OnScreen Review: "Mission: Impossible – Fallout"

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Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

Everyone talks about how the Fast & Furious franchise remade itself, found its footing after a couple of mediocre sequels, and became a serious box office attraction, but the Mission: Impossible franchise has actually had a similar trajectory. The first film was a successful remake of the classic TV series. The second one faltered a bit. The third one was a step in the right direction and a decent return to form. Ever since, the franchise has excelled. It’s rare that franchises get better as they put our more sequels, but here we are with Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth entry in this Tom Cruise-starring vehicle, is among the best of the series (I’ve got Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation neck and neck).

For the first time in these films, we have a sequel that continues the story of the previous film; in this case, the events of Rogue Nation did not lead to the complete disintegration of The Syndicate. While many of them have been captured and killed, a group still fiercely loyal to Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and his vision now goes by the moniker of The Acolytes. They get their hands on weapons-grade plutonium cores that slip through the grasp of Ethan and his team, Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames). Because of that failure, three potential nukes are now in play and the CIA sends a heavy along on the mission to retrieve the cores, Agent Walker (Henry Cavill), who has strict orders to stop at nothing in getting them back, even if it means sacrificing any Hunt’s team. In attempting to recover the cores, they cross paths once again with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), the British agent who is back with her own agenda that doesn’t entirely align with Ethan’s.

Director Christopher McQuarrie, who also directed Rogue Nation, returns as director, also a first for a franchise that started with Brian DePalma and has had installments from John Woo, J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird. McQuarrie, who also wrote the script, puts in callbacks to all of the previous films in one way or another, which is a nice touch. McQuarrie has become a frequent collaborator with Cruise, his last five directing/writing/producing credits have been attached to films starring Cruise, with the only real stinker being The Mummy. For what it’s worth, he has a great handle on what makes these Mission: Impossible films work. The hand-to-hand fights are well choreographed, particularly a fist fight that breaks out in a men’s bathroom between Ethan, Walker, and a man they are looking for; Walker’s style of fighting (blunt force trauma) is noticeably distinct from Ethan’s. The shootouts work too, and the motorcycle chase is pulse-pounding

This series has always been a showcase for Tom Cruise and his strengths as an actor, particularly his running and his willingness to do death-defying stunts. This film is no exception as his Ethan Hunt character skydives into Paris through a lightning storm, whizzes through streets of on a motorcycle while being pursued by police, runs along rooftops in pursuit of someone, and finally climbs into a helicopter and hangs off of a cliff in the climactic and thrilling finish of the film. So much of it appears to be practical effects and Cruise is someone who is maniacally bent on doing so much of his own stunt work that it’s difficult to tell how much green screen is being used.

Rebecca Ferguson, who was a revelation in Rogue Nation, is once again a great pairing with Cruise and still feels like a shot in the arm for this franchise. Cavill, after also playing a CIA operative in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. fits in well with the cast too. There are no weak points in the casting of this movie.

The one place the series is beginning to show its age is with the story. It’s not a weakness, but the script relies a bit too much on Ethan Hunt saying, “I’ll figure it out” to the point that it becomes a running joke. All of the films strain the limits of credulity, of course, and with the best films in the franchise the action has been intense and entertaining enough to make it easy to overlook. And it mostly is the case here too. However, there was the slightest hint of things starting to veer into 24 territory. On that show, Jack Bauer always saved the day at the end, but there were always certain twists, or betrayals, or Jack having to work for the terrorists for a few episodes or someone close to him would die. And inevitably, at some point someone would question Jack’s loyalty to his country, even though we had season after season of knowing exactly where his loyalties were. There was a bit of that in the story here, even though Ethan has proven his loyalty and his ability to come through in the clutch time and time again that it’s almost laughable that anyone would consider the notion that he could be a traitor at this point.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout seems to be following the example of its star, Tom Cruise, and defying the expectations of age. Sequels typically do not get better and better. Usually a franchise peaks in the first or second film and then there is a steady decline into eventual irrelevancy. This franchise is still maintaining its peak. And Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt is a bit like Tom Brady on the New England Patriots. Jeremy Renner was brought in on Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in the eyes of some as the Jimmy Garoppolo, the eventual successor to the franchise leader. A few years later, Renner isn’t even in this film and Cruise is still chugging along and still putting in an MVP performance, like Brady, at an “advanced age.” And it doesn’t look like Cruise or Mission: Impossible is slowing down or stopping anytime soon.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars