Under most circumstances, the sixth film in a series that began over 20 years ago should not be one of the most entertaining, action packed films of the year. Yet here is Mission: Impossible – Fallout, happy to buck the trend. Where most films show signs of fatigue or a misunderstanding of their core audience, the Mission: Impossible films show no indication of letting down. Compared to the likes of the Fast & Furious franchise, these are master classes on the fundamentals of thrilling adventure serials that don’t rely on “dumb fun” to succeed. Make no mistake about it, flicks like Fallout are exactly why millions started flocking to multiplexes in the summer. Pure entertainment doesn’t get much better than this.
More than the last two films, Fallout works beautifully as a full-fledged sequel to 2015’s Rogue Nation. This streamlined approach helps introduce what few new characters there are. This includes new CIA director (Angela Bassett) and her seemingly loyal lapdog, Agent Walker (Henry Cavill). Cavill asserts himself early on, as Walker is a hulking, blunt instrument, sent in to get the job done, as quickly possible, the fewer witnesses or survivors, the better. On the other hand, ageless IMF agent Ethan Hunt takes a more cavalier and showy approach. When their fists eventually meet, it’s just as brutal as could be hoped. Bringing them together is the nation’s big bad. Since being captured, Solomon Lane’s (Sean Harris) Syndicate organization has almost entirely been dismantled. The few surviving lieutenants have now regrouped under a new name, “The Apostles.” Unfortunately for everyone, they’re hellbent on detonating nuclear devices in the world’s holiest location, in the name of “peace.”
Look past the long winded, semi-nonsensical plot and it’s easy to see what Fallout‘s most valuable asset is: Cruise himself. Say what you will about the man away from the camera, but he absolutely explodes on the screen. Rarely has a talent that combines physicality and charisma been captured on the screen, which is great, since that’s essentially what these films coast off of. Fallout works sufficiently as a great Mission: Impossible entry and also as the closing piece of a quartet, that started with M:I 3.
While many may argue shortcomings of the third film, it is essential in laying the groundwork for everything that comes after. Not only did Cruise’s Ethan receive a soft-reboot of sorts, but his collaboration with J.J. Abrams provided the ability for the films to get bigger, better and more insane with each outing. The same goes for returning director Christopher McQuarrie. Having teamed with Cruise multiple times times over a few years, he’s come to understand exactly how best to use the mega star’s skill set. In return, Cruise has someone in his corner who will back him up when he informs Paramount how he’d next like to attempt to kill himself.
The focus on Ethan’s humanity works better here than in Abram’s contribution, partially because the action dictates it, but also because the audience has comes to care for Ethan and his compatriots. Fan favorites Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) return, but it’s Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust whose reappearance is most important. Ilsa, as evidenced in Rogue Nation, is the perfect foil for Ethan. Deadly, forthright and tenacious, there’s not much that he can do, that she can’t do better, or more efficiently. Ferguson brings a welcome complexity to Ilsa, a feat in a franchise that’s happier to dispatch stock caricatures than embrace compelling characters. It’s also easy to sympathize with her journey and moral uncertainty, seeing how her former partner, Lane, ended up.
At this point, most audiences are showing up to see how the franchise’s life force will top the stunts of the last picture. In that strange way, Cruise has fashioned himself into America’s version of Jackie Chan. Yet as that wunderkind of the stunt world has pulled back in recent years, Cruise just amps up his work. That’s what makes Fallout such a joy to behold. In a day where digital threatens everything practical, having an audience feel that peril is real, is tantamount. Halo jumps. Motorcycle chase through Paris. Helicopter battles. Cliff climbing. Superb hand to hand combat. You name it, it’s here and it will keep you glued to the screen, ready to eat up whatever comes next.
None of this is to suggest that Fallout wouldn’t be riveting if stripped of stunts, just that regardless the effort, story is always second fiddle to spectacle here. The later the film is in the franchise, the better chance the action far surpasses the insanity of their plots. Fallout works by juggling a larger and yet smaller scale. Ethan must again prevent global catastrophe, but here his best intentions are what set things in motion. It’s a testament to Cruise’s commitment that he treats these small revelations with the same impact he does dangling hundreds of feet off the ground, holding onto a rope attached to a helicopter.
There are a fair number of problems, potholes, inconsistencies, missteps, faults, and what have you throughout the story. All of it is moot. Here is a film that runs roughshod over its weaker pieces, while willingly acknowledging that they exist. Several times in the two-and-a-half that elapse on-screen, people question if Ethan has even the rudimentary beginnings of a plan. Each time, increasingly more and more out of breath, he replies “I’m working on it.” It’s hard to fault that kind of gusto, specially one that provides an nearly ceaseless amount of action and adventure. Mission: Impossible – Fallout may not be the greatest film ever made, but it may just be one of the most entertaining, at least in a long time.