Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Alec Baldwin

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie


He’s at it again and this time things are different… in that a couple of things are actually the same this time around. After jumping through a roster of prominent directors who each boast their own distinctive style – Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird – Fallout is the first of the Mission: Impossible films to have a director return. Following his highly enjoyable Rogue Nation, Christopher McQuarrie has stepped in once again to offer what is more or less a direct sequel, another break in precedent for the series. The story deals with the fallout (see what I did there?) from the events of the previous film, the female lead and the villain both return and the story-arc that was established for Cruise’s character is developed a little further. It isn’t hard to understand why Paramount signed McQuarrie up for another film and it’s not just because serialised franchises are the new thing in Hollywood right now. McQuarrie gets it. He gets what it is that people like about these movies, he gets Cruise’s appeal as a movie star and he knows how to make a decent action movie. Here he goes above and beyond and outdoes what he accomplished with Rogue Nation.

The remains of the Syndicate from the last film have reformed into the Apostles, a terrorist organisation hell-bent on creating chaos. That’s pretty much all you need to know about them. One of McQuarrie’s strengths is that he knows how to make a plot interesting without dwelling on the details. A movie like this needs a plot to keep things moving but it’s never the reason why anybody buys a ticket. We’re all here to see Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in his latest adventure where he must stop the Apostles in their quest to assemble and set off three nuclear bombs. They already have the plutonium they need after Ethan loses it in an operation where he was forced to choose between completing the mission and saving his team. His boss Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) tasks him with recovering the plutonium by intercepting a weapons deal in Paris. He’s not going alone though. As well as his usual sidekicks Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) orders him to take the imposing and ruthless August Walker (Henry Cavill and the moustache that destroyed a franchise) along. This latest mission leads Ethan into a crisis of apocalyptic proportions made all the more complicated by the return of former foe Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and double agent/love interest Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).

The movie hits the ground running and it never stops. It’s not just that there’s so much action happening but also that there are so many different styles of action to enjoy. There’s a stormy skydiving scene, a bare-knuckled fight that Jason Bourne would call brutal, a sprinting scene to remind us what great shape Tom Cruise is still in at 56 and more. What McQuarrie brings is this extraordinary fluidity in movement that allows us to keep up with the action without losing track of it, a rarity in the modern Hollywood blockbuster that favours shaky-cam and rapid editing even when it blinds us to the act. The skydiving scene where Hunt and Walker are free-falling their way through a thunder storm was shot in a single take (or made to look like it was), allowing us to appreciate their peril in real time, and with enough distance that each figure is constantly in sight. Then there’s the climatic helicopter chase scene where the intense pursuit is intercut with two other nail-biting events and which may well be the most ambitious, insane and masterfully executed sequence in any of the films.

In his nearly forty-year career, Cruise has displayed remarkable longevity as he has continued to play action heroes with the commitment and stamina of a man half his age. With Fallout though, McQuarrie is interested in exploring how the series and its central character has evolved since it first started in 1996 and so it opts for Cruise to start showing his age a bit with some of the wear and tear that comes from living a life as Ethan Hunt. Thus he gets paired up with Cavill who towers over Cruise (which is admittedly not that difficult a task for a 6 ft. 1 actor standing opposite a 5 ft. 8 actor) and who looks like a younger, fitter, tougher counterpart of Hunt. While Walker goes after his targets with a machine-like determination and deals blows with bone-crushing impact, Hunt is stumbling more than he used to and his punches don’t land with the same level of force. Hunt will still win the day of course because that’s what he does and he’s been doing it for a long time (I was reminded at one point of that Indiana Jones quote, “It’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage”), but the strain is starting to show and it raises the question of how much longer Ethan Hunt and keep being Ethan Hunt.

And that leads us to the other big question the film is interested in exploring of why Hunt does what he does. Early on in Fallout he makes the choice to save Luther and Benji from danger and has to abandon his objective to do so. It is argued that Hunt is too protective of those he cares about and that he doesn’t have it in him to make the kinds of sacrifices that are necessary for the greater good. Walker, an agent who works free of empathy and affection, is brought in to perform the role that Hunt is unable to fulfil, to let the few die so that the many may be saved. The contrast is a fascinating one as the film explores their differing methods and ideologies in an attempt to work out which is the better way. Near the end we’re given an insight into Hunt and his past which explains exactly how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the sake of the greater good and it’s more profound than you might expect from this kind of movie.

