Mission Impossible is the greatest film franchise in cinematic history. What other series has had the consistent quality? None (well, maybe The Thin Man). Each film, since Tom Cruise‘s Ethan Hunt first graced the screen, has been better than the last. Each film, carries with it a new height of dare-devil exploits. Indeed, the second half of the series, the 4-6 trilogy could vie as one of the best trilogies ever. Much like James Bond, Mission Impossible‘s stories are simple. They rely on the same tropes and themes to get by, but more so than Bond, Mission Impossible has been more capable of twisting our expectations to create can’t miss blockbusters that haven’t worn thin.
The opening to Mission Impossible: Fallout is a barrage of exposition. From a projected reel of film hidden, we learn that Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) has teamed with a shadowy terrorist with no known identity, except the pseudonym John Lark. They have stolen plutonium and plan to detonate it, thereby causing the collapse of the Old World Order and, in the process, helping a cell of doomsayers known as the Apostles. Hunt’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to track down the stolen plutonium.
The actors, together for their third film, are comfortable in each other’s pockets. Fallout is a true sequel to Rogue Nation, so while you will be able to comfortably view the film, you may need a tiny bit of catch up. Nevertheless, the script plants plenty of clues for you to keep up. Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), and Hunt are a perfect trio, and the film is actually quite funny. The banter between these three provide levity in an action film that brings near non-stop intensity. They’re joined by a CIA operative named August Walker (Henry Cavill). Cavill, as the bulldozer in a suit assigned to Hunt’s team, demonstrates an ice-cold persona and a stylin’ stash. They’re opposed by the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), a take the best deal there is femme fatale. Fallout also marks the return of Rebecca Ferguson‘s Ilsa.
Fallout, for all of its action, is stylistically immaculate. In fact, it can be a quiet and nearly silent film, with a rapacious and eerie string-laden score accompanying certain sequences. The sound design is technical perfection. These scenes, and the action accompanying, are so well choreographed the results are dizzying. The stunts are pristine and seamless and the fighting choreography is targeted and pinned to the very millisecond. Many of these stunt sequences are going to be “ohh’d” and “aww’d” for sometime, from the building jumping scene, to the skydiving sequence, the helicopter chase, and the bathroom tussle (that phrase sounded better in my head). Fallout is worth it just for these moments, never mind the story.
And well, the story is solid. It is your typical Mission Impossible tale, as these spies jet from Belfast, to Berlin, Paris, and London. However, that tale is only the bare bones of the script. The elements are so familiar to us that it’s a genre unto itself. Screenwriter and director Christopher McQuarrie plays on these tropes and elements to surprise us and to question their very existences. Hunt has always operated in a world where he can be burned at any second, where friends can quickly become foes. Nevertheless, those foes have always existed for the benefit of a country. Now, we know of no benefit. Indeed, the villains here: John Lark, the Widow, Solomon Lane and his Apostles work for no country, no government agency. They work for themselves. The entirety of the film becomes a checkmate barrage as double and triple crosses occur to the point of it being an impossibility to keep up. And the concept isn’t foreign (no pun intended, and certainly not a knock against Fallout). We can trace this new trope, soldiers without allegiances within the spy genre, back to Skyfall.
Fallout owes much to Skyfall, and not just the word “fall.” There are several scenes that have clearly been reinvented. As stated prior, they continue the war without borders motif. That is, in this digital world we don’t know who our enemies are. And both MI6 in Skyfall and IMF in Fallout are considered outdated for their times. “IMF is a bunch of kids in Halloween masks,” quips Sloan (Angela Bassett), head of the CIA. Fallout even borrows the underground caverns setting, or the Churchill bunker tunnels in Skyfall, through much of the film. They both combine the old with the new. If there’s one difference between Skyfall and Fallout, it’s the cinematography. Skyfall was a brightly lit film, even in the manor scenes. The color and lighting was vivid and crisp. Fallout‘s cinematography is murky and diffused. It follows the same blurred lines as the operatives at its center.
And while Hunt is never the forlorn rundown that is Daniel Craig’s Bond, he is damaged. Much like Craig’s Bond, he’s tired of losing, losing those close to him, losing a normal life. However, he’s never able to walk away. Bond usually comes back because he’s a natural born killer. He’s good at it. Hunt returns because he has a Superman complex, a moral complex.
Hunt is a modern-day Superman. Yes, that’s an easy comparison considering Cavill’s involvement in the film, but Hunt displays the same traits. Hunt is self-sacrificial, believes the one life to be as important as the million, and leaps tall buildings in a single bound. Seriously! As Hunt chases Lane, he leaps from building-to-building, at times, running faster than a speeding bullet. Nevertheless, he’s a humanistic Superman. He becomes battered and bruised, yet is unrelenting. While Superman is an unachievable goal for mere mortals, made to demonstrate human perfection, Hunt is the mortal equivalence, giving hope for the mere fact of being human. And much like Luther, we implicitly trust that he will succeed.
And while watching a 56 year-old Cruise perform harrowing stunt after harrowing stunt, we’re left in amazement. We may even bemuse what may happen when Cruise must walk away (then again Harrison Ford is suiting up as Indiana Jones at 78). Still, Cruise brings a blockbuster stardom that’s rarely seen today. He’s always a 10 kilowatt smile away from a massive hit, even in the Autumn of his career. If you will, his magnetism always points north. The series has seen consistent quality. In fact, many, including myself, would argue that the quality has only increased from film-to-film. Much of that is down to Cruise, who still finds exuberance and passion in a role he’s occupied for 22 years. Indeed, the series has never had a dud, and with Mission Impossible: Fallout, Cruise has carried another new chapter in the greatest film franchise in the history of cinema.