Tom Cruise’s Twitter account biography jokes (or maybe just points out) that he’s been “running in movies since 1981.” He does more of that in Mission: Impossible Fallout than he has in years, to the credit of both the actor and the movie.
It’s a testament to the fact this sixth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise is always tearing along at a sprint, blasting from one ridiculous action sequence to the next. There’s the car chases, the motorcycle chases, the car-on-motorcycle chases. There’s the foot chase, complete with Cruise leaping from rooftop to rooftop. There’s the completely bananas helicopter chase. Fallout never stops. Even its spy thriller dialogue becomes a chase scene, in which one character tries to trap another in logic that will lead to still more chases.
It might sound exhausting, and to some degree, Fallout feels a touch too long and a touch too full. Much more often, though, Fallout is a breakneck action flick filled with genuinely exciting moments, all made impactful by Cruise’s insistence on taking part in as much of the action as possible.
Mission: Impossible Fallout won’t be setting any standards for twisty spy thrillers, but it’s continuing to raise the bar on action, and it’s near non-stop fun along the way.
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie returns for Fallout after helming the previous Mission: Impossible installment, Rogue Nation. Fallout builds off Rogue Nation‘s setup, in which Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his team of spies faced their toughest adversary, a super-spy-turned-terrorist, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). The folks who used to work with Lane are still out there, and they’re helping a new bad guy, code name John Lark, who is trying to acquire plutonium to use in nuclear bombs. Lark wants to kickstart a revolution against the current world order by blowing a lot of people up.
The ins and outs of the plot are less important than the personal impact they have on Ethan and his crew. The movie starts with Ethan dreaming about Lane breaking free and tracking down his former wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan). Though Lane’s locked up, he’s still messing with Ethan and the world.
There’s also the fact that, in an early mission when Ethan and returning buds Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benjie (Simon Pegg) have a chance to grab the plutonium, Ethan sacrifices it to save Luther’s life. The emotional investment among the characters, and the setup of the history between Ethan’s crew and Lane, is enough to keep the action feeling grounded.
It wouldn’t be a Mission: Impossible movie without spy bureaucracy threatening the world, and in this case that bureaucracy is the CIA.
Angela Bassett plays Sloan, a member of the CIA brass who doesn’t trust Ethan and his pals (though they’ve “gone rogue” to save the world, like, four times now). Sloan forces Ethan to bring along a CIA stooge to find the plutonium. Walker, played by the physically imposing and be-mustached Henry Cavill, mixes just enough likable tough guy with smarmy jerk to be a fun addition to the team, both as an ally to Ethan and a potential adversary.
Things get suitably spy-ish and additionally complicated with the arrival of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), another key figure from Rogue Nation. Suddenly Ethan is pretending to be Lark to meet an arms dealer and taking part in a mission to rescue Lane, and Walker is probably willing to kill Ethan’s IMF buds if it means getting hold of the plutonium. Ilsa has her own motivations, and it’s all very cutthroat.
Twists pop up here and there, it’s never quite clear who can trust whom, interpersonal conflicts and history rears up — it’s a lot to juggle between a ton of intense and spectacular chases and fights (like the one in which Cruise and Cavill absolutely destroy a men’s room as they lose, repeatedly, to Chinese stuntman Liang Yang).
The interpersonal conflicts work well, but the spy-vs.-spy plotting of Fallout is where the movie is weakest. Its twists are telegraphed early and loudly.
The lack of mystery doesn’t harm McQuarrie’s movie, though. Mission: Impossible has that Ocean’s Eleven quality in which the characters have often guessed the obvious twists, too, and planned accordingly. What’s interesting isn’t the twist itself, but the breathtaking, action-packed solutions our heroes invent.
And yes, the actions sequences look great, anchored by minimal use of digital special effects and an abundance of Cruise selling them by participating as much as possible. McQuarrie gets a weight out of his action sequences and major stunts thanks to the fact that he can dial in the camera on Cruise’s face as he rides a motorcycle, or hold a shot of him hanging off the bottom of a helicopter.
The action in Fallout has a palpable intensity that comes from that dedication to realism. It’ll put you the edge of your seat in a way that many modern movies can’t despite massive CGI budgets.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout isn’t the best spy thriller of the series, and not quite the most fun, but it’s entertaining all the same. This is a summer blockbuster with action that feels heart-poundingly real. That sets Fallout apart, and ranks it among this summer’s must-see movies.