Fair warning, I’ve spent way more time planning this than I should have. Another fair warning, it’s ridiculously male-centric (but consider the movies I have to work with… Just saying).
Opening shot is of Ethan Hunt (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He’s jogging through New York City, a bright and typical Saturday morning. He stops at the crosswalk because the light is red, even though there are no cars. This establishes that he is a moral character, because he does the right thing even when nobody else is watching.
He meets for coffee with his veteran friend Seth R (played by Seth Rogen). We learn that Ethan has cancer, and has a 50% chance of surviving. Despite Ethan’s uncertain prognosis, Seth keeps a positive attitude about his odds. They also talk about Ethan’s girlfriend, Julia (Anna Kendrick), and how Ethan’s relationship with her is affected by his cancer.
Seth also says that Ethan should take a break from his job at the IMF (the Impossible Missions Force – a top-secret branch of the government). Ethan isn’t allowed to tell anybody, but Seth knows everything because they’re friends, and friends have the highest security clearance (Seth’s cheesy quote, not mine). Ethan reluctantly admits that the stress of the job isn’t healthy.
Then we see it. The shadow looming over the city. The clattering of the mugs on the table. The whale-like groaning in the sky. ThE ALieNs!. Title card: Impossible Odds.
Cut to a sprawling underground laboratory with state-of-the-art everything. Dr. Davian (Brent Spiner) walks briskly down one of the corridors, with surprising poise and confidence. His assistant shows him a display of the alien spacecrafts, which are landing all over the globe. Brent smiles and comments that their time has finally come. This isn’t the crazy Brent from ID4, this is a polished Brent. A devious Brent. A chilling Brent. Dare I say, an antagonistic Brent.
Cut to Benji (Jeff Goldblum, whose Simon Pegg impersonation is uncanny), who is playing chess in London with his father David.
David jokes about Benji saving the planet, while also passive-aggressively reminding him that he needs to find a wife soon. Benji says that he enjoys being single, helps him focus on work. The comic bantering would continue, except that they see a spacecraft descending on the city. Benji says that he needs to go to America right away. He moves his rook, says ‘checkmate’, then rushes off; David makes a comment along the lines of ‘you can say that again…’ as he watches the aliens position themselves over London.
Cut to president Whitmore (Laurence Fishburne), who is also monitoring the alien arrival with his Cabinet members and secretaries. The aliens haven’t attacked yet, but a strike seems imminent. Especially since they’re hovering over all the major cities…
The president holds a press conference, and is about to declare to the world that the question of whether or not they’re alone in the universe has been answered. But just as he’s about to give his speech, he’s informed that the aliens have made contact – they’ve abducted his adopted daughter Lindsey (Bryce Dallas Howard), and are holding her hostage on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Anxious and enraged, the president instructs IMF director Albert Nimziki (Billy Crudup) to assemble a team to rescue her.
Final expository cut to Ethan, Julia, Seth and Luther (Will Smith), who are at a dinner party with a few dozen friends. It’s an odd mood. Some of them are somber and in a daze, others are elated that UFOs exist. Quite the ambience. In any case, our four characters discuss the future of the planet, Ethan’s cancer, Julia’s desire to marry Ethan, Luther’s wife and son, and Seth’s time in the military not adequately preparing him for an alien attack.
At one point, Ethan and Luther step outside. They’ve received secure messages on their phones, a code red emergency to rescue the president’s daughter. It’s not even a ‘your mission, should you choose to accept it’ scenario – it’s a direct order. At this point, the gravity of the situation really sinks in. They realize that the aliens are planning an attack (surprise!), and abducting Lindsey is their first move.
Ethan doesn’t know if he can complete the mission now that he has cancer, Luther tells him it’s his decision. As Ethan contemplates, Luther calls his wife, Vivica Fox (played by Mae Whitman), and tells her to get out of New York with their son Dylan immediately. Ethan decides that the fate of the planet is important, so he also leaves with a tearful farewell to Julia and Seth.
Cut to fields outside LA, where a small alien cruiser is docked between giant wind turbines. On board is Lindsey, who is suspended vertically in a mesmerizing blue liquid. She appears scared but unharmed as the aliens wait for the humans to arrive.
Begin the first ‘mission’ sequence of the movie. The team consists of Benji (tech guy), Ethan (lead agent), and Luther (combat and weapons). Benji hacks into the wind turbines so that they create a vortex around the cruiser. The aliens are confused and begin shooting their weapons blindly. Luther attacks with heavy-weaponry and hand-to-hand combat, while Ethan pulls Lindsey out of the pod she was trapped in. The aliens are surprisingly easy to kill (how convenient), and the humans declare the mission a success. They board a helicopter and set their course for a nearby military bunker where the president is waiting.
