Who would have thought that after 22 years the “Mission: Impossible” franchise would still be alive and well? Over the years this franchise has risen to prominence as a prime competitor for other spy series including the “Bourne” series and the James Bond films. Not only that, it seems to be getting better with every entry keeping up with the quality and fan obsession over its contemporaries and long running classics. This weekend we got the latest addition to the franchise, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”, which represents a lot of significant firsts for the series. It’s the first movie to be a direct sequel of a previous entry. It’s the first time a director has led more than one entry in the franchise with Christopher McQuarrie directing after also leading “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”. It’s also the shortest time between films at three years and it’s the first movie in the franchise to feature a returning villain. In many ways “Fallout” shows that this franchise has finally found its comfort zone, but how does this translate to the big screen? Does “Fallout” rise to the occasion or does it phone it in now that it has a committed audience to pander to? Let’s take a look with my review of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
Two years after the events of “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is charged with helping stop a new plot by The Apostles, a group of rogue Syndicate members led by a mysterious man named John Lark. The plot involves building a trio of portable nuclear weapons for coordinated terrorist attacks. Joined by teammates Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) Hunt tries to prevent The Apostles from obtaining plutonium but fails after he chooses to save a teammate’s life before securing the substance. To stop The Apostles, Hunt and his team are joined by CIA operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) to retrieve the plutonium at any cost. To protect his cover and complete the mission under the radar Hunt is tasked with retrieving Syndicate leader Soloman Lane (Sean Harris) to trade him for the substance. In the process Hunt’s team also comes into conflict with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who has her own mission from MI6. This all leads to an epic series of events where the fate of the world once again lands on the shoulders of Hunt and his operatives as they once again must take on a mission to prevent chaos while Hunt is also forced to face demons of his past around every turn.
After five other films and 20 years of success you’d think that the “Mission: Impossible” franchise would have lost some steam by now but, surprisingly, it truly does seem to get better and more exciting the longer it stretches on. “Fallout” truly is the culmination of everything great about this movie series. It’s brimming with personality, humor and enough action to hold you over for the entire summer. This is what a summer blockbuster should feel like. While past “Mission: Impossible” movies have certainly upped the ante and felt like true action genre pieces “Fallout” is possibly the smoothest and most exciting entry in the franchise to date. It’s more polished than past films, it makes more sense that its predecessors and the pacing feels perfected to the point where there’s never really any moment to get bored or lose interest in the story. “Fallout” not only reaches for new heights, it sets a new bar for not only “Mission: Impossible”, but the spy movie genre in general. The story manages to lean on old favorite cliches while also feeling fresh and interesting with a few new concept added in for spice. This is an approach other spy movies seldom tend to implement correctly. James Bond, eat your heart out.
Of course Tom Cruise is the driving force behind this movie, performing increasingly amazing stunts which has become a calling card for his appearances in many action projects of the last 20 years. While his contributions to this movie aren’t exactly more intense than his past films they are still a wonder to behold. Cruise learned how to fly and barrel role a helicopter for this film and performs a HALO jump which is honestly the coolest stunt in this entire movie. Unlike past films however this doesn’t feel like Cruise is just flaunting his own coolness. At times in this franchise it has felt like Cruise was just showing off but in “Fallout” these stunts feel more cohesive with the narrative rather than randomly inserted for the sake of being there. They are spectacular to watch, and at times a little ridiculous in that innocent action movie sort of way, but Cruise pulls them off convincingly and flawlessly assisted by spectacular cinematography and camera work. The fighting choreography is also top notch as each fight feels real and intense with the setting of those battles well defined so that the viewer can follow the action and where everyone and everything is in relation to each other. This is a simple detail most action movies ignore but “Fallout” puts on a clinic on how to focus a battle and conflict within the confines of a scene or setting perfectly. Other competing franchises have accomplished this at times as well, but “Fallout” does it without compromising the intensity of the combat which in itself is an achievement rarely accomplished.
