In its sixth film in 22 years, the Mission: Impossible franchise cements its place as Hollywood's most reliable action franchise.
Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
Together, the Mission: Impossible franchise and Tom Cruise have become a rare commodity in Hollywood: with the former spinning tales of espionage and the latter starring in them, they make a reliable pair. The film series has had its lesser moments. Its leading man has as well, both in the now six-film saga and outside of it. More often than not, however, the combination thrills with a blend of energy, intrigue and spectacle – and an eagerness to thrill. Indeed, don’t discount just what can result when a high-profile actor and the movies he’s led for 22 years not only make a concerted effort to wow their audience, but do so in a way that ensures that viewers know just how much of an effort they’re making. It’s that attitude that revitalised the franchise with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and, while it mightn’t have been as successful in 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, latest chapter Mission: Impossible – Fallout demonstrates the series and star at close to their finest.
The nearest thing to a direct sequel that Mission: Impossible has proffered since it made the leap to the big screen back in 1996, Fallout delves into the aftermath of Rogue Nation – though the titular term spins its web beyond the obvious, and beyond the three nuclear devices that Impossible Missions Force agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise, American Made) is charged with stopping. While the villainous Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, Trespass Against Us) remains in custody, terrorism hasn’t taken a holiday in his absence, with a group called the Apostles intent on dismantling the current world order through death, destruction and devastation. Alas, an early attempt to foil the bombing plot fails when Hunt chooses the life of his right-hand men (with Father Figures’ Ving Rhames making his sixth appearance, and Terminal’s Simon Pegg his fourth) over the job at hand. Consequently, CIA hotshot Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett, Black Panther) overrules IMF head Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin, The Boss Baby) and installs CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill, Justice League) in the team, as they hunt down an insider codenamed John Lark and endeavour to avoid the worst-case scenario.
Writing as well as directing — and returning after doing both on Rogue Nation, too — Christopher McQuarrie weaves the requisite twists, turns, double-crosses, developments that are enjoyably obvious and genuine narrative surprises into the above basic premise, finding room for Rebecca Ferguson’s (The Greatest Showman) Ilsa to appear in her second successive Mission: Impossible movie in the process. The details mightn’t be the main attraction, yet Fallout’s script isn’t merely slick and serviceable, connecting plenty of dots in a smart and rousing style, and earning its moments of depth and introspection as well. The smatterings of humour that have infused franchise’s last two instalments are also evident, and even at its protagonist’s and star’s expenses. When it’s noted that Hunt can’t simply sit idly by and enjoy a normal life because there’ll always be a world to save, the line could apply just as firmly to the man who plays him.
Cruise may save the world purely when he’s playing a role and solely in the realm of fiction, but it’s easy to believe that he believes in the importance of his work. For the third time this decade, much ado has been made about his determination to complete his various death-defying stunts himself, and his commitment to practical effects pays off to invigorating effect in Fallout. Rob Hardy’s (Annihilation) cinematography doesn’t need to find angles, framing and lighting techniques that mask CGI – which means that Fallout looks like a true spectacle in each of its many action scenes – and Eddie Hamilton’s (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) editing doesn’t need to hide the corresponding seams either. More than that, the stakes actually feel real when Cruise is hurling himself out of a plane for a HALO jump at 25,000 feet, running and leaping across London rooftops with ankle-breaking verve, and piloting a helicopter through mountainous terrain in a climactic face-off. Cumulatively, and with the clear hard work of the film’s stunt choreography crew, the result is a movie filled with the kind of visual and technical mastery that most features are lucky to display in one scene, let alone in set-piece after set-piece after set-piece, all while conjuring an authentic, edge-of-your seat emotional reaction.
It helps that Fallout’s structure, and the Mission: Impossible series’ lengthy nature, ensure that the film can dive almost straight into the action, requiring little in the way of exposition to establish the scenario or main players. It also helps that McQuarrie has an extensive history with Cruise – and mostly of playing to his strengths – whether helming and scripting Jack Reacher, or writing Valkyrie, Edge of Tomorrow and The Mummy. There’s a wow-first mentality at the heart of both the movie’s love of high-octane antics and McQuarrie’s handling of his leading man; however Fallout is also a character and performance-driven effort in a perhaps surprisingly satisfying manner. Cruise makes Hunt seem flesh-and-blood physically and emotionally, even when he also feels superhuman, in what’s become his career-defining role. Ferguson and Harris demonstrate not just why they were the highlights of Rogue Nation, but why they’re back this time around. Bassett and Cavill make fitting additions, the latter holding his own in brutal fight scenes, amid the bait-and-switch plot, and against the franchise’s megastar. Of course, returning to Cruise as the Mission: Impossible films always do, his commitment to anchoring this series in his all-or-nothing fashion gives Hunt and Fallout the gift of hard-worn zest – and, here, it’s infectious.
Rating: 4 stars ★★★★
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
US, 2018, 147 mins
Release date: July 12