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When the first Mission: Impossible film was released in 1996, it was a bonafide hit for worldwide superstar Tom Cruise. It was the tense, twisty type of modern action thriller that you expected Brian De Palma to craft. It also played with audience expectations of a television-to-film adaptation, taking a TV show with the character of Jim Phelps leading a team of Impossible Missions Force spies and turning it into a movie where Phelps, as played by Jon Voight, into the films central villain while killing off the team of recognizable faces in the first 20 minutes, leaving Tom Cruise’s new lead character Ethan Hunt to take up the hero mantle and save the day.
22 years later, and Mission: Impossible has become one of our greatest and most consistent action franchises. It has wisely, regularly switched out directors from De Palma to John Woo to J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird to bring in a new feel and eye to frame the insanity that is Tom Cruise putting his body and life on the line for your entertainment. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has become the closest equivalent to an American James Bond, and it’s his dedication to putting amazing thrills on the screen that has helped fuel this franchise.
With the sixth installment, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie bring the franchise to new heights both literally and cinematically, crafting together one of the best action films of the year, the decade, and maybe all time. The only repeat director in the franchise, McQuarrie returns for a more direct sequel to Rogue Nation that brings together elements of not only that film, but also some going all the way back to the original.
In Fallout, Ethan Hunt and his trusty IMF team from the last three films lose enough plutonium to build and detonate three massive nuclear bombs. With a CIA agent keeping close tabs, they have to navigate the labyrinth of twists and turns and work with faces from the past to recover the plutonium and prevent a massive attack that could change the world’s landscape forever. It’s a plot that, at it’s surface, doesn’t differentiate itself too much from previous franchise entries or even other spy films. Stop the bad guys from getting and using the macguffin to kill lots of people. The Mission: Impossible films have always treated their macguffins with a level of indifference, as if to say it doesn’t matter what they’re trying to stop, it only matters how they do it. Fallout is no different, offering a nuclear disaster to avert, but using it as a platform in which to raise all of the other jaw-dropping stunts, action, and other fun.
Fallout has several huge benefits at its disposal, the first of which is an excellent cast that has been built over the course of the franchise, giving the audience characters and actors that they know and are comfortable with. Tom Cruise solidifies himself as potentially our greatest ever action movie star, not only pulling off death-defying stunts on the screen, but also giving a range of emotion that renders him infinitely more believable or relatable than your Schwarzenegger, Stallone, or Van Damme. It is a testament to Cruise as a craftsman that he insists on doing as much in camera work as possible. From motorcycle chases through Paris to a halo jump at 30,000 to flying a helicopter at high speeds through tight mountain corridors, everything he does is not only believable, but because it’s practical stunt work done by the lead actor, it does all the more to raise the tension of the film.
His crew is equally great, with Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg returning in top form, getting in on the action more than ever. Rebecca Ferguson also returns from Rogue Nation, and her chemistry with Cruise, along with her game of chicken with Hunt, prove to be enthralling. Returning characters from Sean Harris and Michelle Monaghan also provide a surprisingly level of emotional depth. Newcomer Angela Bassett does well as a government official, but it’s Henry Cavill who really shines as the newest member of the team.
Cavill’s CIA Agent August Walker is forced upon the IMF team as a level of oversight, and he acts as the perfect brute opposite Hunt’s more tactical spy. He is a blunt object, all muscle, ramming his way through scenes. Even his facial hair, much discussed in the tabloids over the shoddy CGI required to cover it in Justice League, serves as a helpful character choice. Walker doesn’t have the time or the temperament to be precise in his actions, why would this CIA caveman bother to be clean-shaven?
While the performances and characters of Fallout rise well above action movie norms, it is the relentlessly moving script by McQuarrie that puts them into pretzels of twists, turns, and action sequences that are the highlight of the franchise. Scenes move at a breakneck pace, building off of one another, stringing together smaller action beats to put together entire sequences that feel breathless. The first 15 minutes are extraordinary on their own, capped with the always-perfect Mission: Impossible theme and opening sequence, this time composed by Lorne Balfe.
After that, the film is a constant roller coaster, one whose scenes even of exposition move efficiently. The middle of the film, blazing over Paris and London, might be the greatest second act in action film history. Starting with the aforementioned halo jump, moving to a brutal bathroom fistfight, to a tense nightclub standoff, it moves with a buzz. One scene later, we’re thrust into a massive prisoner escape, which transitions to a truck chase, then to a motorcycle chase, then to a car chase, then to a shootout, then to a foot chase. It’s breathless, and the way McQuarrie threads together these moments left me literally sweating in my seat. It bears mentioning that yes, Cruise is doing everything. He’s jumping out of planes, maneuvering cars, trucks and motorcycles, and of course running across London rooftops. He may even run more in this movie than any of his others.
What makes Fallout so great, from the twists to the action, is that McQuarrie makes a conscious effort to show us that Cruise is doing this stuff for real, and CGI is really only implemented to remove thin safety wires or integrate other environmental pieces without so much as a seam. It makes everything all the more intense, believing that Cruise and, by proxy, Hunt is really in danger. McQuarrie’s tightly written, expertly directed film is aided by gorgeous, breathtaking action cinematography from Annihilation’s Rob Hardy, editing by Eddie Hamilton, and of course the mind-boggling stunts coordinated by second unit director Wade Eastwood.
The action and threading of Fallout’s sequences are amongst some of the all time greats, but what makes it all the more effective is the way the film plays with Ethan Hunt’s history and emotional baggage. The spy genre doesn’t always have the ability to earnestly explore the toll the life takes on it’s heroes, mostly because someone like James Bond is too busy sleeping with the next Bond girl to be bothered by his losses. Fallout, however, brings into focus the life Hunt has lead, even calling back to characters from the first and third films.
There are emotional stakes here unlike any in the franchise, perhaps because it’s the most direct sequel of the series. The action, relationships, and results from Rogue Nation directly influence what happens in Fallout and give it a significantly more powerful weight than other films. Hunt’s relationship with both Monaghan and Ferguson helps the audience feel the weight of Hunt’s life, not only on him, but also on those around him. His rapport with his team, particularly Pegg and Rhames, make you genuinely believe that Hunt would lay down his life for them at any moment. For his part, Cruise plays these emotions so damn well. It’s one thing to be hanging off the legs of a helicopter, it’s another to do so and make the audience believe that this is genuine life and death. The villains of the film make sure that Hunt feels every bit of pain both physically and emotionally, and McQuarrie and Cruise make sure that the audience feels it as well.
With Fallout, Mission: Impossible again reminds us that it is amongst the most consistently made, consistently entertaining action franchises of our time. By raising the stakes and putting together one thrilling sequence after another, it inexplicably makes the sixth entry of this franchise not only the best, but also one of the best of all time. Fallout should be seen as soon as possible on the biggest screen possible. All so that we can celebrate expertly crafted action filmmaking by Christopher McQuarrie and appreciate just how much Tom Cruise wants to put himself through in order to give us thrills, entertainment, and enjoyment.
The Final Pop
Mission: Impossible — Fallout is the best in the franchise, and stands as one of the greatest action films in recently memory and possibly of all time. It’s thrilling, breathless action is contrasted perfect by it’s emotional stakes, and Tom Cruise’s lead performance with an amazing ensemble reminds us just how great he can be. Perfect Popcorn