Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan
There was a time when the Mission: Impossible franchise appeared to be running a clear third behind James Bond and the Bourne films when it came to big budget, spy action-thrillers. But not anymore. With its sixth instalment, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the franchise thumbs its nose at both the law of diminishing returns and questions about how long Tom Cruise can keep doing this to produce a rollicking picture which continues its upwards trajectory and easily trumps the most recent instalments in those other franchises.
When a botched mission sees three plutonium cores fall into the hands of a group of anti-religious terrorists known as the Apostles, the CIA puts the blame squarely on the IMF. As Ethan (Tom Cruise), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) set out to right their wrong, they must do so under the watchful eye of a CIA minder, August Walker (Henry Cavill), though the exact nature of Walker’s instructions are not clear to them. In order to get his hands on the plutonium, Hunt has to pose as mysterious fundamentalist John Lark, and in doing so finds himself involved in a plot to spring free his old nemesis Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). The effectiveness with which Hunt plays the role of Lark starts to raise Walker’s suspicion that he may not be playing a role at all.
The first five films in the Mission: Impossible series each had a different director, but after the success of Rogue Nation, and with a collaboration with Tom Cruise that has also seen him direct Jack Reacher and write Edge of Tomorrow and The Mummy, Christopher McQuarrie becomes the first director to be invited back for a second go around. What he gives us with Fallout is a very good Mission: Impossible film, doing well all the things that we expect the franchise to do well, but exhibiting some of the same issues that earlier instalments have.
The Mission: Impossible franchise has never really allocated much time to the personal, a factor which has contributed to its lesser recognition when compared to Bond and Bourne. Ethan Hunt has remained somewhat anonymous, the character struggling to transcend the star who plays him. At one point in Fallout, Julia (Michelle Monaghan) asks Luther how Ethan is doing, to which he replies, “You know, same old Ethan.” But the fact of the matter is we don’t know. We don’t know who Ethan Hunt is in the same way that we know who James Bond is or who Jason Bourne is (at least, in the case of Bourne, what we don’t know he doesn’t know either and that is part of the story). With McQuarrie’s return he brings some narrative continuity and attempts to emotionally ground Ethan. By bringing back Solomon Lane and Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson, who made such an impression in the last film and does so again here despite being heavily pregnant for much of the shoot) from Rogue Nation, and in particular the return of Julia from M:I3, there is a clear aim to raise the stakes of this story by contextualising it within Hunt’s life. As the only other character to have been there since the franchise’s beginning, Luther, who has for the last few instalments been consigned to being the ‘man in the van,’ plays a bigger part here. He becomes the senior statesman and the emotional core, able to speak for Ethan in a way Ethan seems incapable of doing for himself.
One thing that cannot be faulted is the spectacle. Jet setting all over the globe, Fallout is built around a series of escalating action sequences, though referring to them as escalating diminishes how satisfying each of them is in its own right. We get a HALO jump in a lightening storm, an intense fistfight in the bathroom of La Grande Palais, a car chase in Paris, a motorcycle chase in Paris, and a foot chase through London (while jokes are made about Tom Cruise’s penchant for running in his movies, there scene is exhilarating), all culminating with a helicopter chase in Kashmir. Of course, all of these sequences feature Tom Cruise doing his own stunts – it is even him flying the helicopter – which has long been the calling card for the franchise. McQuarrie and his director of photography Rob Hardy shoot the action sequences in a very clean and classical fashion, eschewing the shaky, handheld approach which has become the norm in recent years, to ensure that we can see beyond all doubt that it is Cruise doing these things. A moustachioed Henry Cavill also brings an intimidating physical presence to the action sequences, proving a fun addition to the mix.
Complete with twists and turns as the various parties with their own agendas leave us unsure of who is an ally and who is an enemy, Mission: Impossible – Fallout offers a rather convoluted story. However, that doesn’t stop it being fun. CIA boss Erika Sloan (Angela Bassett) makes quips about the IMF being an outdated organisation with its field agents running around playing dress ups, and in a way there is something charmingly old fashioned about Fallout, right down to its television-style opening titles which feature snippets of the action that is going to come later in the film. Cruise and McQuarrie know what they are selling. Fallout is a ride. This is top quality, exhilarating action cinema. A cut above the spectacle that much of the genre has to offer.
Review by Duncan McLean
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