Mission: Impossible – Fallout accomplishes the…very difficult
Director: Christopher McQuarrie Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Sean Harris, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin Running Time: 147 minutes
A preface: When Tom Cruise found out that a member of the Spielberg family was seeing a psychiatrist, he had faithful Scientologist acolytes, who hate psychiatry, picket the doctor at their home. Scientologists assigned the actress (and member) Nazanin Boniadi to be Cruise’s new girlfriend post Penelope Cruz, pre-Katie Holmes, dumped her for a perceived sleight to Scientology honcho David Miscavige and when Boniadi expressed her disappointment, the church punished her with months of menial labour, digging ditches and cleaning toilets with a toothbrush. He publicly criticised Brooke Shields for using anti-depressants when she had post-partum depression. He had Nicole Kidman’s phone tapped, and after divorcing Kidman (whom Scientology never approved of because her father was a well-known psychologist back in Australia), Cruise turned their two children against her with the help of the church, to the point that they now call her a ‘Suppressive Person’ and Kidman doesn’t count the two when thanking her children in speeches…it’s just worth keeping in mind sometimes that Cruise is a highly-wound maniac in deep with a cult that manipulates and abuses members and neglects children, before launching into effuse praise of his work. It might well be the intense ethic that Scientology has developed in Cruise, or his eagerness to have people forget his off-putting mid-00s energy, that sees him so heavily devoted to making the Mission: Impossible series go from strength-to-stength as one of Hollywood’s most innovative action franchise. The latest installment Fallout, breaks new ground for the series, pushing it to the most berserk heights yet. Really berserk.
The Mission: Impossible movies have traditionally played relatively fast and loose between sequels, staying fairly episodic and tweaking the character of Ethan Hunt as needed. Fallout then is something of a departure, acting as a more direct successor to previous installment Rogue Nation and bringing back director Christopher McQuarrie where the series has always introduced new action auteurs (from DePalma, to Woo, to Abrams to Bird) every time. It’s a decision that benefits the film very well; McQuarrie might not have the distinct flourishes of his auteur predecessors, but he confirms himself with Fallout as a great blockbuster director. Also the film’s credited screenwriter, McQuarrie builds the entire film around a handful of set pieces, the plot taking a backseat, and flowing from the big screen showcase moments. So many modern action films are bogged down by poor plotting, but the story of Fallout is always about setting up the next Impossible bit of action – ‘in order to X, Ethan Hunt is going to Y’, where Y stands for ‘Skydive through a lightning storm’, ‘get from one helicopter into another helicopter when he doesn’t know how to pilot a helicopter’, etc, etc. From a bathroom fight scene that’s stunningly hard-hitting to the usual vehicular thrills, the action is well-planned, carefully staged and enthralling to watch.
As mentioned above, Fallout does continue Rogue Nation‘s story, but since the stories here always frame International Terrorism and Global Disasters as Personal Affronts to Ethan Hunt, that’s most significant in the two characters that it brings back who have a personal connection to the main character. Rebecca Ferguson returns as the MI6 agent Ilsa Faust, the mutual attraction between her and Ethan oxymoronically based on their single-minded devotion to the Mission. Also back is Sean Harris as the terrorist Solomon Lane, whose lust for global chaos is only matched by his ambition to fuck everything up for Ethan specifically. Talk about a Suppressive Person. They’re thrust back into his life after an IMF mission goes badly wrong (it seems like the ‘Impossible’ part comes from the agency’s inability to ever get the job done right on the first try) and puts nuclear weapons in the hands of the mysterious ‘John Lark’ and his Apostles, the last remnants of Solomon Lane’s Rogue Nation. Hunt and sidekicks Luther and Benji (series regulars Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg respectively) are tasked by IMF head Alec Baldwin with dealing with the fallout of their mistakes. Solomon Lane is a key figure in all this, and Hunt has to recover his greatest villain to flush out his newest one, which puts him into conflict with his ally Faust, who has a job to do of her own. On top of all this, the IMF team are forced to pair up with the CIA assassin August Walker, a kill first, ask questions later type who doesn’t care for their over-elaborate methods and is played by Henry Cavill.
As an aside, subbing literal Superman in for Jeremy Renner as the Other Action Guy in the cast is a significant upgrade for Fallout, and absolutely fulfills the potential that casting agents have seen in Cavill as a Blockbuster Guy for years. August Walker is freakishly strong, stubbornly dumb, tall, a loner, the idol of his boss (played with perfect smarm by Angela Basett) and in every other way possible the perfect foil for Ethan Hunt and the opposite of the series’ entire thesis on what a Action Hero should be. Sporting his now infamous moustache, glowering constantly and cocking his fists for a fight like they’re guns, Cavill has never been more compelling on screen; a Tom of Finland drawing bursting out of the clothes of a Norman Rockwell painting to commit Frank Miller violence; in other words, a strange, wonderful work of art. As a character, Walker embodies Fallout‘s greatest strength: upping the ante to ridiculous levels, then doing it again, then doing it again.
The film is mad altogether, basically structured as a 90 minute M:I movie complete with a convoluted but satisfying climax, then blowing all that up too and unveiling another 40 minute act that’s one long action scene. One long, perfect action scene, with finely balanced editing that moves between various character objectives, and equally high but very different kinds of tension, and keeps everything seamless, coherent and absolutely gripping. After the much-hyped ‘Cruise hangs out of a plane for your entertainment’ scene played out in the first 15 minutes of Rogue Nation, the sequel wisely holds off on its biggest, craziest fireworks for the very end, where they explode in spectacular fashion. After a long film that is literally action-packed, Fallout goes from entertaining to must-see with one of the action scenes of the decade, as audacious, exciting and laugh-out-loud insane a sequence in film as you are likely to see for a long time.
The series continues to pad out Cruise’s bank account and more significantly, to boost his ego. His determination to show that he hasn’t slowed down is the most intense trait of a very intense man, and Cruise, 56 – one year older than Wilford Brimley in Cocoon as it’s been pointed out on Twitter – pushes himself harder than ever here. His workrate can be praised until the cows come home, driving forward the exceptional standards in in-camera stunt work, putting his own body on the line as much as ever. The ego trip is less praiseworthy in the writing, pushing Hunt harder than ever as a wonderful, infallible spy-god. Women love him, everyone excuses his mistakes in the end. After introducing herself so memorably in Rogue Nation, Ferguson suffers slightly from a readjustment in character focus, deferring to her co-star in a number of frustrating ways. No great analysis can ever come out of M:I‘s politics either, the series continues to be among the most apolitical in the spy genre, a possible side-effect from the smooth-out-and-surpress direction its lead has taken. On the other hand, while Bond and co. have gotten very self-serious over the years, the simpler approach is part of what keeps these films fun, isn’t it?
There are quibbles to be quibbed, but it has to be said that Mission: Impossible – Fallout accomplishes what it does well with such skill, to such an entertaining level, that’s it’s a standout in the genre over the last few years and in the conversation as a series highlight. Building up the adrenaline levels to bursting point with technically flawless, emotionally engrossing, pure cinema, the last act alone cements this as the best pure action movie since John Wick Chapter Two. Cruise’s status as a weirdo and a creep is likely to never go away, possibly even get worse in the years to come. His determination to fight that tide through his on-screen legacy has produced yet again, for now.(5 / 5)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is in Irish cinemas from the 25th of July.