REVIEW – ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’

Over 20 years ago (!), Tom Cruise brought us the first chapter of a franchise nobody ever expected to last. After a bit of a misstep with the sequel (sorry, I know it has its supporters, but it’s an overbloated mess) and disappointing box office result from the third film, many assumed it may be the last we’d seen of Ethan Hunt. Thankfully, Paramount stuck with this franchise, and thank god they did. With Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth film of this saga, they’ve delivered one of the greatest action films of all time and one of the best and most enjoyable movies of the year. Yep. It’s that good.

It’s a genuine rarity to see a franchise improve with each chapter, let alone arrive at its high point with its sixth offering. But the Mission: Impossible franchise just gets better and more ridiculously entertaining with age. Just like Cruise, the series has become one of the most reliable properties in Hollywood. Each film has delivered more insane thrills and delicious action than its predecessor, yet never feels overdone or contrite. In bang for your buck terms, this may be the most solid return on your admission price all year. Can you tell I had an outrageously fun time with this film?

Normally with action films, the plot is rather superfluous to the action. But one of this franchise’s brilliant calling cards has been its determination to spin a narrative so overloaded with complications and exposition, it makes your head spin. Carrying on from Rogue Nation (it’s not essential to have seen the fifth instalment but it sure helps), Fallout begins with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his trusty sidekick Benji Dunn (a fabulous Simon Pegg) attempting to gain possession of three missing plutonium orbs. The dangerous spheres are in the hands of rogue MI6 agent Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the former leader of the villainous group known as The Syndicate.

After the events of the previous film left The Syndicate in ruins, Solomon now leads the remaining members the organisation, calling them his “Apostles,” who are hell-bent on causing mass-destruction around the globe so a new world order can rise up. During the botched operation, Ethan is forced to choose between saving his perennial wingman Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) or taking ownership of the nuclear material. As has always been his one fatal character flaw, Ethan chooses the life of the ones he loves over the lives of potentially millions. While this decision sits well with IMF boss Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), it incurs the wrath of new CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett).

Seeing Ethan’s actions as wildly uncontrollable, Erica sends her “fixer” August Walker (a scene-stealing Henry Cavill) to accompany Ethan on the mission to locate Solomon alive and recover the stolen orbs. More importantly, August is strictly instructed to keep a close eye on Ethan’s every move, clouding his true intentions and allegiances. Complicating matters is the return of MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebeca Ferguson), who has been ordered to eliminate Solomon in order to restore her reputation with the British spy organisation, thus burying the secret of The Syndicate’s existence.

Adding to the complicated mix is a mysterious deal-broker named the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), a wealthy femme fatale with a knack for black market arms dealing and a particular interest in Ethan, who is posing to her as an Apostle named John Lark. As the mission to locate Solomon takes Ethan and his crew around the globe, it becomes increasingly likely not everything is as it seems and someone is potentially playing both sides. But just who is playing who? And who can Ethan really trust when the fate of the world is at stake?

If this plot sounds horrendously complex, you’re not wrong. It’s a dizzying maze filled with double-crosses, hidden agendas, and, of course, a swag of those infamous and franchise-staple uber-realistic masks. Sure, its stakes aren’t exactly the most original. The “uh oh, a terrorist group has a bunch of nukes” action movie trope has been done dozens and dozens of times before. But it’s a minor quibble in a film that gets everything else so perfectly right. The zig-zagging narrative continually keeps you guessing, leaving the audience superbly entertained. The misdirections are all perfectly and intelligently executed and they’re only elevated by the film’s utterly jaw-dropping action sequences.

With a pace that barely ever stops to take a breath (or allow you to collect yours), Mission: Impossible – Fallout is genuinely one of the best action films there has ever been. Director Christopher McQuarrie’s decision to essentially make the film one giant whirlwind trip around the globe is utterly magic, managing to drop the action into the most dazzling of backdrops. We get a madcap dash across some London rooftops (featuring Cruise’s infamous ankle-breaking leap which is left untouched in the film and genuinely painful to watch), a heart-pounding Ronin-esque car chase through the streets of Paris, a spectacularly brutal hand-to-hand fight inside the pristine white bathroom of a Paris nightclub, a skydiving sequence where Ethan and August literally leap right into the middle of a lightning storm, and the Kasmir-based (well, it’s actually New Zealand) finale featuring a chaotic helicopter showdown and plenty of heart-racing cliff-climbing.

McQuarrie proved himself a master of capturing these sensational sequences in the previous film, but he really ups the game here, delivering set pieces unlike any we’ve seen in 2018. This makes anything Marvel has dished up look tame by comparison, particularly with McQuarrie and Cruise’s insistence on using practical stunt work generally performed by the actor himself. Cruise is clearly having an absolute ball filming every single ridiculous scenario, creating moments which feel completely authentic and utterly terrifying. We know Ethan is going to make it through each calamity, but McQuarrie crafts each piece with such nail-biting tension, it’s somehow hard not to expect the worst. With every near-death experience, there were plenty of gasps in my cinema, including a few elicited from yours truly.

Every moment in Mission: Impossible – Fallout is entirely earned. By mostly ignoring the use of green screens and digital wizardry, the astonishing physical effects feel entirely human with genuine risk and danger presented for the audience’s entertainment. It’s what made Mad Max: Fury Road such a sublime visceral experience and it’s the same masterstroke of genius on display here. You’ll hear this a lot, but you really do need to seek out the biggest screen possible on which to view this film. It’s an enveloping rollercoaster that you will not want to end, despite it’s rather mammoth running time. McQuarrie keeps the film moving at such a breakneck speed, you will barely notice you’ve been sitting in your chair for over two hours.

Backed by an impeccable supporting cast, Cruise shines like always, managing to completely eliminate any trace of that period of time when he became somewhat of a Hollywood pariah. His enthusiasm and energy for this role have not diminished one iota and he’s so completely relaxed in Ethan’s skin. In a career of iconic performances, it’s highly likely this will be the one we remember most fondly. We’ve seen him hurl himself around like this six times now, yet it’s still thrilling to watch him take his intensity to an entirely new level. His camaraderie with Pegg and Rhames is once-again beautifully genuine. His rivalry with Cavill is absolutely delicious. And his chemistry with Ferguson is downright electric. It’s a terrific ensemble treat where every cast member is matching Cruise’s unrelenting commitment. If this is to be his swansong as Ethan Hunt, he’s going out on a high.

At a time when sequel and tentpole exhaustion is at an all-time high, it’s decidedly refreshing to find a sequel hitting such an impressive home run. McQuarrie has crafted a follow-up that takes everything that’s great about this franchise and strives to push further. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is everything a giant summer blockbuster should be, and then some. It’s a non-stop thrill ride that entertains like nothing else has this year, thus far. It’s the perfect blend of action and narrative that makes for such joyful cinema. Accept this mission and have an absolute ball.

Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Wes Bentley, Frederick Schmidt, Michelle Monaghan, Alec Baldwin
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie
Producers: Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, Jake Myers, J.J. Abrams
Cinematography: Rob Hardy
Production Design: Peter Wenham

Music: Lorne Balfe
Editor: Eddie Hamilton
Running Time: 144 minutes
Release Date: 2nd August 2018 (Australia)