All is going well, but suddenly, Lindsey screams in agony, blacks out, then begins writhing and convulsing on the cockpit floor. The agents realize that the aliens implanted a parasite in her brain. With no clue how to stop it, Luther improvises a defibrillator using cables and a battery. The surge destroys the parasite, but it’s too much for her to handle.
The team relays the tragic news to the president. That’s the least of his concerns though, because the aliens just launched their attack. Twenty major cities, including New York, London, D.C. and Los Angeles have been decimated. This entire sequence is silent. The agents can see the fiery glow in the distance. There’s no buildup, no panicked crowds, no monumental destruction, no dogs being saved. It’s too late. It’s devastating. The helicopter makes it safely to the bunker, the agents respectfully carry Lindsey’s body to her father, and they grieve the loss of life together.
At the bunker, the team reels from the attack. Luther and Ethan assume that their family and friends were killed in the New York attack; Benji doesn’t think his father left London in time; and president Whitmore gives Lindsey a proper burial. In fact, the president is prepared to give a speech about how many lives could have been spared if they had evacuated the cities hours ago. But he’s interrupted by the IMF team planning their mission to save the world.
IMF director Nimziki briefs them on the details of Area 51. While it’s true that Area 51 is where all the crashed alien ships are housed, it’s not actually a government facility. It’s a privately run operation headed by Dr. Davian. Director Nimziki explains that Davian has been studying the alien’s technology for personal profit, building his own high-tech enterprise based around it. Using the alien’s technology might be humanity’s best chance of survival. Unfortunately, Davian is selfish and greedy, and he’s not about to cooperate with the government to save the planet.
And so, the agents receive details for their second mission: infiltrate Area 51 and retrieve one of the spaceships. Biggest heist of the century, or so we’re told. Once they have a spaceship, they can fly to the alien mothership (hovering near the moon), plant a nuclear bomb on board, and save the planet. It’s a longshot, but they don’t have many other options.
“Hold up,” Ethan says hesitantly. “Maybe it’s just the cancer talking, but am I the only one who thinks it’s crazy for us to to walk out of Area 51, with a spaceship, and hope nobody notices??”
Director Nimziki asks him, “So it can’t be done?” Ethan shakes his head incredulously; we pan over to Benji and Luther, who both have a look of, “well, technically it’s not impossible…”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ethan says as the camera zooms in on his face.
Hard cut to Area 51, accompanied with ‘Area 51’ text on screen. Time for the second ‘mission’ sequence. Benji comes up with a creative high-tech way for Ethan to enter the facility, which is all underground. Ethan roams the corridors until he sees Dr. Davian. He ‘accidentally’ spills a vial of ‘toxic material’ on Davian, and apologetically escorts him to the restroom to clean it off.
Meanwhile, Luther knocks out the guards at an above-ground hangar. Benji overrides the cameras so Luther isn’t spotted. Cut back to Ethan, who forces Davian at gunpoint to read a few sentences aloud in order to capture his vocal patterns. Davian reads them, then remarks to Ethan that humans aren’t worth saving. That’s why he’s going to find somebody whom Ethan loves dearly and kill them, to make Ethan pay. Ethan punches Davian, swaps out their clothes, puts on a Davian mask, and waits for the voice to synthesize.
Back in the hangar, Luther has boarded one of the alien ships (there are several), but is struggling to figure out how it works. A guard shows up to ask what he’s doing. Luther is about to fight him, but then sees a dozen other guards. He tries to buy some time by stalling comically, but the guards don’t seem to be buying it. They close in on him to attack.
Suddenly Ethan, disguised as Davian, makes his nick-of-time entrance. He tells the guards that Luther is merely taking the ship for a test run. The guards stand down. Ethan asks Luther to assist him with some cargo before he takes off. The cargo is the real Dr. Davian, whom Ethan wants to kidnap and torture; Luther says that there are waaaaay more important things than getting revenge, like the fate of the planet. Ethan reluctantly agrees, they leave Davian behind, and blast away in the spaceship (a bit awkwardly at first, but Luther quickly gets the hang of it).
At the bunker, they equip the spaceship with a nuclear warhead and a computer virus. Benji comments that it’s ridiculous to have a virus when they’re planting a NUCLEAR BOMB. They agree that the nuke should be sufficient. Their plan is that Luther and Ethan will fly the craft to the mothership, plant the bomb, and defeat the aliens for good.
