Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) must recover three Plutonium cores before a terrorist group known as “The Apostles” use it to usher in a new world order by way of massive nuclear disaster. He soon assembles his team of familiar faces and sets about travelling the world engaging in highly elaborate and improbably set-pieces, bringing him ever closer to the shadowy menace who seeks to tear his life apart.
Each entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise has revolved around big action set pieces, and in this respect, Fallout is not only one of the best in the series but perhaps one of the best action movies ever made. Taking the various forms of fist fights, car/bike chases, and the franchise’s signature vertigo-inspiring shenanigans, there’s an effortless grace to the action that is seldom seen. Choreography is brutal but eloquent. McQuarrie and his cinematographer Rob Harder capture the action beautifully. The camera glides gracefully amongst the carnage whilst editor Eddie Hamilton ensures that the action remains coherent and easy to follow. If some iffy CGI elements stand out, that can only be because so much of it is so incredibly convincing and compelling. Highlights include the breath-taking dive over Paris, the bathroom fist fight, the extended jailbreak/bike chase sequence and of course the helicopter madness that is clearly intended to be this film’s main selling point (though it does lack the novelty and awe of previous headline stunts).
Interesting to note, the composer position is here fulfilled by Lorne Balfe. Whilst Balfe utilises quite a few of Michael Giacchino’s motifs from earlier installments, his music is more severe and somber. There’s a quality of Hans Zimmer to it, with hints of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Sicario. It’s menacing, as opposed to the more manically quirky earlier scores. Sometimes this enhances the atmosphere greatly, as in the heist sequence near the midpoint, but at other times it’s a little at odds with the silliness occurring on screen. It is, however, hard to be taken out of an experience that is this much fun.
The plot to a Mission: Impossible film must maintain a sense of momentum as we move from one set-piece to the next. Fallout is interesting in having the most labyrinthine narrative since Brian De Palma’s original entry. There are various concerned parties, all with different motives, all often working against each other. Early on in the film a sniper saves Ethan and co. from a team of assassins, and I’m still not completely sure I know who that was. This does become a little confusing, but the film does well to explore these dynamics not through relentless exposition but through character dynamics and action. It’s a visually told story with surprising nuance. An important plot point is revealed through a broken phone, suddenly appearing unbroken; a tiny detail that reveals much to those paying attention.
However there are some tricks pulled on the audience. Moments that appear to take the story in a much darker direction are revealed to be dreams or ruses. This can be a little frustrating, as it feels a little like McQuarrie attempting to have his cake and eat it too. There were some audible groans at times in my screening, and not entirely from myself. The mask gag is also getting a little long in the tooth after six installments, never used more effectively than in the third act of Mission: Impossible 3.
Whilst Tom Cruise and his cavalier attitude towards personal safety has always been an essential aspect of Mission: Impossible’s effectiveness, Ethan Hunt as a character has not. Often the movies will fail to give his character anything to do at all. Fallout is the first film in the franchise to let us inside of Ethan’s head through dream sequences and some interesting moments of vulnerability. During the film’s climax, for example, we see Hunt attempt plans that fail, swear in frustration and even think through his problems aloud. Seeing this character, whose sole defining quality has been quiet competence, become completely unravelled is very gratifying. This might be the most relatable the character has ever been.
As for what’s gleamed about Hunt’s character from all this, it appears that he’s unprepared to sacrifice one life to save many and that he’s worried he ruined Michelle Monaghan’s life in the third movie. It’s fairly conventional fair for an action hero, and overcoming these concerns do not require him to change at all. What’s perhaps more interesting is the film’s chief thematic concern.
Aside from the importance of one life against many, the film asks the question of whether Hunt can ever actually stop. He’s clearly the only man in this world capable of doing the extraordinary things necessary to save it. We learn throughout that he and his former significant other have learned to live with the all-consuming destiny he has in life to constantly save the world by dangling off things. But what about when he’s too old for this? One wonders if Cruise feels the same way. The franchise would be unrecognisable without his willingness to put life and limb on the line for a breath-taking shot. Some wonder if he is getting too old, but I dread the day when Ethan Hunt hangs up his silly rubber masks for the last time. This franchise might be the most consistently excellent action film franchise ever made, and Cruise is a big part of its appeal.
Mission: Impossible- Fallout may well be the most exciting instalment in this franchise. It effortlessly blends the grit of JJ Abram’s M:I 3 with the playful heroics of Brad Bird’s Ghost Nation. Although Hunt still feels shallow as a character, he’s much more human and relatable in this entry than ever before. Perhaps Fallout will serve well as a calling to every other action movie director working on big projects. There’s a new height to aspire to.