A film review by Craig J. Koban August 8, 2018

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT

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2018, PG-13, 147 mins.

 

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt  /  Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust  /  Vanessa Kirby as White Widow  /  Henry Cavill as August Walker  /  Michelle Monaghan as Julia Meade-Hunt  /  Angela Bassett as Erica Sloan  /  Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn  /  Alec Baldwin as Alan Hunley  /  Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell  /  Sean Harris as Solomon Lane

Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie

 

 

SCREENED IN
3D

This really, really shouldn't be happening.  

Every fiber of my film critic being is telling me otherwise, but this fifth MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE sequel - defying all odds and past cinematic precedents - has triumphantly emerged as arguably the very best entry in twenty-plus year old espionage series, something that I've been finding myself saying rather inexplicably and somewhat impossibly when every new sequel hits theaters.  In a relative age when sequels and prequels are so obnoxiously common that any announcement of one elicits chronic eye rolling, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT has managed to defy the typical repetitive staleness that permeates most other well past their prime franchises.  And considering the relative dime a dozen nature of the globetrotting spy genre as a whole, the fact that this series still manages to find exhilarating new creative tricks up its sleeve this late in the game is to its esteemed credit.  No sixth film in a franchise has any business being as good as this. 

The MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE cinematic universe has been an aesthetically unique and diverse one, with each installment opting for a new filmmaker in the director's chair to place their own esoteric stamp on the proceedings.  FALLOUT marks the first time since this franchise began with the Brian De Palma helmed introductory film that one director is helming back to back sequels, in this case Christopher McQuarrie, who last led the charge of 2015's ROGUE NATION and previously worked with star/producer Tom Cruise on JACK REACHER.  Refreshingly, FALLOUT is perhaps the first time we've also had a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film that feels like a very direct sequel to its predecessor in terms of picking things up and continuing previously established story arcs.  Beyond that, McQuarrie has continued on the aesthetic successes of his last film, engineering a staggering array of death defying action set pieces, all done with a precision, confidence, and clarity that seems all but dead in modern cinema.  That, and we yet again get the ageless and everlastingly brave (and perhaps crazy) Tom Cruise showing a complete willingness to put his body on the line for the sack of his art.  For a man pushing 60 he still has the charisma and raw physicality of an actor half his age. 

 

 

One thing that this sequel does exceedingly well is to provide for a continually compelling psychological investigation into the psyche of its lead hero, examining his unfathomably large responsibilities to both his squad and country to preserve countless millions of innocent lives on the planet.  Keeping in with some of the more standardized elements of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE lore is Cruise's Ethan Hunt battling yet another terrorist threat that's hell bent on decimating the world in one form or another.  In FALLOUT he has to deal with "The Apostles", a vast collection of well armed, trained, and bloodthirsty mercenaries that are trying to secure some plutonium orbs to use for potential nuclear devices to lay waste to multiple cities.  Their end game and goal is to inspire worldwide change through mass destruction and casualties, making them arguably the most deadly and unstable foes that Ethan has ever had to deal with. 

Of course, FALLOUT's modest and subdued opening act (when compared to ROGUE NATION's jaw dropping intro action sequence, showcasing Cruise hanging off of the edge of a jumbo cargo plane for real as it takes off) shows the steadfastly loyal Ethan choosing to save the lives of one of his teammates instead of securing the aforementioned plutonium orbs from getting into the wrong hands.  Ethan's boss, director Huntley (Alec Baldwin), believes that he made the right choice, whereas CIA director (Angela Bassett) thinks Ethan's handling was foolhardy and risky, leading to her forcing one of her top men in August Walker (a stalwart and quietly intense Henry Cavill) into Hunt's team to keep an eye on him.  Ethan still has his most trustworthy of allies along for the ride in tech genius Benji and bomb specialist Luther (series regulars Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames), but Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) shows up again and plants some nagging doubts in Ethan as to her loyalties.  Nevertheless, Ethan and his team are hot after The Apostles, which are pieces of the remnants of The Syndicate from ROGUE NATION, which in turn was headed up by the vile Solomon Lane (played again with sadistic glee by Sean Harris).  Things get very complicated when Ethan works with a broker known as the "White Widow" (an elegantly intimidating Vanessa Kirby), who agrees to help Ethan find the orbs, but only if he captures Lane and brings him to her, which is tough seeing as he's in already in custody.  Things get more impossibler for Ethan when he learns that Ilsa has been recruited by MI6 to assassinate Lane to re-gain their trust in her. 