We have a little bit of downtime before the final act. Benji gets a call from his father that he’s alive. The president and Nimziki don’t want to nuke the alien ships that are on Earth, because they don’t want fallout over American soil. Or any soil for that matter.
Meanwhile, Luther confides in Ethan a terrible secret. He says that when they were on the helicopter trying to save Lindsey, he deliberately overcharged the cables when he shocked her. He didn’t want to see Lindsey in pain, so he was putting her out of her misery. He feels terrible though, bearing the responsibility not just for her death but Vivica and Dylan’s as well. Ethan assures Luther that he did the best he could, with good intentions, and that given the circumstances he shouldn’t be too hard on himself. Plus, he’s about to save the world, so….
Everyone huddles together and wishes Ethan and Luther luck as they fly to the mothership. This is the final ‘mission’. On the flight, Ethan receives a call from an unknown number. It’s Dr. Davian! OH NO!! He has Julia hostage (apparently she survived New York), and he’s implanted one of the parasites in her brain. Ethan is livid, and Luther has to fight against him to keep their ship on course, otherwise Ethan would go back and kill Davian in a heartbeat.
They approach the mothership. Ethan can’t stop thinking about Davian. Luther assures him it’ll all be over soon. Their spaceship slowly creeps inside the main cruiser, which is massive, and they search around for the center. Finally they spot a giant hive, where most of the aliens are gathered, preparing for an invasion. They launch the nuke and prepare to escape.
BUT WAIT! The nuke is jammed! It won’t launch for some reason. Luther tries again, Ethan is tense. It’s stuck, something is wrong!
They immediately video-call Director Nimziki to explain the situation. He doesn’t seem upset, in fact, he seems pleased. We realize that he was actually conspiring with Dr. Davian THE WHOLE TIME!! Davian’s plan was not to use the technology for monetary gain. It was to save the planet on his terms. He and Nimziki allowed the team to hijack the ship, fly to the mothership, and attempt to launch the nuke. But they made sure it would malfunction, causing the mission to fail – at which point, Davian would launch his own attack on the aliens, using a computer virus, and he would be the hero of the story.
“Not on our watch!” Luther says dramatically. He pulls up another video-call with Benji, who had been live-streaming Nimziki’s confession to the world. Cut to President Whitmore who punches Nimziki in the face. He’s about to make a speech about the fact that today is the fourth of July and that humanity is fighting for survival, but then we cut back to the spaceship.
Even though Luther is excited, Ethan is still reeling from Julia’s capture. He feels like they’ve lost all hope, and what’s the point, because cancer is inevitable right? Suddenly he gets a call on his phone: it’s from a guy named Russell. Seth Russell. Inspired by the big reveal about the government conspiracy, he tells Ethan that he and thousands of other pilots are preparing an aerial attack to fight for their lives. But he jokes that he’d realllly like to avoid going into combat again, so Ethan just needs to stop feeling bad about his cancer and just save the f***ing day.
Luther wholeheartedly agrees. He tries to hotwire the ship to release the nuke. Ethan knows it’ll be futile, and decides to exit the spacecraft and manually detach the nuke. Luther says the radiation will kill him, Ethan says he’s dying of cancer: radiation might save his life.
But Luther isn’t about to have another death on his hands. He also gets out of the ship, and together, the two of them fix the mount so the nuke can launch. Back on Earth, everybody watches and cheers as they fire it into the center of the hive, fly away at dizzying speeds, and narrowly escape the explosion. The ships around the planet shut down and fall from the sky – obligatory montage of different cultures celebrating.
We end with reunions and resolutions. Benji and his father reunite. Vivica and Dylan survived after all, and they happily reconnect with Luther. Turns out they had a whole separate adventure saving the president’s wife. Small world, right? Nimziki and Davian are both arrested for treason. President Whitmore is upset that he didn’t get to make any inspiring speeches this entire time, so he makes one now.
Just kidding – another hard cut to a different scene. Poor guy.
Ethan, Julia and Seth reunite. Seth may not have had his ‘up yours’ moment, but he feels like he indirectly saved the day because he gave Ethan the kick he needed to actually save the day. Ethan, as you’d expect, is just excited to see Julia, who recovered from the parasite (being part of a hive mind, it died when the ship blew up). Ethan undergoes chemotherapy and survives – but he swears to never again engage in IMF work. He and Julia get married, end credits.