Mission Impossible: Fallout Film Review
This is what a perfect blockbuster looks like.
Here’s the thing with Tom Cruise: watching him, it’s hard not to flash back to him circa 2005 jumping on Oprah’s couch in an unbridled yet curiously insincere display of loved-up joy, nor is it easy to block out all those rambling Scientology interviews where the Hollywood’s most indestructible man nearly destroyed his reputation, plus all the stuff about ex-wife Katie Holmes desperately trying to escape the Church’s tentacular clutches.
Weaved, throughout all this madness, is Cruise’s career. The actor’s later output has increasingly resembled a meat-grinder of stunt work, which is no more apparent than in his greatest achievement, the Mission Impossible franchise. When you watch him clutching onto planes as they take off, getting tossed through walls, punched in the stomach, throwing himself out of cars and leaping off buildings to questionable landings, you realise he’s hip to his audience’s love/hate relationship. He can keep his career despite his earlier, infuriating public persona, if he keeps flirting with death in his movies: the often injury-sustaining stunts are his atonement.
It also helps that, in the franchise, Cruise is surrounded by what seems to be one of the best teams working in American blockbuster movies today The charismatic cast, confident director, fearless stunt team and passionate music department, honed after some 22 years of instalments, has come together to make the latest entry, Fallout, the greatest one yet, and easily 2018’s best movie so far. Film critic Clarisse Loughrey called Fallout Tom Cruise’s Swan Lake; she’s right—but it’s everyone else’s masterpiece, too.
Director Christopher McQuarrie returns after directing the last instalment, Rogue Nation, having improved in the most crucial ways. McQuarrie showed his proficiency directing the last movie’s most thrilling set pieces (namely Cruise holding onto a plane as it takes off), but the movie’s twisty plot and convoluted revelations had me impatient to get back to the death-defying stuff. Fallout follows on from Rogue Nation with the same villain, anarchist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), being used in a trade-off to secure plutonium that will be used to wipe out a significant portion of the world’s population. In his strangulated, villainous voice, Lane monologues about destroying the ‘old world order’.
A botched attempt to secure the plutonium near the beginning sets the course for Ethan Hunt’s character arc in the movie. He leaves the plutonium unguarded in a suitcase after an ambush, choosing instead to save Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Hunt’s closest thing to a right hand man. The team is then forced to recruit loose cannon August Walker (Henry Cavill).
The first mission with Walker takes place in the bathroom of a nightclub in France—I had no idea McQuarrie was such an accomplished director of martial arts sequences. Hunt and Walker take on an operative whose face they need to use for a mask, resulting in a brutal brawl that sees Cavill’s wicked boxing technique and Cruise’s method of throwing his entire body at the enemy, preferably straight through a wall.
One of Rogue Nation’s best additions was the introduction of Rebecca Fergusson as Isla Faust, straddling Cruise as they plummeted out of a building and wrapping her legs around thugs to break their necks. She doesn’t get as much to do here, save for an almost unbearably tense fight sequence with Solomon Lane towards the end, set to a perfectly-timed countdown to the end of the world. She plays off well with Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn, here reluctantly yet-determinedly thrown into the field instead of safely navigating from an iPad. That said, Pegg’s best sequence has him tracking Walker remotely while guiding Ethan Hunt, first through a solemn funeral and later out of a top-floor office building. Pegg is becoming the go-to for self-deprecating goofs at the worst possible times—paired with Hunt’s real-life danger and one of Cruise’s most balletic running sequences (apparently shot six weeks after he broke his ankle), it shows the screenplay’s deft balance with tension and humour.
Composer Lorne Balfe has created a masterpiece with his orchestra, too. There are moments when the in-camera sounds drop out and Balfe’s score reaches a crescendo, a combination of piano keys and strings creatively developing on the classic Mission Impossible theme. I’d place it alongside Hildur Guðnadóttir’s work in Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018). Amid Marvel’s forgettable themes and the reliance on resurrected refrains for rebooted franchises, it’s nice to see a couple of talented composers still injecting ingenuity into big-budget movies.
There are lessons for any filmmaker to learn from Mission Impossible: Fallout, and for audiences to demand from their blockbusters. It takes a well-established team to engineer the best set pieces—Fallout brings back a lot of the stunt-coordinators, cast and, now, director from previous instalments. The screenplay gives as much energy to its twisty plot as it does its humour and sparingly-used self-aware gags, demonstrating that, just because the action is high octane, doesn’t mean you can skimp on everything else (looking at you, Skyscraper). Ultimately, though, it seems like every member on the Mission crew is energised by the work ethic of Tom Cruise: he inspires dedication in those he works with—his spirit is infused in the movie. He dug his way out of being reduced to a punchline for his offscreen antics and, with Fallout, I think he’s finally atoned for all his sins, including 2017’s traumatically terrible The Mummy. But that doesn’t mean I want him to stop proving himself via death, age and common sense-defying stunts.