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Once Again, Cruise Accepts It

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise
Paramount Pictures
 147 Minutes
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill  
Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Tom Cruise’s mission, and it’s one that he chooses to accept over and over again, is to periodically engage in a variety of death-defying stunts that would cause stuntmen half of his 56 chronological years to cringe, in order to produce enough footage that can be strung together with some flimsy connecting plot, to produce yet another one of his Mission: Impossible movies. And, once again, in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, film audiences will definitely not disavow his action, since his impossible stunt work has produced some of the best sheer action sequences in years.


While Mission: Impossible television episodes were very much plot driven, resembling elaborate con games mixed with state-of-the-art electronic wizardry, about the only things Cruise’s movies have in common with the series are the famous Lalo Schifrin theme, which is heard several times here, the gimmickry of the vaporizing tape recording informing Cruise’s Ethan Hunt of the mission he may or may not choose to accept, and the affinity for using a plethora of masks to enable one member of Hunt’s team to impersonate someone else. Plot is definitely secondary, as it is in Fallout, but, ironically, the current movie has a story that’s both too simple and too complicated.


Fallout is the first Mission: Impossible movie that’s a direct sequel to the previous one (2015’s Rogue Nation), and features the same villain, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). The members of Lane’s former organization, now calling themselves the Apostles, manage to get their hands on three plutonium warheads when Hunt decides to rescue his team member Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) rather than secure the plutonium. Since Hunt’s reliability and loyalty are now in question, the head of the IMF, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), agrees with CIA Chief Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) that, for the rest of the operation, CIA agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) will accompany Hunt to provide “support.”


In order to get the warheads back, Hunt makes a deal with an arms dealer known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), who gives him one warhead and agrees to swap the remaining two warheads for rescuing Lane, who is being transported through Paris under heavy guard. Of course, nothing in these negotiations is quite what it seems, and eventually, after a series of double and triple crosses and people changing allegiances seemingly at the drop of a dime, Lane winds up in possession of the warheads and is about ready to detonate them. Hunt and his team, which by now includes his former associate from Rogue Nation, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), eventually track the now-armed warheads to a remote part of Pakistan where an explosion could contaminate much of Asia’s water supply. Also at that site, as Lane planned, is a medical mission headed by Hunt’s ex-wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan).


Actually, spending much time describing the plot of Fallout is a waste of time, since it’s really merely an excuse to get Hunt and company from one scenic locale to another, where they (and, by they, I am primarily referring to Hunt/Cruise) can engage in their usual heroics. Thus, we get a HALO jump from 40,000 feet onto a building, a lengthy car chase through the streets of Paris, another lengthy foot chase with Tom Cruise running on rooftops all over Paris trying to keep up with his target, and, finally, a no-holds-barred finale in which writer/director Christopher McQuarrie employs the oldest gimmick in the book, the ticking clock, to brilliant effect.


The premise of the final sequence is simple. Hunt and his team within 15 minutes must get their hands on the detonator device and both bombs and disarm all three simultaneously. This requires Ilsa and Hunt’s gadget guru Benji (Simon Pegg) to tangle with Lane, who is guarding one bomb, while Hunt climbs up a rope into a helicopter in flight and then commandeers the helicopter to chase down the villains who have the detonator. What follows is a fight scene that winds up with Hunt and villains dangling off the side of a cliff trying to get their hands on the detonator that was dropped on the flat ground above during the scuffle. The entire sequence involves both spectacular aerial stunt work (Tom Cruise learned to fly a helicopter for this sequence) and precise editing to build suspense. You may go years before you see a better assembled sequence of that nature.


The finale is the best set piece in Fallout, but both of the Paris chases could easily have anchored good action films on their own. Director McQuarrie seems to have established an excellent rapport with Tom Cruise (his last five films as either writer or director have been Cruise projects), and he has mastered the formula for the Mission: Impossible movie. Simply put, have Cruise do as many wild stunts as possible and structure the screenplay around the stunt work. And, since Cruise eschews the use of stunt doubles (he even learned to fly a helicopter for the climactic sequence), the vast bulk of the work is traditional stunt work (as in the clip below) rather than green screen CGI.


Having said that, I would note that Fallout does try to get inside the head of Ethan Hunt and establish a more rounded character. Hunt is willing to jeopardize a mission if needed to save innocent lives, which makes the CIA suspicious of him and gives the villainous Lane an advantage when dealing with him. Cruise probably has more dramatic scenes here than in any of his other Mission: Impossible films, including some with both Michelle Monaghan and Rebecca Ferguson, playing the two women in Ethan’s life. At least, the movie doesn’t embarrass itself in these scenes.


The real problem with the movie is in the complicated maze of double and triple crosses in McQuarrie’s script. He won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, so he can handle the crafting of an intricate script. But here, the various explanations (and the gimmicky mask work cons) never quite work and only serve to slow the film down. The big “surprise” in the movie, a third act reveal of a major new villain, is painfully easy to figure out. Since Fallout is two-and-a-half hours long as it is, taking the time to really make a tricky plot work was probably not an option for McQuarrie, so some judicious plot streamlining and simplifying would have helped. Also, Solomon Lane proves to be as uninteresting a villain this time around as last. Now, he looks like a world-class nutcase and babbles about causing pain and destruction. This is one role that a recast with a more charismatic actor would definitely have helped.


Still, there’s no question that Tom Cruise (who produced Fallout and the other Mission: Impossible films) has mastered the action film in this franchise and managed to show that old-school stunt work and action direction still work in a digital era. In fact, since the stunts are grounded by what’s actually possible, the audience can marvel at them in a way that’s simply impossible for comic book CGI films to match. Cruise and McQuarrie have truly accomplished a mission that was seemingly impossible, to make the best action film of the year with the least amount of digital effects.

In this clip, Tom Cruise and Vanessa Kirby dodge would-be assassins.

Read other reviews of Mission: Impossible - Fallout: 

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018) on IMDb