Of course it’s not just about the stunts, as cool as they are. The acting in this movie is on point too with Cruise giving us a much more exhausted and vulnerable Ethan Hunt than we’re used to seeing. It’s clear his years in the field have taken its tole and he is haunted by not only Soloman Lane remaining alive but also his longing to protect his ex-wife who, if you remember from “Ghost Protocol” was separated from his to protect her from his lifestyle. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg perfectly recapture the characters of Luther and Benji while Rebecca Ferguson proves that she’s more than just a one-off entry in this franchise as we see her character a little more developed when her back is against the wall to choose between the man who helped her reclaim her life and the agency that has forced her back into the game. The real standout however is Henry Cavill’s August Walker. This is the role that Cavill famously grew a mustache for which led to meme worthy issues with the reshoots for “Justice League”. Cavill brings incredible vibrato and machismo to his role giving Walker an ego and confidence that allows him an incredible advantage over his enemies and plays into his weaknesses as well. Walker is everything Ethan used to be in many ways which makes him a perfect partner for Hunt as the spy tries to undo his mistake. While it took a few scenes for me to fully appreciate Cavill’s performance eventually he becomes a great addition to the project even if it’s only a one-time thing.
Overall I just feel like “Fallout” is a fun and engaging film, especially for a spy flick with the typical noise, action and confusing plotlines. “Fallout” is one of the easiest spy films I’ve ever had to follow thanks to great storytelling, impeccable pacing, and top notch direction from returning director Christopher McQuarrie. However the film doesn’t sacrifice the intrigue and personality needed to be a true spy epic. It simply presents these genre tropes better than most of its contemporaries or predecessors making it not only one of the most watchable spy films ever, but also one of the most enjoyable, layered and well directed action films of all time. Simply put, it’s a great genre film that balances drama with comedic levity and stunts with an actual coherent plot. It’s just ridiculous enough to be fun but avoids going too far in one direction or the other, offering a little something for everyone to enjoy. Every aspect of this film feels painstakingly detailed without forgetting that in the end this franchise is meant to be a source of exciting and pulse pounding fun. It definitely earns its status as one of the best action movies of 2018, and frankly of the entire decade so far.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Honestly my biggest gripe with this movie is that it’s terribly predictable. In fact I found it to be the most predictable film in the franchise so far. While not everything is spoon-fed to the viewer over the course of the story I saw a lot of the story coming from a mile away. It doesn’t really spoil the experience but it does make this adventure feel more cut and dry than past entries. We do get some of the neat sleight of hand that we’ve become accustomed to so don’t think this is a completely by-the-books product, but whereas other films left their best whammy reveals for the end “Fallout” puts most of it in the second act which makes the high-stakes conclusion feel like every other action flick around except, you know, better. The secret identity of John Lark is incredibly easy to decipher to the point where I don’t even think they were actually trying to hide it. The added stakes of the final conflict for Ethan Hunt is forecasted well ahead of time despite the movie’s attempt to beat around that bush until the big reveal. Basically “Fallout’s” biggest flaw is that you can predict a lot of the surprises, but even for a predictable movie there are enough fun reveals, including a few callbacks to earlier entries in the series, to keep you invested for the entirety of the surprisingly long two and a half hour run time.
Other than that, for me “Fallout” was near flawless in its execution. Other flaws in the film are only minor at best. I have to admit that I felt line the supposed main villain Soloman Lane isn’t given a whole lot to do despite his character being a big part of the story. Perhaps the biggest single problem with the movie other than its predictability however is how it sets everything into motion. The entire story takes place because of an odd decision by Ethan Hunt that allows the bad guys to get the upper hand. It’s a decision that, when I saw it, I felt was out of character and unnecessarily naive for a spy who has been through so much and seen so many tricks from his various enemies. I didn’t feel like that particular turn of events was a justified or believable way to put a conflict into play that would last the whole movie. The plutonium is only captured by the bad guys because Hunt has a genuine human moment and even if you feel that to be a good character building scenario the sad truth is if he simply took the case with him this entire movie could have been avoided. I know Hunt’s concern for the one over the many plays into the moral of the story, but I just feel like there were better ways to force Hunt to make a decision between his team and his mission that would have resulted in a more believable and less ridiculously unbelievable ,apse in judgement from a spy of Hunt’s caliber.
“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is everything we wanted and more from a franchise that keeps trying to outdo itself, and does so successfully, time and time again. This film ups the ante in nearly every way despite its predictable nature and the pretty unbelievable turn of events that puts the film into motion. It does offer nice twists, even if the best are utilized for the second act rather than being built into the finale, and provides us with well-defined characters, well-choreographed fight scenes, spectacular stunts and incredibly cinematography and direction that all bring out the very best of this long-running series. “Fallout” is a fun, engaging and smooth sequel that shows that the franchise won’t be slowing down anytime soon. I don’t feel it’s too bold to call it the best and most complete and grounded “Mission: Impossible” movie to date and one of the year’s best action movies so far. It truly is a wild ride from start to finish that overpowers its basic flaws by setting a new standard for what an action spy movie can and should be.