The Mission: Impossible film franchise has been a rollercoaster, with as many downs as ups. Part of the reason was its constant switching of directors: Brian de Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird, and Christopher McQuarrie have each sat in the director’s chair. The switching also applied to the screenplays, penned by a disparate group including David Koepp and Robert Towne, along with Abrams and McQuarrie doing double duty. With Mission: Impossible – Fallout, McQuarrie, who did the fifth movie Rogue Nation, repeats as both director and scribe. He improves on his previous work to give the series its best outing yet.
The plot is a sequel to Rogue Nation, so if you have a chance to watch or re-watch that film before seeing Fallout, it’s helpful. However, Fallout has enough new material that it’s enjoyable even without the primer. The movie opens with a dream sequence where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is marrying his lost love, Julia (Michelle Monaghan). But then the minister performing the ceremony is revealed as Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the central bad guy of Rogue Nation. It is an unsettling and explosive beginning.
The remnant of Lane’s organization, the Syndicate, is seeking to secure three plutonium bomb cores. Hunt, along with his team of Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg), tries to purchase them first, only to have the cores stolen. With a classic ruse, they manage to get a lead on the cores. Their boss, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), is about to send the team to Paris to follow that lead when the head of the CIA (Angela Bassett) stops them and insists Hunt take along her agent August Walker (Henry Cavill), who’s been hunting the Syndicate himself. In Paris, Hunt runs into another old friend – Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), the MI-6 agent who helped him capture Lane in Rogue Nation.
Rather than concentrate on the plot, simply let the double and triple crosses whisk you along like a leaf floating through rapids. Each entry in the series has had one jaw-dropping sequence, such as the train-helicopter chase through the Chunnel in the first film, or the scaling of the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol. With Fallout, there are multiple sequences that match that level of intensity. At the same time, McQuarrie leavens the story with a delightful amount of self-deprecating humor.
McQuarrie has effectively become Cruise’s go-to writer/director. They’ve worked together on six projects, the last three with McQuarrie directing as well as writing. (Along with the two Mission: Impossible films, McQuarrie wrote Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, and Edge of Tomorrow; on the down side, McQuarrie wrote and directed The Mummy.) As usual, Cruise did the majority of his own stunts, though one wonders how long the producers will allow the 56-year-old to indulge in that conceit. One relatively simple stunt in Fallout left Cruise with a broken foot that led to an eight-week production shutdown. In all, the film had over 6 months of shooting days, spread out across a full year, which is almost unheard of in the annals of film.
The addition of Cavill helps build the tension in the film. He’s the flint to Cruise’s steel, and sparks fly when they’re together on screen. Bassett is tough as nails in her role, and mesmerizing whenever she appears. With Black Panther, it’s been a very good year for the actress.
McQuarrie’s script manages to go to some dark places while still maintaining a breakneck pace, and the introspective aspects of how Hunt’s work has worn on his soul deepens the characterization. Overall, he’s blended the best elements of the previous five films while avoiding their weaknesses, thereby pulling off his own impossible mission.