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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The Mummy

Cast: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe

Director: Alex Kurtzman

Writers: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman


You have to give it to Hollywood, they know how to take a neat idea and keep screwing around with it until everyone hates it. This time it’s the ‘cinematic shared universe’ idea, the concept of producing several movies that inhabit the same reality and tie into each other. The MCU showed it could be done with only a few hiccups here and there, and now everyone wants to do it. The problem is that the studios are so focused on building these universes that they keep forgetting to make movies. The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel suffered because they spent far too much time on plot points, characters and tie-ins that had no bearing on their respective stories. Batman v. Superman was similarly overblown as part of DC’s effort to sprint ahead to The Justice League in as few steps as possible. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the MCU, and yet still these studios persist in their exorbitant franchise building. Thus we get the proposed Dark Universe which, after just one movie, I’ve already had enough of.

The movie kicks off with a flashback to Ancient Egypt where Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) falls to second in the line of succession when her father’s second wife gives birth to a son. She summons Set, god of violence, to help her claim the throne and kills her family but is caught before she can complete the ritual to transfer the deity’s spirit to corporeal form and is mummified. In present-day Iraq the American soldiers Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) discover Ahmanet’s tomb after calling in an airstrike. Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), a renowned archaeologist, investigates the tomb and finds Ahmanet’s sarcophagus within. As the sarcophagus is being transported to England however, Ahmanet’s spirit attacks the crew. Jenny escapes with her life when Nick parachutes her off the plane but everyone else is killed. Or so they think. Nick wakes up in an Oxford morgue and learns that he has been cursed by Ahmanet, who has decided that he shall be Set’s vessel.

I’m not sure how many different projects had to be merged in order to bring Tom Cruise and the Dark Universe together, but it plays out like a shambolic mixture of several different clashing ideas that has no idea what kind of movie it wants to be. On one side we get the supernatural monster movie that plays out more like a superhero thriller than a horror akin to those of the classic Universal monster films or the Hammer Horrors. On another side we get a Tom Cruise movie that, despite having him get killed and resurrected by an ancient Egyptian curse, is somehow as generically Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise gets. Then there’s the franchise building whereby we are introduced to the Prodigium, a secret society led by Russell Crowe dedicated towards combating supernatural threats, there to distract us from the story and to assure us that sequels are on the way. The movie also incorporates the English crusaders (because one historical backdrop wasn’t enough), a romance with less life than a 3500-year-old embalmed corpse, and the Iraq War (because that isn’t at all problematic for a silly horror/thriller blockbuster).

Naturally when an audience goes to see a monster movie, the thing they look forward to the most is the monster itself. People are so drawn to great monsters that iconic actors such as Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney and Christopher Lee were able to build their careers playing them. The Mummy in this film is not one of the greats. It might not be fair to criticise this creature for not being scary because I’m not convinced that that was what the movie was going for, but she is not in any way an interesting or entertaining creature. Her design follows the example set by the Enchantress in Suicide Squad by being scanty and erotic to the point that it is impossible to find her at all threatening or intimidating. Her personality as well is a complete blank slate and, if she had a motivation, it escaped me. Tom Cruise meanwhile tries to do his usual thing the best he can, but the character he is given is a cosmic nonentity and there is only so much he can bring through star power alone.

This movie isn’t terrible or painful; it’s just depressingly dull. The story is tired and incoherent, the characters are bland and redundant and the moments between the action scenes are so relentlessly tedious and overstuffed with filler and exposition. Even when the action gets going, its mostly just a collection of moments lifted from better movies that I would rather have watched like An American Werewolf in London and Bride of Frankenstein. There were maybe one or two moments when the film went completely off the wall and delivered a moment that was crazy enough to hold my attention for a couple of minutes, as with Russell Crowe’s performance as a surprise character. Those moments were never good, but at least they were interesting. At the end of the day though, what really killed this movie for me was how blatantly transparent it was in its attempt to kickstart a franchise that has got nothing going for it and nowhere to go. I could not be less excited for the Dark Universe’s future.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Austin Hebert, Robert Catrini, Robert Knepper

Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz


When the first Jack Reacher came out I remember there being some controversy over the choice to cast the 5’7” Tom Cruise as the tall, physically dominating protagonist from the Lee Child novel. As someone who had never read these books, I just went in expecting a Tom Cruise movie. By casting Cruise, the studio has made a clear decision that deems Jack Reacher’s character as irrelevant; you will instead be watching Tom Cruise play Tom Cruise. Still, whether you love his movies or hate them, one cannot deny the appeal he has. One of the things I like about Cruise is that no matter what movie he’s in, good or bad, he always gives 100%. In a career spanning almost four decades, not once has this man ever phoned it in. His energy, enthusiasm and charisma are still as palpable today as they were in the 80s and he shows no sign of slowing down. Thus, when a series like Jack Reacher comes along, a series that is so obviously nothing more than a star vehicle, I think it’s worth remembering that Cruise is a star for a reason. He was pretty much born for it.

Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is back as he heads over to his military headquarters to meet with a new acquaintance, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). Upon arriving he learns from Colonel Sam Morgan (Holt McCallany) that Turner is being detained under the charge of espionage. At this same time Reacher also learns that a paternity suit has been filed against him, claiming he is the father of the 15-year-old Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh). Believing that Turner is being framed, Reacher infiltrates the prison where she’s being held and breaks her free. The two must go on the run and are forced to bring Samantha along when her connection to her supposed father places her in danger. Together the three of them must evade the military forces pursuing them and uncover the truth behind this conspiracy so that they may clear their names.

As is often the case with these films, the story is almost immaterial. No one really cares about the government conspiracy, it’s just a backdrop that allows Tom Cruise and Cobie Smulders to punch a few faces and run around for a bit. The only thing that really matters is that they have a teenage girl running along with them, creating a family dynamic between three characters who don’t know how to act like a family. This is the film’s strongest point, and its success is creditable more to the actors than it is to the writing. Cruise, for instance, conveys more deeply than the dialogue ever could this idea that Reacher cannot live a normal life. He beats up bad guys because it’s the only thing he’s good at and he’s constantly on the run because he has no responsibilities tying him down or holding him back. He doesn’t know the first thing about being in a relationship with either a girlfriend or a daughter. Morgan is similarly single-minded in her military professionalism whereas Samantha comes from a broken home. Their attempt to create a surrogate family with each other could have been fascinating in the hands of stronger writing and direction. Here, it offers some entertaining moments between the punching and kicking.

The action is pretty standard for the most part. It is interesting to see Tom Cruise share some of these scenes with Cobie Smulders, since he tends to be solely front and centre in these films, and that discord is brought into play. While they are hiding in New Orleans, Reacher hopes that he can assign Turner the role of ‘mother’, which would allow him to go out alone to do the ‘real’ work. Turner of course both resents and rejects that assignment because babysitting a teenager is just about the most useless thing she could possibly do in this situation. She needs to be in the field just like Reacher and he sure as hell isn’t going to stop her. What I would give for a screenplay worthy of this conflict. Yarosh is serviceable as the young, rebellious girl who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter, but sometimes it feels like her character only exists to create problems for the grown-ups to solve.

As far as Tom Cruise action movies go, Never Go Back is about what you’d expect. Smulders is a great foil to Cruise and the family dynamic is quite interesting, but these qualities are let down by the sub-par writing and generic direction they were given. A campy villain within the vein of Werner Herzog would also have been welcome (this principle applies to action films in general). There are some good action set pieces, but nothing like the extravagant, stylised scenes you’d see in a Mission: Impossible film. That’s fine if you’re looking for something more down to earth, but those movies are entertaining for a reason. The interplay between Reacher, Turner and Samantha could have allowed for a more fulfilling experience if it had been allowed to attain the dramatic heights within reach. Instead the movie offers a few entertaining scenes with a couple of good jokes thrown in. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is by no means a failure but it could have and should have strived to be better.

★★★

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.

★★★★