There are a lot of reasons why the Mission: Impossible franchise is one of our great cinematic franchises and why it’s my second favorite franchise to exist in my lifetime. They’ve arguably, depending on how you feel about Mission: Impossible 2 (I’m a fan), gotten better with each installment. 10 people could have different rankings on their favorites in the franchise and they’d all be validated. They all have great villains and they’re played by great actors. These films are perhaps the most auteur-friendly franchise in existence, each director has gotten to do their type of film with each installment. Brian De Palma got to make his dirty Hitchcock thriller in Mission: Impossible. John Woo got to make a balls-to-the-wall insane action film with Mission: Impossible 2. J.J. Abrams got to prove his worth and make a conspiracy thriller with Mission: Impossible 3. Brad Bird got to show he can excel in live-action and craft his signature adventure film in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. And then Christopher McQuarrie got to make a classic spy thriller in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. McQuarrie returns once again – the first time in the franchise a director has done two films – but it’s definitely not more of the same in Fallout. He thankfully doesn’t make the same film twice. He instead gets to flex his filmmaking chops and creates an ode to practical effects and stuntwork. It’s an ode to the limitless nature of Tom Cruise.
This installment, Fallout, finds Ethan Hunt (Cruise) working with shady CIA operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) to thwart an attempt to free Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) – the villain from Rogue Nation – and stage a nuclear attack.
Let’s just go over some of the stunts Tom Cruise pulls off in this film. He breaks his ankle when he jumps a ledge, and he gets up and finishes the take and they used it in the film. He then continues to run at full speed on an unhealed ankle in other scenes. He rides a motorcycle at full speed without a helmet against traffic for an extended sequence throughout Paris. He does a HALO jump at 25,000 feet, something he trained 6 months to do. He not only learned to fly a helicopter, he learned to fly it well enough to do ridiculously hard dives and turns with it. By him doing it all himself, it allows them to get shots from in and around the cockpit that they never could have gotten otherwise. That’s just a sample of what he’s offering this go-around. It’s like they first said “what stunts and sequences do we want to do?” and then just built a film around that. That normally doesn’t work, it does spectacularly here. I’ve long preached the gospel of Tom Cruise, he’s one of the only movie stars you can really trust in the modern age of CGI. Whatever he’s doing on screen, he’s actually doing it. Cruise loves the audience that much that he gives his body and soul over to the purity of cinema and doing everything himself. One of my favorite things to watch in cinema is Tom Cruise running. He runs like he’s putting everything he has into each arm pump and leg lift, like he’s putting more focus and effort into it than anyone has ever put into anything. McQuarrie knows this and feels the same, filming Cruise going at full speed in long drags of takes, just letting you take it all in. Tom Cruise is 56 years old and still doing magnificent physical feats just for our entertainment, and that’s what makes him a movie star like no other.
Henry Cavill is a bit of a mixed bag, in his first few scenes he seems uncomfortable and stiff, like he doesn’t know how he wants to play his character, but he settles in just fine. What does shine through is that I would happily watch this man kick ass some more. Frontrunner for favorite image of the year is Cavill pumping his arms quickly in succession as he approaches his opponent. Someone on the internet described it as him “reloading his arms” which is perfect. It’s just an exhilarating shot, you’ll know it when you see it. Cavill is also doing a good amount of the stunts himself too, which is always impressive in a Mission: Impossible film. I was glad they brought Rebecca Ferguson back, her performance as Ilsa Faust in Rogue Nation and Fallout makes her the best leading lady they’ve had in these films. Simon Pegg continues to make you laugh, Ving Rhames is the emotional stabilizer and Alec Baldwin is having a good time as part of the team.
Christopher McQuarrie has long been one of filmmaking’s best kept secrets. He wrote the screenplay for The Usual Suspects, then directed the terrific and underseen film The Way of the Gun. Unfortunately, nobody saw it and he was sent to director prison until he met Tom Cruise during the filming of Valkyrie (which he wrote). Cruise has held him close since then, with McQuarrie having writing credits on Cruise films like Edge of Tomorrow and The Mummy, as well as writing/directing the terrific 2012 Cruise film Jack Reacher. Cruise then gave him the keys to the kingdom as he’s now done two of the best Mission: Impossible films.
One quality about McQuarrie that sets him apart from other filmmakers is his innate understanding of pace. Last week I put myself through The Equalizer 2, and while that film is 2 hours, it feels like 4. Fallout is 2 and a half hours, the longest in the franchise, but it does not feel that long at all. There is no dead weight here. This film just flies, and it was exactly what I needed after the aimless plodding of Equalizer. In Fallout, McQuarrie expertly ups the ante through each sequence while giving you character information and motives through simple visuals. He’s constantly keeping you on your toes, giving you clever twists and turns throughout the film. McQuarrie and underrated cinematographer Rob Hardy expertly shoot all the action. They are done in clean extended takes, they aren’t hiding anything in quick cuts. It’s all being done with practical effects, and each shot just feels so purposeful. They’re not just winging any of these sequences, they are immaculately plotted out and visually rendered. There’s a fight scene in a men’s bathroom early in the film that is just brutal. These guys are just whooping each other, they are throwing nothing but hard hits, and McQuarrie and Hardy make great use of the space and props. It’s an easy frontrunner for fight scene of the year. You’ll need a cigarette after watching it.
This film has the most far-reaching connections with the rest of the franchise, touching back to not only Rogue Nation, but as far back as the first film. If you catch the reference to the first film, it’s great. If you don’t, no worries, it won’t affect your enjoyment and engagement with the film. The plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at points, but that doesn’t matter. You’re just having too much fun to really care. Fallout is a marvel and extravaganza of practical effects and stuntwork. Whatever McQuarrie does next, I just hope Cruise is still a part of it. When Hunt does in fact complete the impossible mission, a kid in the audience yelled out in ecstasy “HE DID IT!!!!” which is exactly how we were all feeling. We were all sharing in that kid’s joy, because Tom Cruise did it.