Does Tom Cruise know where he ends and Ethan Hunt begins? At this point, he surely can’t. At this point, it surely doesn’t matter. Ethan Hunt is the perilous adrenaline high that Cruise just can’t quit. He goes back again and again, diving headfirst into death-defying derring-do of increasingly preposterous proportions. At this point, Cruise is a slave to his need for Hunt – helplessly addicted to this charming, volatile, skydiving psychopath. He’s consumed forever.
And thank fuck for that, because if Cruise got his impulses under control and cut ties with the globetrotting secret agent that has punctuated key moments in his career for 22 years now, we would not have Mission: Impossible – Fallout. And the world would be far worse off.
No matter its chameleonic tendencies, with its film-to-film shifts in directors, writers and supporting players, everyone knows what to expect from an MI film at this point. Tom Cruise will barrel his way through a convoluted cat-and-mouse narrative of good spies battling bad spies. There will be robust, propulsive action set pieces at regular, dependable intervals. One of them will stand tall above the others as the latest one to nearly kill Tom Cruise. For two decades, this franchise has switched up its style and tone ad infinitum, but it’s solid, dependable and plays exactly to your expectations.
With Christopher McQuarrie writing and directing his second film here – a first for the franchise – you’d be worried that MI has finally leaned into its safe, dependable backbone and hit the autopilot. Not so. McQuarrie, a steady but anonymous hand in Rogue Nation, doesn’t so much subvert expectations with Fallout as he does blow them to smithereens with an atomic bomb.
Fallout looks like a Mission: Impossible film. It sounds like one and it feels like one, too. But it’s a Mission: Impossible film jacked up on steroids and hallucinogens – wild-eyed and manic as it charges headlong from set piece to set piece, eyes fixed forward and barely scraping the sides of its afterthought of a plot.
To describe its innumerable, epically-staged and impossibly-assembled action sequences would be to spoil the fun of allowing each one to steal the breath from your throat and grip your chest in a vice as they unfold with graceful artistry and sly swagger before your eyes. Each killer moment plays like the single headline piece would in any of Fallout’s predecessors, convincing you McQuarrie and Cruise have somehow reached their apex with each one, and then smashing straight into something more thrilling and fundamentally earth-shaking each time. This is old-school, analogue action filmmaking of the highest standard.
These partners in crime, star and director, are aided once again by an appealing bunch of co-conspirators. Henry Cavill is a queasy, brutal hunk of immovable boulder as CIA operative Walker, while Angela Bassett serves looks and hooks from the sidelines as his shrewd superior. Rebecca Ferguson, who stole the show as British double agent Ilsa Faust in Rogue Nation returns with less to do this time around, but still with enough joyously gritty moments of her own, while Vanessa Kirby and Sean Harris play deliciously slick villains from two very different schools of performance. Franchise stalwarts Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames are, unfortunately, the spare parts left behind in this flurry of excitement.
Additionally, this may be the prettiest the MI franchise has ever looked – especially in magnificent IMAX. Cinematographer Rob Hardy gives his all from the claustrophobically distracting strobe lights of a Paris night club, to the awesome cityscapes of a foot chase through central London, culminating in an inconceivably beautiful sweep through the vistas of northern India (possibly with a helicopter chase thrown in, too).
It’s a miracle Tom Cruise is still alive after this one – his broken ankle from a heady bout of parkour in London hit the headlines last year – but it’s safe to say the viewer is more worn out than he is when the film reaches its sweet, knowing climax. If it were up to Cruise, he’d probably do another six of these and come up grinning with his perfect whites. It’s the rest of us that might not survive Ethan Hunt.
Dir: Christopher McQuarrie
Scr: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Sean Harris
Prd: Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, Christopher McQuarrie, Jake Myers
DOP: Rob Hardy
Music: Lorne Balfe
Run Time: 147 minutes