All the great modern genre sequels, The Dark Knight, Skyfall (for which Fallout most clings to), The Winter Soldier, have one key theme that connects them, that of the notion of consequence. The price the heroes actions have on themselves, their loved ones and the world itself. Fallout, the sixth instalment in the remarkably consistent Mission Impossible franchise, also focuses on the gravity of our choices, not to mention a number of other aspects that mark it out as the best MI film to date. Similar to those films mentioned above Fallout feels like the culmination of events set in motion over previous outings. Built steadily from the third film onwards is the idea that central hero Ethan Hunt is a man who doesn’t just save the world because it is his job, he does it to protect those that he loves. He is a man who is willing to lay down his life for the one not just for the greater many, and it is this character trait that sets in motion the events of Fallout.
The film starts off small and if I’m honest a little heavy. Due to the non stop pace and action of its predominant time, the first half an hour is slow, filled with weighty exposition in order to allow the bountiful action sequences to play out unencumbered with incessant plot. It is a smart move but lacks the go for broke instant absorption the previous instalment Rogue Nation kicked off with. Still it is moodily shot by DoP Rob Hardy, giving off a nice noir vibe as the team assemble to make a play for some stolen plutonium (one does wonder if these films will ever move away from nuclear threats). An unfortunate ambush leaves Hunt deciding to save one of his team over protecting the mission, setting in motion a chain of events that leads the team to Paris, London and further. To say more would rob the film of some of its surprises and although there are times when convolution kicks in, there are still a number of twists to keep you on your toes.
It is smart scriptwriting from returning writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, who perfectly intertwines the story movements within the action so the slightly lengthy 2 and a half hour runtime doesn’t feel so foreboding. A franchise first in bringing a director back, the MI films had made it a point of difference to have new voices in each time to give each film its own distinctive palate. It turns out bringing McQuarrie back was a stroke of genius, he not only pushes the action filmmaking to new heights but uses his previous film to build in unexpected character interactions to make this more of a direct sequel. Wisely he focuses a lot of his time on the cracking casting these films always display. Familiar faces such as Simon Pegg, Alec Bladwin and Rebecca Ferguson return, and he makes sure each of them get to play a part of meaning. Strongest of all this time, surprisingly, is Ving Rhames as Luther, who thanks to his longevity within the series (him and Cruise are the only ones to star in all 6) laces in some nicely felt emotional backbone surrounding Ethan’s humanity.
Despite seeing him getting married in part 3 and the series gradually building more of a soul to him, Ethan has always felt slightly distant as a character. Yet here McQuarrie takes all his past actions and uses them to round off the gentle heart within him. It doesn’t quite match the psychological analyses Skyfall or Dark Knight provided for their heroes but it certainly endears you even more to Hunt’s side. And of course the best way to inspire a man to challenge his very nature is by facing him against villains who are diametrically opposed. Fallout takes the form of Sean Harris’s returning rogue British agent, growling with gleeful abandon, Harris is a lot of fun and bounces off Cruise effectively. Building on the theme of opposites Fallout also introduces Henry Cavill’s August Walker. Adorned with a terrific name and an even more terrific moustache, Cavill is the bruising hammer to Cruise’s efficient scalpel. Always slightly underused, especially as the Man of Steel, Cavill is given ample material here to be charming, funny, and deadly, whilst you may see very early on the arc of his character he gives it enough menacing unpredictability to keep you on your toes. Oh and I cannot move on without talking about Vanessa Kirby’s wickedly delightful turn as The White Widow, managing to generate some fairly heated sparks with Cruise whilst also handling herself with aplomb in some vicious fight scenes.
Now of course some come for Mission Impossible for the plot and cast, but most would argue they are here for the crazy action sequences. Tom Cruise has made it his personal mission it seems to top himself with each new chapter, and at 56 he excels himself even higher here with nary a thought for his own personal wellbeing. Much has been spoken about the ankle break he suffered mid shoot, and yes the shot in question does feature within the film, but that’s just a small stone in the ocean of stunts he does here. Leaping out of a plane, flying a helicopter into extremely insane positions, driving a bike through Paris, even just running across a bridge, Cruise manages to make it all feel incredibly thrilling especially as you know it was all him. You’d think in doing all this Cruise would not be able to focus on giving an actual performance, after all who can think of acting when plummeting from 25,000 feet. Yet this is possibly his strongest work in the franchise to date. Ethan Hunt has always been an intriguing combination of things. He has the same air of making it up as he goes along that Indiana Jones does, although he lacks the potent sexuality Ford brought to his iconic role. There are flirtations, particularly with the effervescent Rebecca Ferguson, but he has never been an overt lothario such as Jones or Bond, too much is at stake. But there is humanity akin to Jason Bourne too. Fallout challenging the very limits of what he can take, ending on a shot similar to Captain Phillips in exhausted vulnerability manifesting in barely contained tears.
If praise must be lauded on Cruise for so committing to this crazy endeavour then so to to its instigator-in-chief Chris McQuarrie. He has mounted together a truly staggering achievement in action filmmaking. In some respects this has a lot in common with Mad Max Fury Road, maybe less in the sheer action as storytelling insanity of that masterpiece but more in the way he has found new ways to capture the work of his talented stunt team. McQuarrie makes sure spatial awareness is always key, allowing us to feel just how dangerous the action is. His camera glides, interweaves and zooms in with carefully co-ordinated precision, to the point where you are left scratching your head at just how some of this was pulled off. There is a confidence and control to his editing that rivals Nolan in building action scenes within one another. Take the Paris portions of the film. Lasting a good 50 mins, it is a masterclass in how to structure events that escalate with such intensity that I don’t think I took a breath for its entire duration (well maybe one or two otherwise I wouldn’t be here typing this overlong review). Combine all that with the aforementioned crisp cinematography and Lorne Balfe’s phenomenal score, and you have Summer blockbuster filmmaking to which so many aspire to achieve. The only downside to all this is that McQuarrie, Cruise and the team have set the bar so high, how in the hell can they top themselves going forward?! If another instalment finds itself called upon, Mission: Impossible suddenly feels incredibly apt.
Verdict: Mission Impossible: Fallout is incredible action moviemaking. Never taking its foot off the gas in order to deliver staggering stunts, brisk convoluted plotting, charismatic performances and real heart. A triumph.