2018 | rated PG-13 | starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin | written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie | 2 hrs 27mins |
Studio Pitch: We’re going to run around the world shooting crazy action scenes and write the script as we go along – and it’s going to come together beautifully.
Review Season 2 Finale
The Raid: Redemption, Casino Royale, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight and the series’ own Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocal. We can add Mission Impossible- Fallout, the 6th film in 25 years of the long running, not hastily produced, series to that list of the very best action movies of the last 2 decades. It is incredible filmmaking and a master class in action movie crafting. To ask for much more is to ask Fallout to turn over and reinvent the genre entirely and for that I can’t fault it.
Fallout marks a lot of firsts for the series. The first entry with a returning director (Christopher McQuarrie, who let’s not forget wrote The Usual Suspects a hundred years ago). The first with a writer/director. The first that isn’t a stand-alone adventure, with McQuarrie putting together a direct sequel to the last film – Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation. It’s also the first time in the series that treats it’s characters with some depth instead of action figures to move around the board. It’s the first time in 6 movies that we’re given reasons to care about Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as a character instead of just Tom Cruise: Man Who Does His Own Stunts.
I suppose I always assumed that the IMF – The Impossible Mission Force – of these movies was a vast network that operated in secret out of government earmarks. In Fallout it seems more like the IMF is just Ethan Hunt. This time Hunt is tasked with cleaning up the remnants of capturing Soloman Lane (Sean Harris) in Rogue Nation. Without him The Syndicate has morphed into The Apostles lead by a mystery man named Lark (yes, the movie has a Lane and a Lark). As it always does in these movies, a job goes wrong, Ethan chooses one life over millions and 3 plutonium cores go in the wind and he has to go triple-agent undercover to get them back. Races against the ticking clock, rubber masks getting dramatically ripped off, clandestine meetings with arms dealers and foot chases on and around international landmarks all ensue. The plot elements here are exactly the same as previous Mission films. As is the case with many action movies, the plot here is a clothesline for the action and that’s ok – McQuarrie and Cruise deliver some of the finest action set pieces you will see in any recent movie.
Why? Why are these set pieces so much better? Because Tom Cruise is doing his own stunts? Maybe that’s part of it, but also in the way McQuarrie films it in single-takes and wide shots. You don’t just know he’s doing these stunts, you are along for the ride. McQuarrie constructs the film as an immersive experience. So when Hunt is hanging off helicopters and running across the roof of St. Paul’s Cathedral, it feels authentic. McQuarrie’s use of the streets of Paris and the way he occasionally dials down the music during the car chases and fills the soundtrack with the revving of engines and squealing of tires – all this gives the movie an old Hollywood classic feel.
Tonally, Fallout is The Dark Knight Rises of the Mission: Impossible series. Everything here is heightened to epic, bigger than life, last-second-countdown-clock proportions. It is intoxicating with it’s own excesses, but never to the point of mind-numbing. It bulldozes over a fairly generic plot involving the global hunt for stolen plutonium and a few obvious twists with a higher goal in mind. In an age where every big tent-pole movie feels studio noted, demographically designed and politically calculated – Fallout positively jumps off the screen and into our laps with a singular goal to entertain the hell out of the audience. It is a bombastic work of giddy joy as well as a machine of tightly-wrapped suspense. It builds to an astounding, multi-pronged thrill-ride of a climax in Kashmir that wants to put all other action movies to shame – while reveling in some of their most tried-and-true adventure tropes, while it also gives them new life at the same time. The last 30 minutes of this movie won’t be easily or quickly forgotten.
And all that action focus isn’t to say the script is no good – it’s the best script of any Mission film yet. With a fly-by running time of 2 and a half hours, McQuarrie fills that time with character moments. While these movies can sometimes, rightly, come off as star vehicles for Tom Cruise (2 and Rogue Nation arguably are), Fallout like Ghost Protocal is a fully realized ensemble. Every character gets either a hero moment or a satisfying story arc that just ads to the overall flavor. The film references just about every entry in the series (even a clever Easter egg to Brian DePalma’s original) folding them all together in a way I previously thought would be unthinkable. Benji (Simon Pegg’s) move from techie to field agent. Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) as the enigmatic British assassin. Even long-time Cruise side-kick Ving Rhames gets a monologue after being left in the van for 3 films and the film circles back to Mission III where the relationship between Ethan and his wife (Michelle Monaghan) is clarified. More than that, we get a deep dive into what makes ActionMan Ethan Hunt tick. Here Cruise is beaten and brutalized worse then he has in the past. The glossy leading man shine is off and Ethan is pushed to a point of desperation and self doubt we haven’t seen from him before. The way he operates with blind determination and a reliance on fateful luck is constantly questioned in this movie and it’s actually surprising to learn Ethan Hunt doesn’t know how to fly a helicopter.
There is a joke from The Simpsons where Hans Moleman goes into a Just Crichton and King bookstore and gets shoed out for asking for anything other than the blockbuster authors. That’s what it’s like going to a theater now. Just Star Wars and Superheroes. Mission: Impossible -Fallout plays in that very same sandbox, but does so with an expert craft and infectious gusto for the action genre these movies lack. It’s authentic feel and visceral strength is a sharp contrast to the cartoonish, highly polished, CGI world of Marvel and DC films. I can easily imagine being a child who grew up on stylized blockbusters seeing this. It might be a revelation, like an 80s child seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time.Like that movie, and it’s hero who also flew by the seat of his pants, Fallout captures the imagination. It sends the audience out buzzing over how cool it would be to live this life, to travel around the globe, saving the world from villainous madmen. That, beyond it’s convincing stunts, is real movie magic. It’s one of the best movies of the year and a near perfect action movie.