Mission: Impossible - Fallout is a furiously unhinged action spectacle
Whether you like him personally or not, it's hard to deny Tom Cruise's (Edge of Tomorrow) utter devotion to his work. He's the sort of classic super star whose arguably delirious personality has turned his entire life into a spectacle, and he is hungry for the show to entertain. Hence why Cruise often demands he perform his own stunts, a commitment to realism that has solidified him as Hollywood's most daring actor and provided some of the most marvelous action work in the history of the genre. However, few of Cruise's feats come close to the dizzying heights of his newest effort, Mission: Impossible - Fallout, a near-perfect thriller that regularly forces one to ask just how close Cruise is to actually dying at any given moment.
Taking place several years after the events of Rogue Nation, the film finds Cruise's Ethan Hunt, per usual, in a race against time as he attempts to prevent the followers of Nation's villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, Prometheus) from detonating a series of nuclear devices across the globe. Aiding Hunt is his loyal team, consisting of best friend Luther (Ving Rhames, Pulp Fiction), the always quirky IT expert Benji (Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead), and the mysterious and deadly Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson, Life). Joining them to serve as a watchdog after their initial attempts the foil the bombings go wrong is August Walker (Henry Cavill, Justice League), a CIA assassin with motives of his own.
The film ticks off all the boxes you would expect from a Mission: Impossible film: the masks, the fist fights, the car chases, the death-defying acts of heroism. But it goes through these motions far better than any other film in the series before, and in fact, better than most action films in general. The breakneck pace of the film is undeniably intoxicating, shifting the action from one scene to the next with a speed and efficiency most blockbusters can only dream of. Every single set piece in the film is breathtakingly realistic, thanks to the commitment of Cruise and company as well as the fine work behind the camera from writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, who helmed the previous film. McQuarrie has turned himself into a master of action staging, framing bathroom brawls and helicopter duels with the sort of eye that made directors like Steven Spielberg the stuff of legend.
Stringing all these pieces together, the film plays like a spy version of Mad Max: Fury Road, displaying a divine collection of practical effects that are so dangerous it's unfathomable that no one bit the dust making it (Cruise did break an ankle in what is ironically the tamest stunt in the film). It's all made possible by Cruise's commitment to insanity, a sheer will to entertain that mirrors his character's need to save. There's no doubt both Cruise and Hunt are beyond irrational, a relationship between actor and character that goes beyond the script. There's no doubt Cruise believes somewhere within himself that he could do any of this in real life, and that's kind of what makes it all work.
What makes the film truly special however, beyond the fact it simply has the best stunts of any mainstream film in recent memory, is the fact that it's a spy film with a soul. While Daniel Craig has certainly given it his best shot with James Bond, perhaps no other action franchise has as much on its mind about characters as this one, and Fallout displays this to full effect. The film, in its essence, is about the drive of an action hero. We rarely question the motives of the protagonists of these sorts of films, inherently accepting their goodness and ability. But here the film explores the notion that beyond the bravado, there's a soft side to Cruise's signature character. A devotion not to ideals or country but simply to the people he loves most. It's a feeling other films sometimes dismiss as selfish or consequential. Here it is the very thing that allows Hunt to survive, and that's why you can believe he stays alive from moment to moment. Despite flying off motorcycles and tumbling off cliff sides, pushing the limits of our suspension of disbelief, you believe simply because so does he. "I won't let you down," Cruise says, and you can accept that's he's not only talking to his team, but to the audience. It helps that the film's personality is also overwhelmingly infectious. Want to earn some money? Dare anyone not to crack a smile as Pegg delivers another impeccably timed quip, Cavill literally reloads his arms before getting ready to throw down, or Ferguson twists around her enemies like she's on a jungle gym. You will win that bet.
Fallout is ultimately a culmination of the franchise's greatest strengths, a film confident in its identity and excited to share it with the world. It pulls off amazing feats, highlights the charm of its fine actors (promoting Pegg and adding Ferguson were the smartest moves this franchise ever pulled), and delivers a strong story that constantly leaves you on the age of your seat. While it won't enter the realm of art-house conversation in the same way that Fury Road did, it's, ahem, impossible to deny its pure entertainment power. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to have the best time you will have in a movie theater this year and witness what is quite possibly one of the greatest action films ever made. You in?