I grew sort of crossed eyed in writing my description of the labyrinthine plot of FALLOUT, which is not a criticism.  Despite its convoluted nature, McQuarrie doesn't feel the need to unnecessarily rush audiences to the next big action set piece and instead opts for a more patient approach in terms of re-acquainting us to all the participants while going through the required expositional needs of introducing us to new personas.  That's not to say that FALLOUT isn't action packed (more on that soon), but McQuarrie appreciates the finer intricacies of his sophisticated narrative and the need to keep viewers invested.  Despite the denseness of its plot, though, FALLOUT maintains a breakneck pacing that's pretty astounding, and its sure fire and nimble footing allows for the film to never feel bloated and long.  It also seems to have more of the straightforward espionage vibe of the very first film in the series without feeling like a one-note rehash.  True to form, FALLOUT has its share of twists and turns with its high stakes story that makes it all the more deliriously enjoyable.  There's pleasure to be had in thinking you're one step ahead of Ethan and company, only to be revealed shortly later that you're hopelessly not. 

But, let's be brutally honest, people don't come to these films for their sobering character drama or nuanced plotting; they come for the insanely well choreographed and executed action and stunts, and to see just how far Cruise will once again go to inspire legitimate awe and wonder in viewers.  Driven by an insatiable and incomparable daredevil spirit that borders on death wishing, Cruise hurtles himself forward in these films with a never look back and unstoppable tenacity to make every new one of these films feel like they're topping the spectacle of the last.  It's been 22 years since the 56-year-old actor took the reigns of this franchise, and to witness him doing things that most of his contemporaries wouldn't dare still remains, six films in, to be positively riveting to watch.  So many performers obtrusively phone it in multiple films into a series, but Cruise shows an unwavering commitment to breaking barriers and doing what he has to do to get butts in cinema seats.    

That...and he's nuts.  

Take, for instance, his scaling of Dubai's Burj Khalifa in 2012's GHOST PROTOCOL, still one of the most stunningly realized set pieces in movie history.  You'd logically think that after that and the ROGUE NATION sequence of him clinging on to the exterior of plane for dear life that Cruise and this series would be out of ideas to wow and astound us.  Yet, FALLOUT incredibly ups the ante, like an absolutely brutal and show-stopping three-way bathroom fight scene between Ethan, August, and their prey that's bone crushingly awesome.  There's also a truly mesmerizing sequence featuring Cruise halo-jumping out of an airplane at high altitude (yup, for real) that leads to him pitch perfectly plummeting down towards camera for his close-up.  No MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film would be complete without a requisite Ethan-on-a-motorbike chase sequence, and the new one here is a dazzling display of practical filmmaking artifice.  And, just when you thought you could catch your breath, the film's climax features Ethan commandeering a helicopter, taking flight, dodging the Kashmir mountains while bullets are being sprayed at him, and all while trying to secure those damn plutonium orbs in under 15 minutes before the world blows the hell up.  Yes, there's an obligatory bomb countdown timer, but I didn't care.  My heart was racing too fast to care.  MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT contains some of the most dazzling and furiously paced action set pieces ever committed to celluloid.  Only the recently released MAD MAX: FURY ROAD has it beat. 

FALLOUT's supreme dedication to avoiding the pratfalls and reliance on artificial CGI trickery and instead employ practical stunts, practical sets, and a very game star being literally thrown into the lion's den is what sets this series well apart from other pale imitators.  I was exhausted exiting the screening, but also had a big dumb grin on my face.  I also shook my head a lot, seeing as I still - days after seeing it - cannot comprehend how sequels this late in the proverbial game can be as masterfully orchestrated as this.  MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT is the pre-eminent piece of blockbuster entertainment of the summer, one that wholeheartedly delivers on expected promises of pulse pounding action and international spy intrigue.  And it has most definitely set a ridiculously high benchmark as far as late franchise sequels go.  

James Bond really, really has his work cut out for him.  

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