Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Runtime: 2 hours 27 minutes
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Rebecca Ferguson
The Mission: Impossible franchise has been making waves in the realm of action tentpoles since its fourth film, Ghost Protocol, hit theaters back in 2011. Ever since the now-iconic Burj Khalifa, Dubai building stunt in the 2011 sequel, each successive Mission: Impossible film has essentially been an implicit showcase of Tom Cruise’s real-life, death-defying stunts. This year’s Mission: Impossible sequel (Fallout) keeps the tradition going with an incredibly well-executed crowd-pleaser filled with insane action set-pieces and discernible stakes, but while it may put its contemporaries to shame in the action department, the new film isn’t quite bold enough to usurp the title of franchise-best, or even the year’s best.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the sixth film in the series and is the first direct-sequel (to 2016’s Rogue Nation) in the franchise’s history. The film opens with a mission tasking Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) with retrieving three weapon-ready plutonium cores from an arms dealer before the Apostles, a remnant faction of the evil spy organization the Syndicate that was thwarted in the previous film, can obtain the cores and carry out nuclear attacks around the world. When things don’t go as planned and Ethan is forced to choose between his team’s survival and securing the objective, Ethan decides to save his friends and the nuclear material is lost to the bad guys. With active nukes now out in the world, Ethan must race against the clock to avert an impending attack. But with his initial failure looming, the CIA inserts an operative of their own, August Walker (Henry Cavill), into Ethan’s team to ensure that when the opportunity arises again, the plutonium will not escape their grasp again.
There’s been a lot of hoopla surrounding Mission: Impossible newcomer Henry Cavill, or more precisely, his facial hair. The Justice League saboteur – Cavill’s modestly burly stache – makes his highly-anticipated debut in Fallout as agent Augustus Walker, the wild card element and rival-to-Ethan Hunt in the film. Cavill brings a certain angry gravitas to his spy character, serving as a literal foil to Cruise’s character, who in this film is under a microscope as the story explores his character’s moral code in the context of the violence he’s often times threatened to commit in the name of preserving life. Cavill’s Walker exists in that ethical struggle, with his character being aptly introduced as the “hammer” to Hunt’s “scalpel.” Or at least this is what the film initially lets on to. While Mission: Impossible – Fallout is an amazing film, we can’t forget that it is still a Hollywood blockbuster; and while the recent behemoth Avengers: Infinity War was a bonafide blockbuster with the guts to subvert its own wheel-house in very bold ways, most blockbusters refuse to divert too far from the standard genre plot, something Fallout unfortunately suffers from.
As most viewers accustomed to the action/spy genre could probably predict, Cavill’s August Walker is not who he seems to be, and he ends up being who you likely predicted he would end up being. Usually when the typical action movie pulls this twist, the movie itself isn’t that great to begin with so it’s a lot easier to accept such a cliche narrative crutch. In a movie like Fallout however, such a twist does nothing but undermine the confidence of the underlying work as a whole. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) is another recent example of what I mean. In that film, Colin Farrell’s intriguing villain character turns out to be Johnny Depp using a face-morphing potion to conceal his true identity, cuing millions of eye rolls and disappointing sighs, because the character being played straight was interesting enough as he was. Henry Cavill as a righteous antagonist foil to Tom Cruise as he tries to thwart a nuclear attack is infinitely more interesting than what Fallout insists by the time the final act comes around. Once the film shows its hand and settles into a familiar mold, the only thing left to look forward to is the final act’s practically-done set piece, which is worth the price of admission alone.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is undeniably a tonal and technical master class in Western-action cinema, with the likes of The Dark Knight (2008) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), but a few too many frustratingly unnecessary narrative gimmicks ultimately diminish the film’s potential as a true modern masterpiece. Ghost Protocol is still the best Mission: Impossible, but Fallout is definitely must-see summer fare.