At this point in the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise, has the movie-going public finally realized that it has taken star Tom Cruise, and his alter ego Ethan Hunt, for granted after all these years? Public opinion has now shifted from ‘wow, that crazy, couch-jumping Tom Cruise is a middle-aged show-off’ to ‘wow, this 56-year-old (?!!) star is pushing himself to the absolute limits just to entertain the masses and respect is due!” With the latest entry in the franchise ‘Fallout’, the sixth in the series, and first to be helmed by the same writer / director (Christopher McQuarrie, now with a sole writing credit), Cruise and co. have crafted an exhilarating, perfect piece of blockbuster entertainment. The movie not only raises the stakes within its storyline for its returning characters, but for action movies in general, a genre that has increasingly relied on CGI vs expertly crafted tactile set pieces that work so well here.
In contrast to the relatively stand-alone missions of ‘Impossible’s past, ‘Fallout’ literally and symbolically expands upon previous entries, most significantly from 2015’s brilliant ‘Rogue Nation’. Taking place two years after the events of the last film, disgruntled former British spy, turned Ethan Hunt nemesis, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, sporting a gruff beard but still a sniveling ratty personality) remains in custody, but has inspired others, dubbed The Apostles, to continue his work of dismantling world government institutions and causing global instability. The movie opens with an exposition dump in the form of a mission brief for Cruise’s Hunt, as he and his team (returnees Simon Pegg as Benjy and Ving Rhames as Luther) are tasked with retrieving a cache of plutonium soon to be used for nefarious purposes. Thus begins a location-hopping series of ever-escalating sequences of intrigue and action, where Hunt and crew are tested mentally, physically, and emotionally by friends and foes both old and new.
Impossible Mission Force (IMF), the covert government espionage group, is now led by Alec Baldwin’s Secretary Hunley, and as set up previously, is at constant odds with the CIA, here embodied by Angela Bassett’s skeptical Sloane. Inserting herself into the mix, she forces Hunt to pair up with her thuggish CIA assassin, Walker, introducing the hulking presence of Henry Cavill, a stark and surprising contrast to Cruise physically. Usually in action movies, a brute figure is used to intimidate the star in a threatening, sometimes comedic manner (think Indiana Jones), but here, Cavill is a presence throughout, and in a unique choice, is shown in frame, unironically juxtaposed with the much smaller Cruise. In effect, this pairing furthers Cruise’s eschewing of vanity in these later projects, making Hunt a sympathetic character, who is not above showing fear and pain. He may be an indestructible action hero, but he certainly doesn’t make it look easy. It’s also not easy for Hunt to have any kind of romantic entanglement, evidenced by the return in this movie of the two women who have come to have the most impact on him emotionally (Michelle Monaghan doing a bit more than a cameo, and the truly fantastic Rebecca Ferguson, reprising her role as Ilsa Faust, the very capable MI-6 spy from ‘Rogue Nation’). In Paris and London, he also runs into The White Widow, the surprise daughter of arms dealer Max (Vanessa Redgrave’s delightful scenery chewer from the original M:I), played wonderfully by ‘The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby, who seems to be having the most fun, displaying as much sexual tension with Ethan as her mom did before.
By the time the principals make their way to Kashmir, the movie has featured some of the most incredible stunts, fights, chases, double-crosses, fake-outs, and RUNNING ever captured on film, but nothing can prepare a fully primed audience for the absolutely amazing death-defying sequences to come. As widely reported on, Cruise himself makes it a point to do his own stunts and learn new skills for each movie (piloting a helicopter for this one), all in service of giving audiences a memorably authentic experience. All of these moments are expertly written and captured by McQuarrie in a way that maximizes enjoyment and destroys chair arms. To call ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ a thrill-ride is to do it a disservice. The movie is a total marvel of big screen amazement, one imbued with a sense of care and calibration, but that still understands what an audience craves, thought-provoking spectacle that treats the viewer and its cast and crew with respect, admiration, and probably MOST importantly, with a smile . . .
Written & Directed By: Christopher McQuarrie
Running Time: 147 min.
* * * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- A