I remember being sucked into the mania that was the “Mission: Impossible” franchise almost a decade ago with Brian De Palma’s stab at the first installment, replete with his trademark cocktail of style, obsession, and fury. However, unlike some of his far superior works, its lack of breathing space made the movie feel less-than-satisfactory. Little did the audience know then that an unwitting adaptation of a television series would morph into a financially successful brand. Its five sequels have only progressively gotten better at balancing narrative with speed and style—except for a certain Bollywood-potboiler-not-made-in-Bollywood otherwise called “Mission: Impossible 2.” But we’re here to talk about “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.”
Helmed by writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (“Jack Reacher,” 2012), Fallout is a unique beast. As is the tradition with the series, the film definitely looks and feels like its own thing. However, the film takes a long-overdue hard left by looking back at every moment that brought Ethan Hunt into the traumatic emotional hellscape he’s trapped in. McQuarrie, who’s currently the first-ever director to direct more than Mission: Impossible film, returns after Rogue Nation with a vengeance, giving his audience a tour through the darkest recesses of Ethan Hunt’s psyche a la Sam Mendes’ Spectre, a film with which it holds many structural similarities.
Except, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” makes sure it covers everything the Bond film spectacularly missed out on—which isn’t surprising. McQuarrie is primarily a gifted writer, which works tremendously for his movie. One can see why Tom Cruise would have wanted him back for another round. For a series addition in which action is the USP, it’s quite a pleasant surprise to witness characters as more than just a means to an end. Hunt’s character receives exceptional attention to detail here. Cruise’s body language is terrific. Every time he lays his eyes on those plutonium cores, the moments of subtle terror only further establish Hunt’s worldview and life choices—both personal and professional. Moreover, in a universe where spies forever face off against each other, it’s great to witness the film’s two primary characters’ decisions dictated by an astonishing degree of human empathy.
However, all that dramatic heft is neatly blended in with the dazzling technical filmmaking in the film. Cruise’s insatiable need for speed shows with the non-stop death-defying stuntwork (performed by Cruise himself) that ensures the word “Impossible” gets its due. Making each frame look absolutely stunning is Rob Hardy (Ex Machina), who captures some of the most iconic shots of the franchise. (One can’t stress how much the film needs to be watched in IMAX, and not just for the two gorgeously shot set-pieces that make the best use of the aspect ratio).
Like with Rogue Nation, the action choreography of the combat sequences is sublime, combining aggressive attacks and defenses with the kind of precision and grace you can only find in dance. Cruise apart, Henry Cavill and Rebecca Ferguson steal the show in combat, placing every character that comes and goes—minor or significant—on an even keel. (More on this later). Lorne Balfe’s (The Lego Batman Movie) music matches what we see onscreen with every step. While undoubtedly noteworthy, it is a success because it is hard to tell if the visual movement was planned with the score in mind or vice versa. From Angela Bassett’s establishing power-walk to the trio of Cruise, Ferguson, and Pegg walking on-frame in the penultimate minutes of the third act, it’s all in harmony with Balfe’s notes.
And this is only a glimpse of what makes “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” such an accomplishment—despite the presence of a top-billing movie star, the film doesn’t suffer from tunnel vision. With the last two films in the series, Mission: Impossible seems to have evolved from this-is-a-star-vehicle to this-is-a-true-collaborative-effort.
Soak in the scope, the precision, and the terrific performances, and you’ll realize it’s teamwork in absolute harmony—something Cruise claims to have made the film’s manifesto. McQuarrie has given his audience a spy action film that accepts and owns emotional vulnerability not as a weakness but as a strength. Maybe that’s not what they paid to watch, but it’s what they really need to see.