Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan, Alec Baldwin, Vanessa Kirby
Runtime: 147 Minutes
Let’s get this right out of the way first of all. Few film series have any right to claim their sixth instalment to be their best effort. There are exceptions and outliers wherein the changing of hands, directors or actors can see a franchise evolve into something excitingly new, but for a series like Mission: Impossible that has been running since the Clinton administration in the same continuity with the same rotating cast of actors and characters as constants – and the still credible power of leading man Tom Cruise – this just shouldn’t feel possible.
Yet, here we are. Its 2018, and Mission: Impossible – Fallout turns out to be not only the best blockbuster of the summer, and the best instalment in the series to date, but one of the most flat-out breath-taking pure action and spectacle films of its kind to emerge since Mad Max: Fury Road.
The story itself is as paradoxically simple yet complex as it’s ever been; an IMF mission ends poorly and the world is faced with the consequences of Armageddon as three nuclear weapons fall into the hands of The Apostilles (remnants of The Syndicate from Rogue Nation), and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his team must find them while being monitored by CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill) and the return of Rebecca Ferguson as MI6’s Ilsa Faust.
Ever since the original Brian De Palma adaptation, which saw it patiently mark its time with labyrinthine and Hitchcockian plotting before blowing itself spectacularly to pieces in the climax, these films have existed primarily as a vehicle for Crusie to pretty much play himself.
The allure of seeing the gracefully ageing action star throwing himself into any number of practical stunts, with increasingly velocity and risk, is a spectacle in and of itself even before the other effects come into play. There’s an extended foot chase involving Cruise that goes on for a long time (including that infamous leg break in all its gnarly glory), almost as if the film is as in on the joke as the audience. That watching Cruise run his heart out is the best signature use of his talents. He’s an unparalleled joy to watch.
The returning power of Christopher McQuarrie behind the camera certainly adds to this. Gone are the days in which the series seemed malleable enough to shape itself to suit the filmmaker. The combination of McQuarrie and Cruise’s abilities as star and writer/director shed all the weight of aesthetic distraction, and they've chiselled away the excess to create a streamlined and solid framework upon which to place the narrative and set pieces.
Said narrative works so well because the components of the characters and the staging of events through action all operate in tandem with one another. If you might lose track or recollection of exactly why something is happening the way that it is, it doesn’t really matter because the series has gone on long enough that the audience has faith in the outcome. Enough chemistry, witty banter and pyrotechnics will always be enough to sustain the investment with films like this, and Fallout feels as refined as the formula has ever been.
The action sequences are uniformly excellent and breathlessly staged with tactility and a knowing sense of clarity, space and physicality with Rob Hardy’s natural and gleaming cinematography. The film features one of the most stunningly shot freefall jumps in recent history, seeming to unfold in a single take as characters descend through thunderclouds, that’s followed by a bruising punch-up in the gent’s toilets – and that’s only in the first 20 minutes.
From car and motorbike pursuits through Paris to a foot chase across the rooftops of the London Skyline, the relentless pace keeps charging forward with a determination to outdo itself with one adrenalin fuelled chase after the other. All before giving way to a nail-shredding third act where the stakes feel higher than ever before, and ultimately ends up delivering on the most exciting prolonged action sequence that the series has ever produced.
The cast is just as great, slipping into their roles with ease where even their role titles don’t seem to matter. Simon Pegg is funny, Ving Rhames is the stoic heart and Rebecca Ferguson is riddled with steely mystique. Henry Cavill knocks down pretty much everything in his way as the hammer to Hunt’s scalpel approach, proving to be one of the series most memorable antagonists. Even Vanessa Kirby’s role as a black-market arms dealer comes with its own appreciated twist for attentive fans.
Besides his physical presence and ability as the intense member of the team, McQuarrie and Cruise seem determined to find something more to Ethan Hunt than has been previously explored. Even if they don’t quite mine the levels of depth as say Skyfall did for the otherwise vacuous Bond, it does posit the question of why a man would choose to accept such missions and how often he faces the ‘fallout’ of his own actions, and Cruise sells the big moments and emotional turmoil well.
It’s kind of difficult to see a serious fault to it beyond some minor dents along the way. As with other instalments it might lose the plot for some, and there’s an editing choice that’s a little confusing as they hurriedly exit a club, but other than that the only real burden it faces is that it’s going to be kind of hard to imagine where the series might even go from this point, as it really does feel like the peak point emotionally and viscerally for the whole thing.
There isn’t really a secret either as to why this has turned out the be one of the most reliably entertaining blockbuster franchises on the market. Audiences love heist movies, spy movies and high-octane action cinema and the M:I title has always managed to bring a healthy dose of all three genres into its own spectrum of existence. But even taken on its own merits, Fallout is a hell of a technical achievement as much as it is a galvanising piece of popcorn entertainment.