As in every other “Mission: Impossible” film, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” features terrific set piece after terrific set piece, surrounded by dialogue, characters and plot that vanish from memory at the speed of Tom Cruise‘s arm-pumping sprints. Individually, they’re the kind of action scenes that any other franchise would be proud to build their entire movie around and call it a day, but they never quite reach the heights of the series best, like “Rogue Nation‘s” plane sequence or the jaw-dropping skyscraper spectacle of “Ghost Protocol.”
That is, until its climax. The cinematic equivalent of multiple orgasms, ‘Fallout’s final act features wave after wave of breathless action with callouts to previous films in the franchise and utterly batshit crazy moments, cutting between our heroes in various locations as they try to stop the villains, repeatedly upping the ante and the ridiculousness.
But the latest film, a direct sequel to the last one, isn’t all action. ‘Fallout’ bests its predecessors in actually creating a coherent plot, albeit not entirely original (not that that’s what we’re here for). And its McGuffin isn’t even really a McGuffin – it’s plutonium. Anyone who follows the news (and isn’t making it via Twitter rants) immediately understands the real-life dangers inherent in villains having access to nuclear weapons; this isn’t some object whose implications are unclear or is just made up to serve the plot of a spy movie. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) jets across the globe, going from Paris to London and beyond in the attempt to secure the plutonium and keep it out of the hands of a group of terrorists who call themselves The Apostles, disciples of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris playing the antagonist from ‘Rogue Nation‘) and his now-splintered Syndicate.
With each film prior to “Fallout,” the “Mission: Impossible” series has offered a new director’s take on Hunt and the IMF, but the sixth outing is the first to repeat both a director – Christopher McQuarrie – and the aforementioned villain. He’s in league with The Apostles, and it’ll require all of Hunt’s talents to save the world from destruction, along with help from forced-upon-him CIA agent August Walker (Henry Cavill), Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg). Elsa (Rebecca Ferguson) and Hunley (Alec Baldwin) return, though it’s initially unclear what their part will be in Hunt’s mission.
Cruise’s Hunt has at once never been more human and more superhuman. ‘Fallout’ revolves around his fallibility, with a choice he makes early on that puts the entire world on the line and smaller moments where he’s getting beaten up, falling or simply failing. There’s also even more of an emphasis by McQuarrie’s script on Hunt’s personal and professional relationships and how they affect what he does for a living, but it’s admittedly relative texture. But Hunt (and Cruise) still has seemingly unending stamina, performing feats of strength and speed that are just silly. Even though we can’t possibly believe what he’s doing, whether it’s free climbing a rock face (again) or speeding past landmarks on a motorcycle (again), it’s all a blast for the audience. There’s a delirious joy in watching this much action, this well executed at every level, from Cruise and the cast (and their stunt doubles) to McQuarrie.
To mix things up visually from ‘Rogue Nation,’ the director switches his director of photography from Robert Elswit to Rob Hardy for this go-round. Hardy has previously worked with Alex Garland on “Annihilation” and “Ex Machina,” and while ‘Fallout’ isn’t as gorgeous as those films, he ably captures the scope and scale, whether he’s careening through Parisian alleys or tumbling over remote mountains. Though McQuarrie initially gained fame as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Usual Suspects,” the dialogue is the weak point of the film. It’s easy to overlook, sandwiched between car chases and said by talented actors (particularly Cavill, his mustache and the underused Angela Bassett), but it thuds on screen with far less grace than the athletic stars who are saddled with it.
By the time most franchises hit their sixth film, there’s a sense of been-there, done-that and a lack of inventiveness and energy, but “Mission: Impossible” is the rare exception that repeats itself and still provides ample relentless thrills. Sure, they’ve been to Paris and London before and we’ve seen Hunt in similarly tight situations, but pure adrenaline-powered exhilaration overpowers the faults of familiarity. Fights are visceral, and we feel every punch (especially Cavill’s double-barreled pump-action punches). The car and motorcycle chases leave us panting, and a dazzling aerial sequence feels like the visceral terror of falling out of a plane. In choosing between going big or going home, ‘Fallout’ absolutely goes for broke. Sure, it’s mission implausible, but for those that appreciate the hyperbolic fireworks of this series you should experience it on as a gigantic a screen as possible. Yes, ‘Fallout’ is bonkers and you’ll want to be caught in its preposterous, but intense blast radius. [B]