This is the best Mission Impossible film since the first one and that’s now the fourth time you’ve heard that.
Going against the grain in more ways than one, super-agent Ethan Hunt’s escapades are not only getting better with successive instalments (save of course the first sequel) but, converse to just about every other Hollywood franchise, showcasing progressively shorter gaps between entries. Going from a six-year hiatus between Mi2 and Mi3 to five, then four, then three, the change of pace befits and reflects the series’ transition from anthology action to a set of straightforward sequels.
The same can be said for the recruitment of the series’ now first-time returning Director Christopher McQuarrie, who has tried crafting something closer to the original’s style and sensibility than any other sequel. Picking up with “The Syndicate’s” efforts to subvert world order, Rogue Nation’s troupe of rogue super-spies, now known collectively as ‘The Apostles,’ are hatching all sorts of dastardly plans, because destruction and chaos will beget a better future, or something. Think Ghost Protocol, the League of Shadows, Inferno, whatever.
Henry Cavill joins proceedings moustache in tow, his CIA Agent proving more than an adequate counter to Cruise’s Impossible Missions Force veteran. Kicking off an extended second act with a HALO jump, this first of innumerable exciting sequences signals the commencement of what is just about as close as any film has come to a recreation of the beloved Spy vs. Spy serial. Contending with a myriad of shady figures, multiple identities, double-crossing, triple-crossing and reveal upon reveal, the littered illustrations that would have constituted Fallout’s plotting are a joy to behold in a breathless, consummate hour-plus of action story-telling.
And it is action story-telling to be sure with Fallout, with few exceptions, permitting it’s blustering sequences to evolve naturally from proceedings or character interactions, rather than feeling the need to summarily insert shooting because there hadn’t been any for a while. Certainly the case for the initial encounter between Hunt and Cavill’s Walker, the rivalry as they launch from the plane into a thunderstorm tells us all we need to know about these characters and a dynamic which thrillingly persists.
As for the action, reliably excellent throughout, it is a pleasure to see Cruise at work knowing that it is actually Cruise, whether it be him running around London landmarks, engaged in brutal hand-to-hand combat in a bathroom or hanging off a helicopter as it perilously chases another through a ravine.
Comparable in style and story to much explosive fare, among them The Dark Knight and some modern-era Bond flicks, curiously Fallout is markedly similar to Spectre; not just for the heated return of a frazzled antagonist but for it’s blatant and none-too-blatant hark-backs to earlier iterations. Packing an early scene eerily similar to how we were first introduced to Hunt all those years ago, an elegant allusion to the first movie is also the centre-piece of an arresting sequence that no doubt took inspiration from John Wick and its assassin-heavy sequel in an entry that more than any other seeks to reckon with it’s precursors while attempting to emulate the series’ still greatest triumph.
Mission Impossible was the first action film I ever saw and more than any other opened up for this author, and no doubt many others, a world of phenomenal heart-pounding action extravaganzas. Fallout’s greatest asset and vice is simply that it has a script, co-written by McQuarrie, beseeming Brian De Palma and his early vision here handled by a Director content to sacrifice the semblances of that master’s intensity for needless levity.
For all the faults of the hapless Mi2, and there are many, it at least stuck to the mettle of the first and the sincere, singularly tension-filled adrenaline-heavy bearings that so recommended it. There’s nothing wrong with a film least of all a thriller being self-serious, with the series following J.J Abrams advents in Mi3, here returning as Producer, pivoting to encroaching comedy and occasionally light irony. Fairly this was done to at least tacitly account for the unavoidable and increasing incredulity which later came to characterise the likes of serial death defiers ala James Bond, Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne and fairly Dominic Toretto; anathema to a series that still relies on Hunt being a nominally grounded character. Having said this, as Cruise’s ever-endearing Hunt, now in his sixth outing, evolved from a relatively fallible figure to a performer of any and all death-defying theatrics the series both delivered some of it’s best moments and lost what at the very outset De Palma rendered so stylistically distinct.
Consider the train sequence in Mission Impossible where we first meet Ving Rhames’ Luther, or any encounter with Jon Voight’s or Vanessa Redgrave’s marvellous creations; all are littered with confounding and wholly unrealistic dialogue that worked ideally in the world De Palma built. Identically stylised dialogue appears in several sequences in Fallout, whether it be in reunions with Rogue Nation veterans among them the excellent though underused Rebecca Ferguson, or The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby doing a spot-on impression of, well, someone famous.
Bookended by tonally divergent comic stylings in the likes of both the terribly miscast Simon Pegg and Alec Baldwin and absent the original’s noir-ish self-confidence, the injections of humour clash terribly with the stylings McQuarrie has otherwise pursued and those abounding action sequences that don’t let up. At one point a character quips “don’t make me laugh” – advice the filmmakers should have taken more measuredly.
This is not to say that the first film did not have humour; far from it, there’s a light, very memorable sequence as Hunt goads Jean Reno’s tough-guy over a disc he thinks is in his possession, and of course there’s any scene involving Max. In Fallout it’s comparatively forced and never as endemic to proceedings, with Hunt wholly pausing before an anticipated stunt to proclaim to Pegg’s Benji that he’s going to jump out of a window, as if the act of doing so wasn’t enough to fixate us or required an acknowledgement that this is all just a bit preposterous.
Yes, of course it’s preposterous; we’re not here in spite of action that we know is improbable, we’re here because of it and to see Cruise perform stunts barely any star of his calibre will even attempt. We don’t, nor have we ever needed constant reminders that the filmmakers are in on the shtick and don’t really think someone can pull all this off. An apparent drawback of now the last four entries, the undue levity has the added effect of breaking up that tension otherwise so well evinced. In the first movie and that now iconic bullet train sequence, De Palma at least waited until after everything literally ground to a halt following ten breathless minutes to allow the conductor to faint and let us have a chuckle. As good as Fallout is, there’s no such sustained excitement here and hasn’t been for now twenty-two years.
Mission Impossible: Fallout is in cinemas from August 2