***1/2 out of ****
(for violence and intense sequences of action, and for language including brief strong language)
Released: July 27, 2018
Runtime: 147 minutes
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan
(You can listen to Charles Elmore and I discuss Mission: Impossible – Fallout on Episode 11 of “The Bad and the Beautiful” podcast)
No franchise spins its wheels as brilliantly as this one.
In its opening act, Mission: Impossible – Fallout presents itself as a sequel that’s comfortable with coasting, albeit grandly, by sticking to its slick, stylish laurels. And given that Rogue Nation writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is back – returning after having made the best entry in the entire franchise, which is saying something – having Fallout essentially exist in stasis would not be a bad thing at all.
But Fallout doesn’t settle. On the contrary, after the exhilarating if perfunctory intro, the sixth M:I adventure pulls off its rubber mask to reveal its true identity, and it’s as gobsmacking as you could hope for or expect.
The latest episode of this unstoppable two-decades-plus thrill-ride of high tech daredevil espionage starts off with a dream rather than an obligatory-if-stunning setpiece of peril. It then shifts straight to Ethan Hunt’s message assignment (yes, still delivered on self-destructive tape) where he learns that The Apostles are continuing the terrorist work of The Syndicate, the anarchist group of former spies that wanted to disrupt the entire world order before Hunt defeated them in Rogue Nation. You can cut off the head, apparently, but the body just grows a bunch of new ones.
Suffice it to say, the premise is a warmed-over redux of the last adventure we saw, but hey, at least Tom Cruise (at the age of 56!) remains ready and willing to risk his life for our blockbuster pleasure, so that’s fine.
Just as you’re ready for some of the best disposable entertainment that Hollywood can offer, McQuarrie starts to flip the script, turn it inside out, back in on itself, and finally blows it up and out again.
Much like the patented surprises, reversals, and double-crosses of this incomparable spy saga, Fallout becomes the most complex narrative of the series since Brian De Palma’s first. McQuarrie, however, expertly keeps us on pace with every sharp turn he jerks us on. Like any great roller coaster, all we have to do is strap in and hold on tight.
Indeed, you can see some of the twists and turns coming, but being a step ahead at times isn’t a draw back here. Each new revelation is so satisfying – either as simple comedy or pure gasp-inducing shock – that when each one giddily dawns on you (whether early or in the moment) is a moot point.
And the stunt-heavy action remains unparalleled. Marvel’s green-screened digitized pyrotechnics (and all their wanton imitators) are quantifiably cheap by comparison.
An early bathroom brawl is the best fight scene of recent memory, heart-stopping free-fall aerials and adrenaline-fueled car-and-bike chases remain absolutely exhilarating (including a brief homage to The French Connection), and the death-defying mountain-high chopper climax truly needs to be experienced on as big a screen as possible. (The fact that it’s shot on film rather than digital make the visuals all-the-richer.)
Tom Cruise broke an ankle doing one rooftop-to-rooftop jump – yes, he really does these stunts – but all things considered he’s genuinely lucky that was the worst he suffered.
Equally mind-blowing is McQuarrie’s ability to capture it all in such clear, epic fashion. It’s harrowing enough that there are crew people taking risks along with Cruise, but then when you consider how well they do their job under no-room-for-error pressure, it’s a miracle they exceed the baseline of capturing the action in the frame and, along with scenes of glossy elegance, actually elevate it to legitimate pop art.
As if all of that weren’t enough (and believe me, it would be), the character dynamics are steeped in complex, duplicitous intrigue. Seeing the previous film isn’t required to be able to track with this one, but McQuarrie plays off and deepens the relationships established in Rogue Nation (particularly with Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust).
Furthermore, while Hunt has been forced into ethical and personal ultimatums in the past, Fallout tests and reveals his own earnest moral character like never before. This is as rewarding emotionally as it is a spectacle.
The series’ rich history of female characters gets two more strong women with Angela Bassett as the new head of the CIA, plus Vanessa Kirby (The Crown’s Princess Margaret) as a Bond-level sexy femme fatale. Past favorites Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, and Simon Pegg not only return but are afforded great moments, as is Rogue foil Sean Harris.
It’s not perfect. New addition Henry Cavill (the DCEU Superman) remains a fairly stiff screen presence, just as he has throughout his career, but he works for what’s required of him here. It’s also a bit tired, at this point, to have yet another film begin with the U.S. government wanting to dissolve the IMF only to come around to see its vital necessity by the end.
Much of the danger is cut incredulously close (even by action movie standards), but given the scale on which it’s accomplished that ends up being a gratifying plus rather than an eye-rolling drawback. McQuarrie, the first director to steer a second Mission film, continues to contrive scenarios that live up to the Impossible brand to such a degree that Ethan and his crew can’t always walk away clean. Sometimes, a compromise or sacrifice has to be made.
In the process, McQuarrie builds up Hunt’s heroic persona to something that’s unapologetically mythic, and Cruise – through the magnetism of his charisma and sheer commitment to insane thrill-seeking – actually sells it.
No, this Mission doesn’t have the thematic ambitions of a Fury Road or Dark Knight, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another big budget tentpole more ambitious in its plotting or scope, or its effort to make us care about its characters in the midst of all the choreographed chaos.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout isn’t the franchise’s best movie, but this muscular, breathtaking achievement is a perfect example of why it’s the best franchise in movies.