The Mission Impossible franchise has been an on-and-off staple of the action genre for my entire life essentially. Ever since my days as young child, Tom Cruise has been jumping on moving trains, wearing masks and getting punched in the face. And despite the series’ ongoing commitment to putting Tom Cruise through the ringer, I must admit that it wasn’t until the fourth entry (MI: Ghost Protocol) that it won me over and solidified my fan status. Ever since then, the franchise has embraced a kind of sure-footed action-fueled mania combined with humour and levity topped off with a committed lead actor and ensemble cast that made it hard to dismiss. In addition, these efforts allowed the series to join the select ranks of a few recent action franchises, that like the titular lead, does not show its age but instead seems to get better and more potent over time. Does MI: Fallout return to echo this trend or pull off its mask to reveal a broken and tired series?
An aspect that already sets this sequel apart is the fact that the series returns and follows closely on the story set up in the preceding installment unlike any of the previous films. Since dismantling the Syndicate (a network of rogue operatives from different countries) by arresting ringleader Solomon Lane in the previous film, the anarchic organisation is still thriving but under a new moniker – namely The Apostles. The organisation is seemingly under new management and led by an unidentified person named John Lark. Lark and The Apostles (great band name) are seeking out Plutonium cores in order to build devastating nuclear weapons (again) and it’s up to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team to stop this from happening (again). However, after a mission in Venice goes belly-up and the Plutonium falls into the wrong hands, it is a race against time to get it back. The CIA however doesn’t trust Hunt to enter the field or execute the mission without supervision (again) and decides to send a new agent named August Walker (played by Henry Cavill) to keep an eye on the proceedings. This installment also features a whole host of returning characters including Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) and even Ethan Hunt’s wife played by Michelle Monaghan. (Although the roster is sadly missing Jeremy Renner’s great character).
Admittedly, the story setup described above is a far cry from formula-breaking. But in all honesty, deep down we always knew that the particular plot of any Mission Impossible film has never been the beating heart of the series. That being said, they give it a good go in this installment, offering a lot of intrigue and character turns befitting of an action film with spy operatives for lead characters. Each character has particular motivations and the machinations that unfold as the operatives try to outsmart and outthink the opposition does offer moments of interest and fun. But be warned: the story does ask the audience to pay attention quite carefully throughout the film.
The story chugs along quite nicely as the film proceeds but about two thirds in, the film presents a rather large amount of exposition and plot beats that were slightly convoluted and frankly a little rushed. This muddled midpoint is a drawback for sure, but it does the film one big favour: it essentially wraps up the story for the denouement. In my mind this was an inspired choice for setting up the final act of the film, free from loose threads or unnecessary baggage and allows the finale to take place in all its unadulterated, action-filled glory.
And boy, the action is good. Several of the setpieces in this film easily rival some of the best scenes that the preceding installments had to offer and in some instances even completely outdoes the previous entries. (Although for my money, the Burj Khalifa scene from MI:Ghost Protocol remains a favourite.) The film does seem to forego some of its action-centered focus throughout the first and second act to further some plot elements and the action scenes in this part of the film specifically, whilst expertly handled, does not feel like anything new. But as I said, the story pretty much wraps up in act two and leaves act three to run wild. And the finale of this film truly is nail-biting, breathtaking stuff, stretching almost an hour of the films runtime. Even by today’s oversaturated action standards, it manages to set-up scenarios that feel fresh, sequences that are truly tense and character journeys that feel earned and satisfying.
A nod has to be given to director McQuarrie’s steady and sure-fire handling of the action direction and cinematography. I have never found this particular director to have much of an authorial signature when it comes to filmmaking – his authorial signature seems very matter-of-fact and clinical, almost non-existent really. However, in MI: Fallout, the director manages to use that to his advantage by composing action sequences that are well-framed and expertly blocked. This allows the audience to follow every single action and reaction on screen. He knows what to show the audience at the right times to allow each action sequence to unfold and deliver in satisfying ways. The clean and composed cinematography combined with a focus on actual stunt work by Cruise makes the action feel invigorating and involving. The action is ridiculous but so well-shot and choreographed that it completely draws you in.
This film and the action would have no grounding if there wasn’t at least some characters to get invested in. Sure, the characterisation of MI series has never been outstanding, but the last few entries have seen the series investing in the same returning characters and efforts at adding depth to the main character. Although not necessarily a hallmark of the series, this effort definitely pays some dividends here. With the returning cast the film and the history of the franchise stretching out behind them, this film takes offers some callbacks and some sentimental character moments that will probably satisfy long-time fans of the series. The new additions like Cavill are also interesting in their own right and fit right into the series. Overall there seemed to be a real effort to tie up the mythology of the series in a coherent manner and give each character their own satisfying moments.
One also can’t address the characters without referring to the villain in the film. Historically, the antagonists of the MI series have always been a little flat (possibly barring Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the third installment). In MI: Fallout the antagonist essentially gains credibility by proxy simply as a result of the fact that this film tries to build directly on its predecessors. The historical weight added to the villain does effectively heighten the emotional stakes in the film and there is a sense of satisfaction that the film gains in its final act as a result of that. The antagonist won’t go down in history as one of the greatest villains ever put to screen but it certainly was a step up from almost any other entry in the franchise.
So where does that leave us? Essentially, MI:Fallout is one of the best action films I have ever seen. The action is superbly directed and shot. The set pieces continuously put the characters through their paces and leave you on the edge of your seat. The finale of this film is an action masterclass. The film is not flawless by any means but any critiques are far outweighed by just how much damn fun this film is. After all these years, it is still exciting seeing Ethan Hunt mercilessly throwing himself into each dangerous situation and taking on the most impossible mission of them all. I just have to add that this film features some of the most premium Tom Cruise RunningTM I have seen on screen to date. That alone deserves the admission price in my mind. This film is absolutely recommended. Go and see this film on an IMAX screen if you can – it truly benefits from the format. I give this a film a hook to the left eye out of ten.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is in cinemas from 27 July 2018.
Emerging artist and lecturer working in South Africa. Interested in messes, horror, existentialism and the creative process. Ink is my spirit medium.