There are several moments within the ticking clock plot of Mission: Impossible — Fallout where a heroic character will regurgitate the elaborate plan laying before them and add a key question about an incomplete or unclear portion of said plan. Each time, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt answers “I’ll figure it out” with an exasperating exhale and a raised brow of bewilderment. It is a weary reaction different from the cocky and confident swagger we are used to seeing from this daredevil character since 1996. It is also one matching our “how in the hell is he going pull that off” agape expressions before watching Cruise run, punch, kick, dive, drive, climb, dangle, fall, pilot, and crash his way through the obstacles he’s figuring out.
The question isn’t whether or not this represents Tom Cruise finally recognizing and showing his 56 years of age during this sixth franchise entry. As a quick comparison, the oldest any James Bond actor got was Roger Moore at 58 and 56 for A View to a Kill and Octopussy. Moore sure wasn’t running around and pulling off the stunts like these shown in Mission: Impossible — Fallout. The real question is whether age is ever going to stop Tom Cruise. The answer after this dazzling blockbuster is decidedly no. This guy could very well be doing this until he’s 86 at this point, with the same brisk and fearless flair. Like his Ethan Hunt’s job status, Cruise too may never be free of this role.
Even the credits of this movie show the accelerated pace (fastest I’ve ever seen those stars encircle the Paramount mountain) intended by Christopher McQuarrie, the first director in this franchise to write and helm a second film. Fallout springboards from Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation into the present. After the capture of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) two years ago, The Syndicate continues at large through the cells of leftover operatives that now call themselves “The Apostles.” They have become terror-for-hire and appear to be working at the whim of a unidentified heavy labeled with the alias of John Lark.
LESSON #1: “THE GREATER THE SUFFERING, THE GREATER THE PEACE” — That manifesto pull-quote is the aim of Lark and The Apostles. It’s ugly logic and costly logic, but still insanely true, not that anyone is going to take the villainous side from this movie or put this lesson on a campaign button (though you never can be too sure). Their destructive wrecking balls for such geopolitical calamity are three stolen plutonium warhead cores that have hit the black market controlled by the vampish White Widow (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby) and her armed muscle.
The Impossible Mission Force’s accepted task is to prevent the acquisition of those three nukes by any means necessary, something Hunt and his team (the returning Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg as Luther Stickell and Benji Dunn) have already failed to do once. That guilt and frequent nightmarish visions of Lane targeting Hunt’s undercover wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) have tightened Hunt’s fears and resolve. A threat this large and the connection to Lane brings out MI-6 spy Ilsa Faust (a returning Rebecca Ferguson) and high-level CIA involvement in the form of brutish asset and assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill).
LESSON #2: THE DIFFERENCES IN SPY GAME METHODS — Angela Bassett’s CIA Director chastises Alec Baldwin’s IMF Secretary Hunley to call the IMF “Halloween,” a silly game of masked dress-up devoid of rules and effectiveness. Hunt and Walker, the two henhouse roosters forced to work together represent the IMF’s scalpal versus the CIA’s hammer. Both can get the job done, it just depends on what mess or impact you want or are willing to allow.
That combination of slicing and bludgeoning matches the audacious action of Mission: Impossible — Fallout. The visuals are the bold blade while the soundscape is the blunt force. Relative newcomer cinematographer Rob Hardy (Ex Machina, Annihilation) seemingly puts his kinetic camera in the path of gun barrels, mountain peaks, car bumpers, ropes, and railings to put the audience dangling on the same edges as the characters. Composer Lorne Balfe (The LEGO Batman Movie) inserts the prerequisite Lalo Schifrin theme with his own blend of electronica and drums beats to pound the sense of urgency. The highest praise is earned by stunt coordinator and second unit director Wade Eastwood, working his fifth Tom Cruise venture. His outstanding practical stunt work and captured mayhem embodies the combination of cut and crush on display.
The wow factor will always bring eager action junkies to a Mission: Impossible film. This one earns your admission price and then some with some of the best set pieces, fight sequences, and chase scenes in the franchise’s history. It’s all pure finesse. Impressiveness notwithstanding, it’s the intelligent cleverness of each entry as a spy flick that keeps audiences coming back for seconds. This series has only gotten stronger thanks to the healthy spacing of releases, trajectory of continuity, and established character anchors started by producer J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III in 2006. This is no standalone. Make McQuarrie’s Rogue Nation appointment tailgating and required viewing for proper preparation.
Speaking of story, the double and triple crosses here in Fallout twist knives of both delight and contrivance, which is to be expected. Unfortunately, the trailers and advance marketing have given much away. Even putting that aside, the obvious twist and true antagonist reveal comes way too early, softening the sustainment of sizzle like a piece of gum whose flavor wears out by the end of the trip. When the “your own worst enemy” expression comes into play in the movie, it could also point to the overall experience itself. The stunts are so good they succeed at the expense of having a tighter sense of surprises.
LESSON #3: THE KIND OF PERSON WHO CHOOSES TO SAVE ONE LIFE OVER MILLIONS — We’ve seen this loyalty from Ethan Hunt for six films now, but the virtuous character trait continues to shine. On the statistical paper of his unfortunate profession, Hunt’s decisions to save his friends and teammates over the threats that could wipe out entire populations looks like selfish ones when, in essence, they are the more honorable choices. Face it. He’s the “spy with a heart of gold” cliche. Deep down, he’s doing all of this for a girl.
LESSON #4: HOPE IS A STRATEGY — One of the revealed antagonists is quick to tell Hunt how “hope” is not a sufficient strategy in espionage versus reliable intelligence and well-structured plans. However, call him lucky as hell, but the documented results from the secret agent who’s been called a “gambler” and the “living manifestation of destiny” in previous films shows just how effective hope can be. Without it, apathy beats the empathy of the previous lesson of saving lives.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#714)