impossible are jaw-dropping.
The opening sequence alone for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation has the 53-year-old sprinting across the tarmac of an airfield before clambering onto the wing of an A400M Airbus and clinging to a door as the plane takes off.
Remarkably, it was a stunt he did for real – trumping even the rock-climbing sequence at the start of Mission: Impossible II or the equally vertigo-inducing climb on the outside of Dubai's Burj Khalifa in the last outing, 2012's Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
Surely, it was insanely risky?
“Tom falling off the plane was the least of our concerns,” says the film’s director, Christopher McQuarrie.
“The thing that kept him on that plane was the pilot. If the plane went beyond a certain threshold, nothing was going to keep Tom on. You could have stapled Tom to the plane, and he was not going to stay on.”
Other potential problems included the chance of being hit by a flying bird or debris on the ground.
“Any large object on the runway that got sucked into the propellers could become a bullet,” says McQuarrie. “If even a tiny grain of sand had hit him in the face, it would have been devastating.”
Thankfully, Cruise survived, proving himself to be almost as indestructible as this big-screen espionage franchise – based on the 1960s American television show, created by Bruce Geller – which began almost two decades ago with Brian De Palma’s 1996 original.
That this fifth outing shot to number one in the United States, raking in US$56 million (Dh205.7m) on its opening weekend, proves that audiences still want to watch Cruise doing what he does best – and a sixth outing is already in the works.
Rogue Nation finds Cruise's spy Ethan Hunt becoming a target for the Syndicate, a shadowy network of former spooks run by the ruthless Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).
According to British actor Simon Pegg, who returns to the series for a third time as Cruise’s field-agent colleague Benji, this latest instalment is “almost a retrospective” of the four movies that have gone before it.
“That was Chris’ idea,” Pegg says. “There’s a little something from every film in this film if you look carefully.”
He cites as an example a rabbit's-foot keychain glimpsed in one scene – a clear nod to the MacGuffin in Mission: Impossible III.
“Chris is very aware of what has gone before, but has put his own stamp on it,” adds Pegg.
McQuarrie, whose big Hollywood break came in 1995 as the scriptwriter of The Usual Suspects, has history with Cruise. He directed him in 2012's Jack Reacher, and worked on the script for the 2008 WWII movie, Valkyrie.
But it was refining the screenplay for Cruise's previous movie, Edge of Tomorrow, that led McQuarrie to Mission: Impossible.
"One night, Tom just very casually said: 'You should direct Mission: Impossible,'" he says. "Without giving it any thought I said: 'Oh that would be great.' I thought, of course, he was just talking about it informally. A little later he came to me and went: 'OK, I've talked to everybody, you're going to direct Mission: Impossible.'"
With Hunt’s fellow IMF agents Luther (series veteran Ving Rhames) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) also returning, the big difference in the cast this time is the arrival of Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust, a mysterious British agent of questionable loyalties.
“She’s an equal [to Hunt] – a female version of him,” says Ferguson. “I would say that he’s met his match. Finally. When she meets Ethan Hunt, they move [together] like they’ve never done anything else. They know how to fight. Can we trust her? We don’t know.”
For Ferguson, it was a case of be careful what you wish for. After completing work on BBC costume drama The White Queen, and a small role in Hollywood epic Hercules, she says: "I literally called my agent and said: 'Next job – let's have a bit of action in it.'"
Even so, the half-English, half- Swedish actress probably didn't quite expect what Rogue Nation would demand. On her first day on set, she found herself strapped to Cruise and rappelling 75 feet from the roof of the Vienna State Opera House. Not so easy for a woman who suffers from vertigo.
“For someone who doesn’t even go up a metre that was challenging,” she says.
Pegg also got to see Cruise’s stunt skills up close. In one scene, in Morocco, Hunt and Benji are in a speeding car being pursued by motorbike-riding assailants.
“Tom did all the driving,” he says. “Our stunt coordinator said: ‘Tom is going to do all of this because I don’t have a driver better than him.’ He’s genuinely extraordinary.”
From hanging off a plane to holding his breath for long periods of time underwater, Cruise does, indeed, seem the master of impossible missions. Don’t the insurance companies ever raise concerns?
“It’s funny, the insurance questions comes up quite a lot,” says McQuarrie, with a smile. “Tom and I have the tendency to just go ahead and do things, until somebody tells us to stop.”
• Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation opens in cinemas on August 6.