Whatever you think of Tom Cruise, you cannot fault his dedication to making entertaining cinema. In his long-running Mission: Impossible movie franchise, here hitting its sixth instalment in 22 years, he has consistently attempted to raise the stakes each time with hair-raising stunts, chases and action set pieces – more often than not with his personal safety quite genuinely at risk. This time around he pilots his own helicopters, breaks his ankle jumping from rooftop to rooftop, and even leap out of a plane for a skydiving mission. Think of the number of takes that moment required – reportedly more than a hundred. Imagine the camera operator that had to jump backwards out of the plane to keep Cruise’s face in shot every time. The point is that nobody in Hollywood today has the kind of single-minded obsession for entertaining their audience. That obsession certainly pays off: Fallout is in every respect the equal of previous missions impossible Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation. For my money they’re the best action films coming out of the USA. Sure Fast & Furious is a hell of a lot of fun, but they’re essentially cartoons. The mayhem in Mission: Impossible really looks like it hurts.
This latest film opens with a mission gone wrong. An attempt to retrieve three containers of weapons-grade plutonium ends in failure when IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is forced to choose between securing the plutonium or saving the life of his long-time colleague Luther Stickler (Ving Rhames). When he, Stickler and Benjamin Dunn (Simon Pegg) set out for a second attempt, they get CIA agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) forced upon them and soon reunite with rogue agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Cue a series of shoot-outs, fist-fights, stand-offs, heists, and a remarkable healthy range of chases. On motorcycles, in cars, via helicopter, and – as is the franchise convention – on foot, this is one of the most chase-heavy action films I have ever seen. It is arguable that there is actually too much action in the film. While it does remaining a gripping and hugely enjoyable action-thriller throughout, it does dip worryingly early into the third act before returning to top performance in the end. The judicious cutting of about seven or eight minutes would have probably tightened the weak points considerably.
The returning cast slip into their familiar roles. At this point they feel like catching up with old friends, with Cruise, Rhames and Pegg having a well-rehearsed and easy rapport with one another. Jeremy Renner is out of the picture this time around – he was pulling Marvel duty at the time – but the production makes a very smart move in bringing back Rogue Nation‘s most valuable asset Rebecca Ferguson. This sort of action film really suits her, and with Cruise not getting any younger a shift to Ilsa Faust taking over the action spotlight from Ethan Hunt could easily guarantee this franchise another decade or two. New team member August Walker is purposefully set up for an antagonistic relationship with Hunt, and Henry Cavill fits well into that role. He delivers an amusing pomposity that almost steps over the line into self-parody, but is cleverly leavened out and redefined as the film goes on.
Behind the camera, the film is excellent. The screenplay does struggle a little in its first 10-15 minutes; there’s something a little stereotypical and forced in the early dialogue, but it does settle down as the plot thickens. Rob Hardy’s photography is stylish and frames the geography of the action very well. It is nice to see Hollywood continue to move away from the visceral ‘shaky-cam’ of the Bourne franchise and bringing a strong sense of space and movement back. Lorne Balfe’s score is a particular highlight, combining the general sweeping tone of contemporary action films with a strong level of 1960s percussion that harks back to the Lalo Schifrin scores of the original Mission: Impossible series.
This is the first Mission: Impossible to act as a direct sequel to its predecessor, so viewers with foggy memories may wish to give Rogue Nation a fresh viewing before heading for the cinema. It is by no means necessary – the film does an excellent job or recapping who’s who where relevant – but it may enhance the experience.
This is an excellent action-thriller, packed with varied and character-based action sequence, leavened with humour, and probably the most character insight of any of the Mission: Impossibles. All up, it’s probably neck-and-neck with Avengers: Infinity War for being the year’s best Summer blockbuster. They’re quite different films, of course, but I have a growing feeling that in the end it’s Fallout that has the edge. If you’re a fan of action movies, it’s unmissable.
Mission: Impossible Fallout opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday 2 August 2018.