9.5 out of 10
Tom Cruise – Ethan Hunt
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
I don’t normally review movies like this, but on the Bladder Scale™, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is pretty punishing, because there is never a moment in the film where you can take a break to go. From frame one, this movie moves at a breakneck pace, but it also knows when to stop and collect itself and give us the bits of character and plot that we need. Then it’s off to the races again, all over the map – Belfast, London, Paris, Kashmir, a few other places. The action is unrelenting, giving us terrific sequences on a level and scale that we haven’t seen in years. There are a lot of comparisons to Mad Max: Fury Road in quality, and not to sound hyperbolic, but there are moments here that recall great Spielberg action at its best. There is a chase sequence here that seems to last forever (in a good way) that rivals the intensity and excitement of the Truck Chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s an all-timer, and that isn’t even the biggest set piece of the film. This movie is a juggernaut.
Is it the best of the series? Time will tell on that I’m still thinking it over, but I feel like it might be. Right now I’m flipping between this and Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol, but what Ghost Protocol has going against it is that its best sequence is right in the middle of the film, and Fallout continues to top itself until its insane finale. The film also has the advantage of giving us, at last, some exploration and depth into the character of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).
Before I get people all riled up, I’ve never really felt that Ethan Hunt was all that great of a character. We rarely see him in stillness. We rarely get an impression of his motivations or what makes him tick. Mission: Impossible 3 addresses this somewhat, but that film may be the weakest one in the series (I have a soft spot for Mission: Impossible 2, which is directed by John Woo like he’s being chased himself, and while the movie is spectacularly dumb, it’s dumb in that Fast and Furious way that makes it enjoyable). Mission: Impossible – Fallout manages to build character while never really stopping except in key moments of exposition. We finally get a look at who Ethan Hunt is under the hood, and it’s long overdue.
Tom Cruise leaves it all on film in this movie. He holds nothing back, and by the end of the movie, we’re as exhausted as he seems to be. Doing almost all of his own stunts, Cruise can’t fake the fear and determination in his face as he hangs from the bottom of a helicopter, or jumps from building to building, or commits himself to every physical exertion he can. And yet, we get a sense of what drives Ethan Hunt a little bit, beginning early on when Hunt makes a choice and his choice causes serious problems with world events. The Syndicate still exists, even though leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) has been captured, and Hunt, Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) are tasked to retrieve nuclear material that could be used by the Syndicate’s splinter group, The Apostles, to wreak devastation on the world. But Hunt and his team lose the material, which causes head of the CIA Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett), over the protests of head of the Impossible Mission Force Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), to bring in the big guns in the form of her agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) to help secure the plutonium. Also in play is Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), tasked with MI6 with her own mission. Of course, this is a Mission: Impossible movie, which means nothing is as it seems, and no one’s loyalties are clear.
Christopher McQuarrie is the first director in this franchise to return, and for those going in, this is a direct sequel to the evens of Rogue Nation. While you don’t have to revisit all of the films in the series to get a bead on this one, there are quite a few callbacks to the previous films (even 2!). If you’re going to revisit any of them, you should watch Rogue Nation beforehand. As an action director, McQuarrie has never been better, and he was already a hell of a writer before this, if you’re at all familiar with the genuine classics in his roster. The craftwork behind Fallout is first-rate, with brilliant cinematography by Rob Hardy and editing by Eddie Hamilton. The stunt teams involved should get an honorary Oscar on their own (and why we don’t have stunt work Oscars is beyond me, but I’m sure this film would win hands down).
All the supporting work is outstanding – Simon Pegg’s Benji may not be the most skilled field agent, but he has a lot of heart. So does Ving Rhames, and there is a wonderful moment where Rhames is surprisingly emotional as he describes his loyalty to his friend Ethan. We also get Rebecca Ferguson returning, and the filmmakers were very wise to bring her back. She was a terrific character in the fifth filme, and she’s just as extraordinary here. Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, and Sean Harris play their roles nicely, and I really love the emotion that Baldwin brings to it this time. And then there is Henry Cavill, who feels like the first character in this franchise that gives Ethan Hunt serious competition in capability. Hunt may be older and a little wiser, but physically, Walker has it all over him, which makes for some very intense moments. Watching Cruise and Cavill together is a real treat, and they were wise to cast him.
But for me, this series lives and breathes with Ethan Hunt, and I am happy to say that to me we finally get an Ethan Hunt that is truly compelling. I enjoy the Mission: Impossible films, but my chief complaint has always been that Hunt has always been a character that things happen to, rather than one that makes choices. Hunt makes choices here, and those choices are motivated by real emotion, fear, and drive. This makes Ethan Hunt much more heroic this time out – he’s fighting for a purpose, and his love and loyalty to his team and others is paramount to the mission, and that gives him an edge that Cruise makes us feel. I also love that Cruise, perhaps for the first time, lets us know that he’s feeling his age a little bit – his exasperated looks to his team as they happily send him off on another chase are priceless, and during the film’s breathtaking climax, Cruise gives us an Ethan Hunt that may, at last, have reached his physical limits. Indestructible action heroes don’t make for riveting cinema, and Cruise never plays him that way.
Yes, Fallout is a bit long, but there isn’t a wasted moment in it, and I certainly couldn’t say how you can lose anything without losing the pace or the intensity. So you may want to rethink that large soda, because once you strap in to Mission: Impossible – Fallout, you’re in for the whole shebang. This is why we go to summer movies – to be thrilled, moved, and awed. Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, this is the best entertainment of the summer, and I’m hard pressed to think how any sequels will be able to top it. I’m very excited to see them try.