In every scene she has had in the Mission: Impossible movies, Ilsa Faust has been setting her own priorities, making her own choices, and capably fighting her own battles — all for her own reasons. Including making the decision to team up with Ethan Hunt.

Ethan Hunt’s Loves

Mission: Impossible films' (1-3) love interests

In the first three Mission: Impossible films, Ethan’s love interests were love interests first, and capable women second. Granted, every story, fiction or non-fiction, is limited and constructed — so it can never depict everything, and what it does depict will always be shaped by the creators’ preferences and prejudices and the limits of their imaginations. Plus, none of Ethan’s love interests were as egregiously misogynistic caricatures as some of the ‘Bond girls’ have been throughout the years of the James Bond franchise.

Nonetheless, the stories of those three movies were always constructed such that these women characters didn’t have even a semblance of independence from Ethan’s goals and actions. In the fourth movie, Ghost Protocol, Ethan didn’t really have a love interest (barring a shoehorned-in kiss and reference to his prior love interest); the main female character was primarily motivated by revenge for the death of someone she loved — and, like the three other main protagonists, her struggle with that past weighing her down and causing her to get in her team’s way thematically represented the return of the Mission: Impossible film franchise after its long hiatus.

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Ethan Hunt’s Equal

Ilsa Faust surrounded in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

Ilsa Faust builds on the best of both the original three and Ghost Protocol. Where the original three movies featured capable women who nonetheless only ever played roles in Ethan’s missions and Ethan’s struggles, Ilsa is taking on Ethan’s enemy in Rogue Nation, the Syndicate, even before Ethan is. In fact, we first meet her when he goes and gets himself captured while going after the Syndicate; and she manages to maintain her undercover status while also rescuing him from his screw-up in a spectacular action sequence.

Ilsa Faust and Ethan Hunt protecting each other in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

That sequence — hers and Ethan’s seamless cooperation and their clear concern for each other, despite having only just met — is also the first of many times that we see what takes Ilsa above and beyond all her predecessors: she and Ethan aren’t individual, independent characters; they’re partners. So far, Ilsa has saved Ethan three times in two Mission: Impossible movies. And like her, Ethan has repeatedly risked his own missions in an effort to protect her.

But above all else, Ethan has given her what she has lacked for years: people she can trust. Ilsa Faust has been wrung dry and thrown away by MI6; she’s out for herself because the only kind of selflessness she can conceive of is serving her country — and her country, like Ethan’s, evidently can’t be trusted and doesn’t deserve her service.

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But Ethan has proven to her that he can be.

Where is Ilsa Faust in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One?

There aren’t many specific details about Ilsa’s role in the upcoming Mission: Impossible film Dead Reckoning Part One, the sequel to her last appearance, Fallout. But if the film builds on her story so far, she’ll finally be a fully dedicated member of the IMF team.

And we’ll get to see if hers and Ethan’s relationship can stand the test of this installment’s apocalyptic event, and the pressures that dealing with it will put on them.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One will be released in theaters on July 12, 2023.

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