It’s a golden rarity when a film can leave you feeling simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is that golden rarity. In the realm of popcorn action filmmaking, it doesn’t get much more slam-bang than this, a globe-hopping, nerve-rattling, full-on spectacle from beginning to end, the kind of movie-movie masterpiece that makes most other action films look like nobly inept posers.
More remarkable still is how this franchise has now found a way, 22 years and six films in, to continue upping the ante, each film acting as a topper to its nearest predecessor. At this point, one might imagine these movies – which it’s now easy to forget were based on a corny ‘60s-era TV series – would have long ago run out of steam and reached a self-parodying point of no return. Instead, each subsequent entry feels like the series high point, and Falloutis no exception. It functions as an on-screen interpretation of the “Impossible” label. What we are witnessing is so ridiculous, so unbelievable, so over-the-top that it would be laughable if it weren’t do incessantly awesome. There is still audience laughter, to be sure, but it’s of the incredulous variety – “I can’t believe I just saw that…now please show me more.”
“More,” in this case, refers not only to the spectacle but also the screenplay. A recent development in the M:Ifranchise is the discovery of ongoing conflict. These films are no longer self-contained one-offs, but like the Bond franchise, now have a narrative connectivity that deepens the characters and enhances the stakes. Falloutoffers a continuation of 2015’s Rogue Nation, wherein Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and team apprehended terrorist mastermind Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) but left factions of his vaunted Syndicate splintering throughout the world. Now those factions, dubbed “The Apostles,” threaten to unify under a mysterious anarchist named John Lark, whose actual identity isn’t quite clear. The Fallout subtitle has tentacles not merely in plot but in character. Flanked by his usual team of Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), trailed mysteriously by former MI-6 ally Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), and under the watch of an arrogant CIA brute (Henry Cavill), Hunt is made to reckon not only with an incomplete mission but also the resulting personal sacrifices he’s made while pursuing said mission, and the countless others that preceded it.
I’d say the film – written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who should be locked in as the now-irreplaceable franchise auteur – consists of a string of gob-smacking, jaw-dropping action set pieces, but that would be an insult to its elegant flow. Fallout’s action isn’t episodic, it’s continuous, a perpetual cascade of filmmaking elation. McQuarrie has mastered pace and space, moving seamlessly between sequences of breathtaking speed and prolonged tension, from tight corridors to epic open environments. This world is enhanced by Rob Hardy’s cinematography, a veritable menagerie of light and shadow, and given a propulsive heartbeat via composer Lorne Balfe’s score. On the perfect IMAX screen, it may well feel like a simulator, though without the overt artifice. This is an immersive action wonderland, a fortified injection of summer movie adrenaline.
For his part, Cruise spent the entirety of production on the brink of death, as has become his norm on these pictures. The guy earned his $30 million by performing nearly 100% of his own stunts, fracturing his ankle jumping between buildings, and spending 16 hours a day learning to pilot a helicopter. The result is yet another full-tilt daredevil performance that makes me seriously consider paying a walk-in visit to my local Scientology center.
As the inimitable Mission: Impossible theme music plays over the credits, we’re left at once spent and salivating for more. But based on the trajectory of these films, and in the sterling wake of Fallout, it’s not so much a question of whether this franchise can continue topping itself, but how audaciously.