It would seem impossible, but the “Mission: Impossible” film franchise keeps getting better and better. For 22 years now, Paramount Pictures has produced one excellent action film after another in this series, and the latest entry may be their best actioner yet. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” delivers the most thrills, the highest level of tension, and the greatest number of “How the hell did they do that?” action sequences of any of the “M: I” films so far. As if that’s not miraculous enough, its leading man is the 56-year-old Tom Cruise and he’s still giving this series his absolute all. He runs, jumps, hangs from the rafters and performs one amazing stunt after another. Impossible? Incredible.
In this outing, Cruise’s spy character Ethan Hunt spearheads one of the Impossible Mission Force’s most dangerous assignments. A terrorist organization called “The Apostles” is threatening nuclear proliferation if their anarchist leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is not released pronto. The Apostles will return the three stolen plutonium warhead cores they’ve stolen upon his safe return. Hunt’s team, including venerable supporting players Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg), arrange a go-between to get their hands on the warhead cores first, but they’re double-crossed at the exchange by an unknown player. The nukes are now loose while IMF team licks their wounds, and that inspires CIA chief Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett) to send in one of her own to chaperone the IMF team’s rescue mission.
Hunt doesn’t like being babysat, especially from a macho thug like CIA agent Walker (Henry Cavill, in that serious mustache you’ve heard so much about.) The two Alpha Males don’t trust each other, and their conflict makes for truly delicious tension in every single scene they have together. Nonetheless, they must find a way to bond for the sake of the mission, and soon Hunt is posing as an arms dealer to sidle up to a black marketer named White Widow with Walker in tow. The Widow is played with coy charisma by Vanessa Kirby from “The Crown” and she still has her regal bearings even though she’s playing a crook here.
Adding further complications to the rescue mission are the plethora of thugs that the White Widow employs, and they don’t trust Hunt et al. either. Making a perfect storm is the inclusion of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), their MI-6 counterpart from the last movie. She shows up with a vendetta against terrorist Lane and Hunt doesn’t know if she can be trusted. Is she on the allies’ side or has she gone rogue? What’s Walker’s real role in the mission? And what angle is Alec Baldwin’s Hunley playing, especially since he was CIA in the last film before taking over the IMF?
All these untrustworthy characters trying to work together makes for exciting, tense, and drolly funny interplay. This outing is almost as entertaining while they’re all standing around arguing as it is when they are running around and saving the world. However, the set pieces are truly a cut above the quality one finds even in this fantastic franchise. In fact, in set piece after exciting set piece, audiences will be blown away by how adroitly conceived and choreographed they all are. They’re complex, take place in busy locations, and deliver maximum thrills throughout.
A fist fight in a nightclub bathroom turns into a bare-knuckled brawl that would make John Wick envious. A rooftop chase turns into a thrilling obstacle course for Hunt, rendered all the more impressive by its use of London locales and Cruise’s acrobatic leaps and bounds. And an extended car chase through the streets of Paris is as amazing for all its different twists and turns on the streets as it is in the cat and mouse plotting with players turning against each other on a dime. (I’m sorry, Franc.)
Yet, the best is saved for the last 30 minutes when McQuarrie literally employs a ticking clock and sets up an actual cliffhanger for his story’s climax. Again, most of what we’re watching onscreen occurs in real locations, not in make-believe green screens filmed in a contained studio. This all looks incredibly real, and most of it definitely is. That includes Cruise doing things like climbing up a rope hundreds of feet above the ground to hijack a flying helicopter. Granted, he’s probably supported by wires that have been taken out in post, but he’s still hovering way above the landscape. Few stars would ever endeavor to do something so dangerous, but it makes this franchise all the more fun because its leading man relishes such challenges.
There’s something remarkably old school about the way the “Mission: Impossible” movies tell their tales, and with McQuarrie they’ve hit pay dirt with a filmmaker who truly loves utilizing as many non-CGI, in-camera effects as he can. He also finds exceedingly clever ways to revisit some of the franchise’s most beloved tropes, especially the schtick of an agent pulling off his or her mask and revealing their true identity. If you thought it was a hoot to see Cruise wear a Philip Seymour Hoffman mask in “Mission: Impossible 3”, just wait till you see who Pegg’s Benji masquerades as in an early scene here. The celebrity cameo is not only hilarious, but it actually works seamlessly into the narrative.
Cruise is great throughout, mining cheeky humor when he continually assures his crew that he’s got a backup plan when things go south. Hunt is older and much less infallible now, but he tries to convince himself, as well as others, that he’s got it all under control. Pegg and Rhames are a pleasure to watch playing both the comedy and the tragedy with equal aplomb. Baldwin and Bassett make the most of their stuffed shirt roles, earning chuckles with the slightest arching of their eyebrows. And Cavill seems positively rejuvenated in this role as he doesn’t have to play the constricting virtues of the Man of Steel. In fact, he throws himself into this brutish role with so much relish, it may be hard to see him return to nice guy roles.
If there is anything wrong with this sequel, it’s that the marketing department gave away a number of its best and most cunning surprises in the trailer. A certain female character shows up late in the game and brings a ton of emotional gravitas into the mix. Unfortunately, keen moviegoers knew about her return months ago because of those previews and it robs her appearance of some of its impact. Still, that’s a small quibble, and it has nothing to do with what McQuarrie, Cruise and the rest of the team accomplish throughout.
In a summer that has seen too many sequels already, this one stands out from the crowd as its crown jewel. We may be six films in, but if they’re going to be as continually terrific as this, the action franchise should go on and on, even without the aging Cruise in the lead. That probably won’t be any time soon though, especially if he can still show the moves he demonstrates so ably in this one. There’s no slowing him down, or this superior franchise, for that matter.