Tom Cruise is 56 years old, and I choose to believe he could keep making Mission: Impossible movies for the rest of his life. (Or Jack Reacher films or maybe even a sequel to Edge of Tomorrow; I don’t know what the physical requirements are for his upcoming Top Gun sequel.) But the truth is I’m not sure how many films like this he’s got left in him. So it seems imperative that we celebrate the Cruise-ian style of action movie while we can, in which he handles most of the death-defying stunts himself; where special effects are only really used to erase the devices that keep Cruise safe from harm or worse; and where the option of not accepting a mission is offered but never taken.
With the new Mission: Impossible entry, Fallout, Cruise and returning writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Jack Reacher) seem to have something to prove, both in terms of action and story, which manages to weave in elements and characters from most of the other films and align them in a fairly rich and satisfying manner. This combined with an impressive amount of chases, explosions, gunplay, and aerial antics (made all the more impressive when you see the film in IMAX, since some of the more terrifying sequences were shot in the format) make Fallout something genuinely great.
Digging into the details of the specific missions seems pointless, since they’re primarily used as an excuse to light a fuse to some of the finest stunt scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The nature and purpose of the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) was always curious to me. They are a pseudo-government agency that isn’t about intelligence gathering; they are simply brought into a situation to carry out missions, without much regard for political consequences or even any opinions about what events their actions might trigger. They are tasked with protecting the United States (and sometimes the rest of the world, but only by means of collateral aid).
This time around, the threat comes from the existence of three nuclear cores stolen from Russia that could easily be turned into bombs. The intrigue and caper levels in Fallout seem the closest the series has gotten to turning Cruise’s Ethan Hunt into the American version of James Bond, minus the misogyny, and I particularly like those aspects of the movie. This is also the closest thing to a direct sequel the franchise has produced, so the IMF is still dealing with the consequences of the events in Rogue Nation and its primary villain, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the anarchist who is still in captivity but very much in control of certain aspects of this nuclear threat. Also returning is Hunt’s MI6 partner from the previous film, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who returns after supposedly leaving the agency to kill Lane for reasons unknown, even if she has to shoot through Hunt to make it happen.
Hunt’s reliable partners (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, who gets a lot more time the field in this go-round), as well as his boss (Alec Baldwin) are also on hand. And after the IMF’s first attempt at retrieving the nuclear elements goes wrong, the CIA steps in, led by Erica Slone (Angela Bassett), who places a monster of an agent, August Walker (Man of Steel’s Henry Cavill, really getting to show off what a badass he can be). The only one of the new characters I could never quite figure out was a courier called the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), whose character traits are limited to wanting to have sex with Hunt and having access to those nukes.
Without giving anything away, Fallout also finds a way of dealing with the one major loose end in Hunt’s life, his now ex-wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan, who is way too good an actor to be sidelined the way she has been in this series), who has chosen to let go of the man she loves because she’s too much of a distraction to him, as the world needs Hunt as perhaps its most capable protector. It’s a fascinating, even bizarre conceit, but in the context of these films, it’s also difficult to argue with her logic. The way Julia is incorporated fully into the final act of the film is kind of genius and fitting, and the way she basically passes the romance torch to Ilsa (should she choose to accept it) is rather sweet.
Every single aspect of Fallout works, from the sound design (again, in a proper IMAX setting, your mind will be fried) and the camerawork to the emotional component, which often feels as risky as the stunt sequences. Speaking of which, if your heart (perhaps accompanying a portion of your lunch) doesn’t shoot up out of your throat at a specific moment during a scene where Cruise dangles under a helicopter by a rope, then you are not built like a human.
The stakes seem very much of this world, for better or worse, and as a result, maybe we need an unflinching hero like Ethan Hunt in our corner. In this movie, it is revealed that the IMF is quietly laughed out in certain circles of the intelligence community as a group of idiots running around in Halloween masks (and given a sequence near the beginning involving none other than Wolf Blitzer, maybe the reputation is justified), so Fallout is a film in which the group has something to prove.
Perhaps for that reason, the film feels tougher and less polished in all the right ways while simultaneously being bigger and more sweeping than ever before. It’s the best of what the Mission: Impossible franchise has to offer, and I hope Cruise and company still have one or two left in them. Maybe sunsetting the Ethan Hunt character could be his retirement present when he hits 65 or so. Just a thought.
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