For most fifty-six-year-olds, a two mile sprint through the centre of London would be mission impossible enough, thank you very much. Not Tom Cruise. Charismatic and indefatigable, the star steers bikes, cars, boats and helicopters in his latest refusal to grow up. The result is something of a middle aged fantasy – younger women, older men – but one impeccably choreographed.
In terms of continuity, Fallout is a Mission Impossible record breaker. Whereas the normal routine would see Ethan’s ensemble self-destruct thirty seconds after the credits, only to be replaced for the next outing, this time Rogue Nation has unfinished business. Joining Cruise in his sixth outing as Ethan Hunt, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin and even Michelle Monaghan – last seen briefly in 2011’s Ghost Protocol – are all back. Also returning, in a franchise first, is Rogue Nation writer-director Christopher McQuarrie. It’s a wise move to bring back the Oscar winning McQuarrie, whose genuine technical progression is tangible from film to film, as it allows for a degree of narrational development. It might be a stretch to call the film intellectual but there’s certainly more substance to Fallout than the series has boasted for some time.
Two years ago, Ethan and company saved the day, defeated the Syndicate and had its head honcho locked up for good measure. Or so it seemed. Though MI6 traitor Solomon Lane (a still-chilling Sean Harris) has been given the Hannibal Lector treatment, his remaining subordinates have regrouped to form the Apostles. Headed by unknown pseudonymic spy-gone-rogue John Lark, the – wholly clichéd – group set their sights on wiping out one third of the human population, simply because: ‘the greater the suffering, the greater the peace’. They should have that on t-shirts.
In typical fashion – Mission Impossible films remain nothing if not reliable – the film opens with a postal brief: ‘did you ever choose not to accept?’ Ethan, Benji (Pegg) and Luther (Rhames) are sent to Berlin by the IMF to buy three orbs of nuclear potential from a trio of gruff suits, so as to prevent them winding up the wrong hands and being turned into weapons of mass destruction. When things take a turn for the worst, Ethan chooses to save Luther from an early exit over keeping his eye on the plutonium and, of course, loses them. As Baldwin’s terrific Hunley later expositions: ‘You had a terrible choice to make in Berlin: one life over millions. And now the world is at risk.’
It’s a sticky thicket of a plot that involves CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill and the moustache that wrong footed Justice League), an arms dealer known as the ‘White Widow’ (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby) and a return for the fabulous Ilsa Faust (Ferguson). Not that any of this particularly matters. As ever, it’s the action that draws the eye, with the plot’s convolutions and holes managing to slide beneath the radar. Few franchises have this ability to quite so spectacularly negate their implausibility. As McQuarrie’s action rips – not once but twice – through the heart of an oddly empty Paris, his cars scream, while our hearts race and brains hum with cheery content.
For over twenty years now, Mission Impossible films have succeed in delivering slick action at the expense of multilayered storytelling. It feels complex but isn’t. Quite what these characters do when not on mission remains a total mystery. This is, however, a sacrifice that works wonders. Fallout continues its predecessors balletic straddling of the line between utter serious and knowing fun with impressive grace. Cruise – whose commitment to doing his own stunts saw him break his ankle in production – performs a ludicrous succession of feats in an unreservedly thrilling way. The action here is no more grounded than Thurber’s recent Skyscraper but earns respect rather than ridicule. This is, in part, due to McQuarrie’s smart employment of wide and long shots, each designed to reveal which stunts were actually performed on camera. As a rule of thumb: any with Cruise.
There are, it must be said, too many set pieces in the film. Running well over two hours, Fallout is deeply over indulgent and does sometimes wear thin. Whereas most of the action provides edge of the seat engagement, onscreen events do occasionally have eyes rolling, rather than widening. There’s nothing so riotous in the dialogue as ‘Hunt is the manifestation of destiny’ this time but a final act assertion that Ethan’s relationship with Julia broke down because she was worried that no one was looking after the world when he was looking after him comes close. It remains unclear as to whether the series’ penchant for hero worshiping is aimed at Hunt or Cruise. Both have a deic status here.