Film Review: Mission: Impossible—Fallout

The 'Mission: Impossible' series reconfirms its status as one of the all-time great action franchises with one jaw-dropping thrill sequence after another.
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Just when you think that action films have lost their capacity to thrill audiences due to CGI overkill, along comes a movie like Mission: Impossible—Fallout to restore your faith in the jaw-dropping power of gonzo practical stunt work. The sixth entry in the Tom Cruise espionage franchise that began in 1996, Fallout is the boldest of a series that has set a very high (sometimes literally so) standard for breathtaking set-pieces. By my count, the new film has at least seven of them—a generous gift to summer audiences from daredevil star Cruise, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood.

McQuarrie is the first director to return to the franchise, following 2015’s Rogue Nation, and his story brings back a few key figures from that film. The plot is very convoluted and twisty, but here are the bare bones: Impossible Missions Force leader Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team are ambushed during a covert operation to retrieve three small plutonium bombs that are desired by a nihilistic terrorist group called the Apostles. Because of his failure, CIA director Erika Sloane (Angela Bassett) pairs Hunt up with a cocky agent named August Walker (Henry Cavill); their next step is to rendezvous with glamorous arms dealer Alana (Vanessa Kirby of “The Crown”), also known as the White Widow. That encounter also erupts into chaos, but Ethan’s prowess and brashness are enough to convince Alana that he’s an ally in the illicit arms business. The cat-and-mouse games then multiply to include two wild cards from Rogue Nation: arch-villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a key player in the bomb plot, and onetime MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who has an agenda of her own.

McQuarrie’s script probably makes sense, but it’s essentially an ingenious device to string together one high-octane action sequence after another, often in quick succession. Just as Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol’s vertigo-inducing stunts outside the world’s tallest building in Dubai were immediately followed by a wild car chase in a sandstorm, Fallout gives audiences these three bravura sequences with barely a pause in between: Hunt and Walker free-falling from a transport jet in the middle of a thunderstorm; a savage fight in the pristine men’s room of Paris’ Grand Palais; and an alarming shootout in the crowded Palais itself. Similarly, no sooner has Cruise finished with an extended sequence that has him speeding dangerously through congested Paris streets on a motorcycle than the action segues to an equally frenetic car and truck pursuit. The movie somehow tops itself with its finale: an acrobatic helicopter chase through New Zealand’s Southern Alps (doubling for Kashmir), followed by a fight to the death on a 2,000-foot cliff in Norway (also subbing for Kashmir), while those plutonium bombs count down to Armageddon.

Say what you will about Tom Cruise, he earns his paycheck, at 56 very visibly performing outlandish stunts that make you question his sanity. (He broke his ankle after jumping from a rooftop during the movie’s London set-piece, and continued his movie mission six weeks later.) Respect is also due to Sean Harris, who stays in character while facing a wall of water and riding shotgun alongside Cruise, all while straitjacketed. Cavill, out of his Superman tights, makes an excellent, dashing, aggravating foil to Cruise, and Ferguson and Kirby are both formidable and sultry presences. And it’s always a pleasure to have IMF team members Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames in on the action.

It’s not all action: McQuarrie brings back Michelle Monaghan as Julia, Ethan’s once presumed-dead wife, who has moved on to a new life apart from her danger-magnet partner but once again finds herself in jeopardy. It’s a successfully poignant counterpoint to the thrills.

Tom Cruise isn’t getting any younger, but when a 22-year-old series can still deliver such amazing action, yet another Mission seems well within the realm of the possible.