Mission Impossible: Fallout is the latest and best entry in the decade-spanning spy franchise.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to keep a 22-year-old franchise not only alive and kicking, but continually improving upon its predecessors. Mission Impossible: Fallout, the sixth entry in the franchise, pulls off the heist.
Fallout is a break in many of the franchise’s traditions in many ways. Christopher McQuarrie returns as the only director who has taken on more than one mission — he steered 2015’s Rogue Nation. The film is also a direct sequel rather than a standalone operation, and knowledge of Rogue Nation is required to follow the plot here.
But the story was never the centerpiece for this series anyway. This time around, it boils down to Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt being tasked with keeping three plutonium bombs out of the hands of a nefarious organization. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames return to play Hunt’s teammates, having become staples for the franchise themselves. Hunt is partnered with August Walker (Henry Cavill), a CIA agent with his own agenda. As is the norm, there’s plenty of betrayal and mask-pulling to give the obvious plot twists a little more zest.
But if you’re seeing an MI movie to analyze its story, you bought the wrong ticket. The main attraction here is the action, and the now seasoned McQuarrie delivers it in spades. The movie is pure forward momentum. From the opening second, no time is wasted, and within the first few minutes we have a shootout at a botched weapons sale that whets the appetite for what’s to come.
McQuarrie’s action sequence directing is a dream, and Cruise and Cavill are two of the best stuntmen in Hollywood to complement it. An earlier sequence sees them both skydiving through a storm as the weather (and other spoiler-y factors) makes their mad descent, well, impossible. McQuarrie gives us a luscious continuous shot from the moment Cruise jumps from the plane and soars through the lightning-stuffed clouds to the ground, the tension amped by Lorne Balfe’s excellent score. If that scene doesn’t give you goosebumps up your arms, you probably passed out.
The movie is packed with complicated set pieces such as that — there’s still a helicopter duel and about a thousand car chases to look forward to after the skydive, so don’t get comfortable. But what’s most impressive here is the physical stunt work of its stars. Cruise and Cavill are enchanting to watch as they hook and dropkick endless opponents. Cavill is the true star here — he is literally Superman over in the DC universe, after all. In a movie packed with enormous set pieces, the most excitement comes from the choreographed fistfights and foot chases. An early brawl in a club bathroom sees Cruise and Cavill take on an enemy with nothing but their fists and whatever is available in the bathroom. McQuarrie gives what could be the more lowkey fights just as much attention as the bigger pieces.
Speaking of Cavill — he’s quite far from his stoic demeanor as Superman here. Maybe it’s because of the lower quality of those movies, but Cavill’s acting outside of his stunts is the highlight here.
He takes what could have been a forgettable character and injects him with personality and just enough danger to keep you guessing his true intentions.
But, as has been true six times in a row now, top praise must go to Cruise. He broke his leg while filming a death-defying building leap in London last year — a stunt that made the final cut with breathless gravitas. Production shut down, but Cruise was back on set with a healed leg two weeks earlier than scheduled. On top of that, he learned to fly a helicopter for the authenticity of a stunt. At 55, he’s been doing this for more than two decades now. “Impossible” is not in his vocabulary. ••