You know, when someone told me that the first Mission: Impossible movie was directed by Brian De Palma, I immediately dismissed them as mistaken. How could someone like De Palma, a man best known for his work in crime dramas and sexual thrillers, be the guy who kicked off one of the biggest action franchises in the world?
I suppose that just goes to show how much the Mission: Impossible franchise has transformed over the past two decades. The only other group of movies to have embraced a similar change is probably the Fast and the Furious saga. Both started with surprisingly small stakes; before eventually upping them to global nuclear annihilation. However, while Fast and the Furious was content to throw ever ludicrous amounts of CGI effects to tell their stories, Mission: Impossible made the alternative choice to embrace real stunts with real people putting their lives in danger.
And such an approach has paid dividends. Mission: Impossible III and Ghost Protocol breathed new life into the spy genre; while Rogue Nation’s entire marketing campaign was pretty much based around Tom Cruise’s insane decision to hang on the outside of a plane as it was taking off.
So Mission: Impossible – Fallout comes at a time when the franchise is approaching its highest peak. Alas, even with the return of Christopher McQuarrie to the writer/director’s chair; the sixth sequel in Ethan Hunt’s globetrotting adventures, while still entertaining, doesn’t quite summit the Mission: Impossible mountain.
Two years after the capture of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) during the climatic moments of Rogue Nation, three plutonium cores have been stolen by a terrorist group calling themselves The Apostles. They plan to sell the stolen material to “John Lark”, an alias for an unidentified religious fundamentalist.
Though Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his colleagues, Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) try to intercept the sale, they ultimately fail and the nuclear material is left to be won by the highest bidder.
Director of the CIA, Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) is furious, and demands that her own man, August Walker (Henry Cavil) accompany the team as they try to retrieve the stolen materials. But things soon get complicated as former ally, Elsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), enters the picture with her own mysterious intentions.
I don’t usually lead a review by talking about its soundtrack; but considering the astounding work that composer Lorne Balfe has put forward here, it’s impossible not to. With shades of Hans Zimmer’s The Dark Knight, blended in with the potent sounds of Junkie XL’s Mad Max: Fury Road; Balfe’s music is a love letter to every action movie ever made, and yet at the same time marches to the beat of its own drum. It’s not unusual for music to elevate the action, but here it overwhelmingly defines it.
That’s not to say the action is bad. In fact, it’s some of the most intense action scenes ever seen in the Mission: Impossible saga. With a keen directorial eye, McQuarrie keeps the pace moving at breakneck speed, jumping from scene to scene with the brute force of an especially irate bull in a china shop. He’s assisted by some accomplished work from editor Eddie Hamilton, who never loses sight of the bigger picture in between the many back-stabbings and triple crosses.
Having said that, while the action is epic in scope, Fallout doesn’t really offer anything unseen before in the Mission: Impossible series. Remember how unique the underwater sequence was in Rogue Nation? Or how absolutely insane the bridge attack of Mission: Impossible III was? While a HALO jump in the film’s early moments does attempt to diverge from past manoeuvres; the decision to surround Tom Cruise’s character with obvious CGI leads to an extreme dampener upon said scene. Ultimately, and with the exception of a helicopter-dominated pursuit in the film’s latter half; there is very little in Fallout’s action scenes that could be said to be original.
The plot, whilst the usual world-ending nuclear threat, does act as a proper sequel to the events of Rogue Nation. An unusual choice in a series that has predominantly been made up of standalone tales. Indeed, Fallout arguably acts as the culmination of various plot points put down since the series’ first entry. References to Vanessa Redgrave’s Max from the original Mission: Impossible; and the return of a popular Mission: Impossible III character, help bring Ethan Hunt’s story almost full circle.
Fortunately this isn’t a one man show, with Cruise being surrounded by a strong supporting cast. Being that this is a proper sequel, many of the allies and antagonists of Rogue Nation make a return here, with the most notable newcomer being Henry Cavil’s August Walker. Much has been written about the problems caused by the character’s moustache for Cavil’s other famous role in Justice League, but happily there’s a lot more to the character than his incredibly manly facial hair. In fact, if Ferguson’s Elsa Faust could be seen as the female Ethan Hunt; then Cavil’s character is undoubtedly the British interpretation. Giving as good as he gets, the character is utterly unstoppable, bringing the same determination to completing his mission as Hunt has done over the previous five chapters.
There is one aspect that Fallout does improve upon over almost all its predecessors. With the exception of Mission: Impossible III, which dedicated significant amounts of time to Hunt’s personal life, most Mission: Impossible movies don’t really dive into the psyche of the leading man, preferring to define him merely through the relationships he has with the people on his current team. Fallout, however, chooses a different tack, addressing the fact that Hunt will never choose to abandon a single life in order to save millions; and then brilliantly calling him out on it. For the first time in the franchise, there’s an attempt to address the idea of making decisions for the greater good. That even the most moral person must sometimes faces challenges that are impossible to solve without the breaking of their personal code. In the midst of so much action, it’s heartening to see that sometimes the most bombastic of Hollywood can still speak to the inner soul.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout has the winning combination of death-defying stunts, intense chase sequences, brutal bare-knuckle fights and the return of many lovable characters, thrown together in a high-stakes gamble to save the world. It may not be the best entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise; but at least Fallout towers over its 2018 CGI-filled compatriots with real action wrapped around a soul-bearing mission for Mr Hunt.