Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Stars: Tom Cruise, Sean Harris, Henry Cavill
Tom Cruise is 56. For a long time he was the single most bankable star in Hollywood. The fantasy of millions. He’s still an extraordinarily bankable star. Right up there. But what can he do to keep a hold of that glossy immortality? American cinema is predominantly about youth, and youth is abandoning him. As recently as last year he started looking like Sandi Toksvig. What can be do? The answer, it seems, is go crazy for our entertainment.
Cruise has always had some crazy in him. That put-on charm that we otherwise(?) recognise from total assholes. Scientology. But lately, said crazy has been funneled into the action cinema that has become his calling card, and evermore death-defying stunts are performed not by doubles, but by the man himself. And the Mission: Impossible franchise is where you get to see them.
Almost as crazy is the idea that this series is now into its third decade and Cruise remains latched to the helm. He is Ethan Hunt. And crazier than that, perhaps, is the idea that the franchise might hit a new peak at film #6. But here it is. The most impossible mission yet, and the best. Probably.
But not at first. Mission: Impossible: Fallout (seriously with these colons) collapses out of the gate with a very silly and ungainly pre-credits sequence, which forgoes the usual Big Stunt for a lot of set-up and some tired shenanigans involving rubber masks. There’s little riding on the franchise at this point, so expectations are down and it seems, briefly, as though said expectations will be met. The film even flippantly throws its opening credits over reams of dialogue (a personal bugbear; show some respect for your film, McQuarrie!).
And then… greatness. Of late these movies have become interchangeable, remembered only for their set pieces (the skyscraper bit, the giant washing machine one). Fallout doesn’t play by those rules because, once all that ungainly set-up is out of the way and the game is established the rest of the film is one giant set piece. It’s one huge thing, with barely a breath between smoothly transitioning sequences.
Sure, it’s a bathroom brawl followed by a bar fight followed by a botched heist followed by a motorcycle chase etc, etc, but Fallout glides quickly through the necessary in-between pieces, giving you barely a moment to notice its been stitched together. What’s more the story is engaging, the stakes are well established, double-crosses easy to spot but also tidily reasoned so that you’re okay going along with them… Fallout doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of originality, but what it does present is an astonishingly well-oiled machine that does not let up.
In fact, a lot of spy action movie cliché is dumped in the audiences’ lap. A ridiculous European club in an improbably lavish space? Check. Where nearly nobody goes to the bathroom? Check. Chases through narrow Parisian streets? Gotcha. How about that hoariest of tropes, the big ticking bomb clock? Like you’d never believe.
But its all very acceptable here. Because the presentation is so tight. Because you forget to look at it for what it is and instead you’re taken by the thrill ride. Fallout isn’t smarter than your average; it’s just better than your average.
Cruise is best when he’s in action which, given the pace of the thing, is most of the time. Around him, however, the team work better than ever before. Ving Rhames’ Luther gets to channel a lot of the sentiment to make this thing human; Rebecca Ferguson is still badass as Ilsa Faust. More pleasingly, Alec Baldwin finally gets something to do and even Simon Pegg’s Benji isn’t as grating as he has been previously. He’s still tonally out of step with the rest, but fortunately the plot has plenty of silly in it to make him feel more at home. Welcome home, Benji! Sean Harris also reprises as husky voiced villain Solomon Lane; the bargaining chip in this ever-accelerating game of Hunt The Nukes.
In fact, with so much history between characters on both sides of the law, Fallout is the first in the series to really benefit from seeing prior installments. You can get by without it, no question, but still one would be well served to revisit 3 and Rogue Nation to gain sufficient context for the emotional beats presented.
There’s new blood in the mix too, and its here that you’ll find more solid work. Henry Cavill isn’t all that gifted with range, but his CIA lackie August Walker proves a welcome comic foil for Hunt in the first hour before the inevitable shift. That moustache was definitely worth it, even if it does make him look like a beefcake Daniel Plainview. And then there’s Vanessa Kirby, sassing up the place as the knowingly named White Widow; deal broker of the criminal elite. Kirby is evidently relishing the role, and why the hell not?
But what kicks hardest here is the action, which itself includes lots of kicking. And punching. And crashing. And hanging off of things that are really, really high up. Cruise kind of looks ridiculous when he runs really fast in a straight line in a jacket that’s maybe a bit tight, but its great to watch because you can’t do that. You wouldn’t do that. You’re too busy trying to get that overpriced cinema hotdog in your mouth without spilling sauce everywhere.
This is top-tier action escapism, calibrated to impress far beyond its means. Let Cruise do the hard work. Let him cheat death for your pleasure. Leave the psychology behind his obsession with doing so up to him and be thankful that there’s someone in Hollywood this crazy. Thank you, Tinseltown, for whatever you did to this man.