When I say “this kind of movie” I of course refer to the Hollywood blockbuster, which doesn’t have the esteem it used to possess. With the endless sequels, reboots and other franchising dominating the box office these days, it’s easy to feel pessimistic about the whole thing and to see the entire Hollywood industry as nothing more than as a mechanical profit-focused machine that has ceased to produce art and even entertainment in favour of commercial, demographically-targeted products. Even the movies themselves are getting pretty cynical these days (including the good ones like Logan, The Last Jedi, and Avengers: Infinity War). That’s why it’s important to remember that films like Mission: Impossible – Fallout are still being made by filmmakers like McQuarrie who care about what they do and about creating something special for the audience. This movie is an antidote to cynicism; it offers the kind of escapism that we crave from the movies and that leaves you feeling elated and ready to conquer the world. I’m all for introspective movies that ask us to take a hard look at ourselves and the world around us, but sometimes you want to forget about all that and just leave your body for a couple of hours to enjoy something exciting and fun. Fallout does not only offer that, but it also does it incredibly well.

★★★★★

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie


What really surprises me about the Mission: Impossible franchise is how fresh and innovative it has remained in its 20-year history. Against all the odds, Mission: Impossible has managed to get bigger and better with each instalment (excluding John Woo’s ridiculously over-the-top contribution), Tom Cruise has remained a fun and entertaining action star with no sign of ageing or slowing down, and different directors with varying styles have allowed the franchise to evolve by adding their own unique spins. From Brian de Palma’s psychological thriller to J. J. Abrams’ hectic action to Brad Bird’s visual creativity, Mission: Impossible has proved itself to be an adaptable series and thus each entry is able to be new and original in its own way. This time around Christopher McQuarrie has taken the helm, a director whose style I was not very familiar with until I saw this film. Under his direction Rogue Nation offers its own unique approach for the exciting, over-the-top action that has become a staple of Mission: Impossible and is more than worthy as an addition to the franchise.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is back and has caught the attention of The Syndicate, a secretive criminal organisation described as “an anti-IMF”, led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Upon being captured by them, Hunt crosses paths with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a Syndicate operative who might actually be on his side and who helps him escape. While this is happening CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) has set out to disband the IMF, forcing Hunt to go on the run as he sets out to take The Syndicate down. Along the way he enlists the help of his old teammates Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) as they set out to do what they do best, the impossible.

Although I was not familiar with McQuarrie’s abilities as a director before watching this film, I was blown away by what he offered in Rogue Nation. He utilises a style that has been described as classicist as he employs an old-school method of anamorphic cinematography and of allowing the action to simply play out rather than resorting to shaky-cam or rapid editing. This method allows the grand size and epic stakes of the action to really sink in, made all the more impressive by the frequent use of practical effects and real stunts. Watching Ethan Hunt holding onto the side of a flying plane or holding his breath as he navigates his way through an underwater computer are all the more intensive to watch thanks to the focus and emphasis McQuarrie’s direction provides. One particular fight scene set in an opera house demonstrates his proficient ability to take advantage of his locations and use them to heighten the action. This is a director who knows how to take his time with the action without ever slowing it down, a talent that really pays off in this film.

The story itself does struggle at points, but it is all in all a more interesting and compelling story than is usually offered by this franchise. As Hunt goes head-to-head with The Syndicate he finds that they always seem to be one step ahead of him and that things may not be as they appear to be. Unlike some of the other female characters in the previous instalments whose roles amounted to little more than eye candy, Ilsa Faust stands as a fully-rounded character who adds an interesting dynamic to the story. During his encounters with her Hunt is never sure where Ilsa stands, whose side she is on or what her motivations are. Learning more about her character and waiting to see what she will do next is one of the most enjoyable parts of the film. There were a couple of weaknesses that bothered me; the villain was probably its weakest point with Solomon Lane leaving not much of an impression beyond an intimidating stare, plus I would also have really liked it if the film actually gave Alec Baldwin something to do. However the positives outweigh the negatives in this case and provide an overall entertaining and thrilling experience.

The Mission: Impossible franchise is very good at being exactly what it has set out to be, a series of fun and exciting summer blockbusters with mind-blowing action. Rogue Nation is an excellent addition to the series and does an admirable job of putting a new spin on its traditional staples. The action is just as exhilarating and over-the-top as ever, Tom Cruise is as awesome and fun as ever and the spy stuff complete with masks and gadgets is just as cool and creative as ever. The inclusion of a gripping story with one particularly interesting character was a welcome addition and made Rogue Nation without question one of the strongest entries in the franchise. It may not be completely perfect but it was still the film I wanted to see when I entered the cinema. Anyone else who expects to see a fun summer blockbuster will not be disappointed.

★★★★