I’m a big fan of the Mission: Impossible movies, and the latest installment, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, raises the bar for the series. It has everything we’ve come to expect from the series, but raised to the nth degree. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, the only director to return for a Mission: Impossible sequel, has solidified everything that works wonderfully about this series and wrapped it in an exhilarating package that has pound-for-pound the most excitement of any movie this year. If there’s a movie that turns out to be more thrilling than Mission: Impossible, our bodies won’t be able to handle it. Although the movie can sometimes get lost in its twists, turns, and triple-crosses, it never loses sight of what make Ethan Hunt a compelling hero and why his missions demand to be seen.
The Syndicate, the criminal organization from Rogue Nation, has now spun off into a new organization called The Apostles, led by a mysterious entity known by the alias John Lark. The Apostles are attempting to acquire plutonium for nuclear bombs, and in a botched mission led by Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), the Apostles acquire the plutonium cores. Determined to retrieve the cores, Hunt goes out to reacquire them, but the CIA forces him to keep an observer, August Walker (Henry Cavill), in tow. With the plutonium in the wild, Ethan must find a way to diffuse the situation while also protecting the people closest to him.
What Fallout wisely seizes upon with Ethan is that his greatest weakness and his greatest strength are one and the same. He places a great deal of value upon human life, so that even if it means risking the safety of millions, he can’t simply sacrifice a single innocent person. Fallout further moves this away from the abstract by bringing back visions of Ethan’s ex-wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) as well as showing his feelings for fellow spies Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). The “job” may be letting people die to achieve the greater good, but that’s not the way Ethan is wired, and by reckoning with that psychology, his heroism becomes more fully realized. Rather than just the Action Man who saves the world, there’s a character in place now, and an interesting one at that.
By trying to define the character of Ethan Hunt in a specific way, Fallout has a leg up on its predecessors, which were more concerned with shepherding Hunt from one set piece to the next. While Fallout is still all about the set pieces, it takes the building blocks from previous movies—the relationship with Julia from Mission: Impossible III, his penchant for gambling from Ghost Protocol, having a kindred spirit in Ilsa from Rogue Nation—and then compiles them into a unique person rather than just Tom Cruise: Action Hero. Ethan may not be the most complicated character in cinema, but he now comes off like a real person with strengths, weaknesses, and a driving set of beliefs.
It’s a bit of a shame that there’s not a stronger story to match this fully-realized character. McQuarrie gets a bit lost in all the twists and turns that may lead to some reveals (none of which are particularly shocking), but only serve to confuse the plot and show that the real driving force of the movie isn’t Ethan Hunt but the next set piece. Fallout is always trying to get to the next action scene, and unfortunately the writing isn’t always tight enough to justify the plot movements. Without spoiling anything, I’ll simply say there are developments that simply make no sense, and feel like they’re done for the sake of a twist or a reveal rather than something that serves the story.
And yet it’s difficult to complain when a movie is as much fun as Fallout. The action here is on par with Mad Max: Fury Road for the sheer level of stunt work seamlessly meshed with CGI. You can tell that some of this had to be CGI on some level, and yet the reliance on practical effects and stunt work shines through. There’s no doubting that when the movie does a one-take shot of Hunt diving out of an airplane and trying to reconnect Walker’s oxygen take, all of that is happening. That’s really Tom Cruise falling out of an airplane and that’s really a low-altitude jump and it’s really being done in one take at the magic hour. There’s no substitute for that kind of filmmaking, and it’s why we go to the movies.
Fallout, like Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, and the original Mission: Impossible, is the rare kind of movie where you’re eager to rewatch it as soon as the credits roll. It’s not because you think you missed something or want to see how all the pieces fit together. It’s because the film gives you a feeling like few others, and with Fallout, you’ll want to keep chasing that high.