Director: Christopher McQuarrie
12A | 2h 27min | Action, Adventure, Thriller | 25 July 2018 (UK)
They say action is character in film. Well, the filmmakers behind the kinetic, stunt-soaked thriller Mission Impossible: Fallout favour their character building to take place in helicopters ramming each other at high speed before tumbling down gorges, or in SWAT vans upended into rivers, or on motorcycles running a cool 150 MPH threading through oncoming traffic in a Paris rush hour. Stunts and action sequences that make the D-Day landing look like a child's picnic in comparison can only tell us so much about the inner characters of the ludicrously-named Impossible Mission Force (The IMF, I guess the International Monetary Fund can't sue the CIA for copyright) led once more by the suspiciously youthful-looking covert operative Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, who broke about five ankles making this film, according the news), but we aren't here for the sixth instalment of the increasingly ambitious and critically-praised MI series to see a Bergman-esque deep dive.
We are here, of course, for what the series has morphed into over its six film, 23-year run: a self-aware thrill-ride of ludicrously ambitious chases, escapes, break-ins and fistfights taking place in eye-popping locations spanning the globe. Like another spy series, The 60s TV series The Avengers, the MI series started off as a relatively straight spy thriller back in the 90s, then slowly but surely, became a meta experience where audiences were invited back specifically on the understanding that foreknowledge of the sheer amount of insane devotion to the craft of action filmmaking that the single-minded star machine known as Cruise (a producer on this series, don't forget) would have put in, along with the creative control and financial backing to allow the creative teams on each film to let their imaginations to run riot in devising new highwire deathtraps, was going to be part of the bargain. Thus the previous film, Rogue Nation, was trailed as featuring Cruise hanging off an actual plane as it took off from a runway. Fallout doesn't just top that, it crushes that stunt by literally landing on it from a high altitude halo jump before smashing it into a helicopter and then dropping it off a snowy cliff. At one point in Fallout, during the climactic final face-off with the villains with time almost out, Ethan Hunt gasps into his radio mike to his worried team "I won't let you down". Its really Cruise talking to us, of course, reminding us of his promise that he would, for as long as possible, exist to be the world's greatest movie star who would make every penny of your ticket price feel it wasn't enough. Ethan Hunt IS Tom Cruise. No one else could be.
Cruise now has a great deal of ownership of the series, and has ensured a variety of filmmakers have helmed each of the instalments. This time he is back with Rogue Nation's director Christopher McQuarrie (who also serves as writer), and the screenplay, though a little bit twisty with a lot of revelations delivered on the run and a fair few double and triple crosses to process, does largely successfully squeeze the huge amount of incident and characters into a coherent and fast-moving whole. The threat is suitably epic, and is directly linked to the previous film, making this the first direct sequel in terms of plot carryover from a previous MI movie. This time, three silvery orbs of plutonium have fallen into the hands of the Apostles, an anarchist group planning to use them to blow up the Vatican, Jerusalem and Mecca and start a holy war to 'refresh' humanity. Going undercover, and saddled with the beefy figure of Henry Cavill as CIA Agent Walker who is assigned to watch over him, Hunt has to trade the explosives for anarchist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), whom he captured in Rogue Nation. He is aided by trusty accomplices Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg), and previous female ally Ilse Fox (Rebecca Ferguson) from MI6 is soon back in the mix for unclear reasons. The fact that the concealed villain keeps setting up morality traps for Hunt, forcing him to make the choice he always refuses to make (save one or save one hundred) means vibes of the Joker from The Dark Knight are in the mix, and this is no bad thing. Every time Hunt pulls a last-minute save, his victory is usually punctured by a phone call or text message informing him that he just ruined his day a little further, and the tension rises once more.
This eclectic cast makes for an effortlessly entertaining and diverse bunch (this film has the most for its female characters to do too, pleasingly), and each member of main lineup gets to express either character's own unique sense of humour, fighting style, or technical skill in the various car chases, bomb disarmings and roof jumpings that make up the daily life of an MI agent. Even if action sequences can't get us as deep into a character as a unbroken 20-minute dialogue scene, McQuarrie makes all the action beats 'characterful' in their own way, so if extended shootouts and car chases bore you, you have a score-less, teeth-janglingly brutal three-way punch up in a luxury tiled bathroom to get you off. And McQuarrie is a master at knowing just when to give the audience that small, but perfectly-timed beat that releases the last 20 minutes of tension; either through a broadly comedic moment (Pegg and Cruise have a good rhythm with this) or through deflating Hunt's inherent cockiness by showing him flat on his face through mistiming a jump or simply stuck in a predicament that he has no idea how to get out of because he just figured he'd work it out later. I don't know at what point Cruise decided his mission in life was to become Jackie Chan on steroids in these kinds of movies, but long may this phase continue. This is simply one of the best action films I have ever seen.