Mission: Impossible – Fallout movie review: here we go again

MaryAnn’s quick take: Masterful. I had so much fun with this, often laughing out loud in relief when the tension of a breathless action scene finally broke. So why am I feeling a bit meh about it?
I’m “biast” (pro): love the recent MI films
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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If we simply must keep getting the same movies over and over and over again — and that is not a concession that this status quo is unchangeable — they need to be at least as good as Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Though perhaps with less convoluted punctuation in their titles.

Actually, that’s the opening paragraph of my review of the last MI flick, 2015’s Rogue Nation. I just dropped in the subtitle of this latest one. And in fact, I could have just dropped my entire highly positive review of Nation here, and it would work fine. Choice and entirely suitable tidbits from three years ago that slot perfectly well into my reaction to Fallout:

Trying to get the “distracted CIA honcho” meme going...
Trying to get the “distracted CIA honcho” meme going…

• doesn’t “[take] its audience for granted. It works for your appreciation, which is more than can be said for many similar films in the genre.”
• “gasp-inducing action sequences that will have you holding your breath in sympathy with those getting pummeled”
• “almost everything you will see here actionwise is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, even when it kinda is”
• “matters of just whom we should trust — among our friends, among our colleagues, among our leaders — bubble under everything here.”

This is all good, right? I mean, of course it’s good! Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (Edge of Tomorrow, Jack Reacher), returning from Nation, has crafted a masterful spy thriller. Its two-and-a-half-hour runtime zips by; it’s hard to believe, by the time it’s over, that the movie is as long as it is. It’s relentless and ridiculously exciting; I had so much fun with it, often laughing out loud in relief when the tension of a breathless action scene finally broke. Star Tom Cruise (American Made, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back), whose movie-star It only gets It-ier all the time, is insanely dedicated to ensuring that we believe his superspy Ethan Hunt is actually doing the outrageous things we watch him doing, because the actor is actually doing them at risk of his own life and limb. (Which is nuts and how do the insurance people even allow this?) Like leaping from rooftop to rooftop — the take in which he broke his ankle doing so appears to be the one that ended up in the finished film (maybe it was the only take?) — and learning how to pilot a helicopter so that he could perform his own dangerous flying without having to resort to green screens and CGI to fake it. (Cruise looking genuinely terrified on the cameras looking into the cockpit in this sequence helps sell the plausibility. See image at the top of this review.) McQuarrie and Cruise have jointly upped the ante on the action movie, and it’s going to be tough for future films, in this series and beyond (hello, Mr Bond), to keep up.

When in London, be sure to take in all the historical sites, including beautiful St Paul’s Cathedral.
When in London, be sure to take in all the historical sites, including beautiful St Paul’s Cathedral.

So… why am I left feeling a bit meh about Fallout?

Probably it’s just me. Current events and awful summer weather are making it difficult for me to work up much enthusiasm for movies at the moment. (Proper air-conditioning is hard to come by in London; it feels too hot to think. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of my Fallout press screening was how deliciously, and atypically for this town, cold that IMAX screen was.)

Or maybe it’s that Fallout isn’t quite as clever as it initially suggests it’s going to be. McQuarrie’s script plays with our expectations of the genre, most especially with the nuclear macguffin it deploys: some particularly bad villains are after black-market “plutonium cores” they could use to build suitcase bombs, and Hunt and his team must find the plutonium before they can acquire it. (These bad guys may possibly under the direction of “terrorist for hire” Solomon Lane [Sean Harris: Serena, Deliver Us from Evil], never mind that Hunt captured him in the last film and that Lane is now in incredibly protective and sequestered governmental custody.) Fallout appears to open with what would be the endgame in a lesser movie — Hunt and Benji (Simon Pegg: Ready Player One, Star Trek Beyond) and Luther (Ving Rhames: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Piranha 3DD) are about to buy the nuclear fuel from an arms dealer! — and then appears to go places from there that such movies typically dare not go even in their big-blowup finales. So at first I thought — hoped against hope, in fact — that Fallout was doing what so few stories ostensibly about world-changing possibilities do: actually change the world.

In this case, changing the world via nuclear means would be horrific, and would impinge on the escapism that is the primary mission of movies like this one, which the MI series has, with the recent installments at least, done supremely well. So, you know, again: it’s all on me, for unfairly expecting something more radical that this series had ever promised to deliver.

But, also, you know: if you’re gonna up the ante on a genre, that would be one way to do it.

Parking in Paris is a bitch.
Parking in Paris is a bitch.

I guess I’m happy to settle for a thrilling motorcycle chase through wrong-way traffic around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, one in which it sure as heck looks like Cruise authentically risked life and limb to shoot. Settling for the brutal ferocity of Henry Cavill (Justice League, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as Hunt’s new partner-slash-nemesis in CIA “Special Activities” agent August Walker — being happily bossed around by Angela Bassett! (Black Panther, London Has Fallen) — is no bad thing. Settling for the incomparably smooth and cool Rebecca Ferguson (The Snowman, The Girl on the Train), returning as mysterious operative Ilsa Frost, is just fine (seriously, give this woman her own franchise). Settling for Ethan Hunt saying “A storm is coming… I am the storm,” and the movie making us believe this is fine, and even a sort of miracle since he’s of the brand of good guy who agonizes over killing anyone and, in fact, if I recall correctly, is not actually directly responsible for anyone’s death here.

I guess I’m happy to settle for a franchise that is consistently this reliably smart and entertaining. I guess I’m greedy for wanting more. Right?

see also:
Mission: Impossible 2 (review)
Mission: Impossible III (review): Sacrificial Tom
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (review)
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation movie review: familiar yet fresh

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Tue, Jul 24, 2018 10:17pm

Recycling bits of an old review to apply to a (very good) recycled movie? SO META! I see what you did there. :-)

Paul Wartenberg
reply to  Bluejay
Wed, Jul 25, 2018 9:37pm

the good news is she didn’t rely on her original Tomb Raider review.

Paul Wartenberg
Wed, Jul 25, 2018 3:23pm

it’s at a point where we want Competency in the creation of action thrillers. there’s been so many blah, underwhelming works that rely too much on CGI effects (the post-Matrix Hollywood world) that when an action movie with minimal effects (used to clean up the practical stunts, such as John Wick and Fury Road), honest script and solid directing/editing shows up it is like having filet mignon for breakfast lunch and dinner.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  Paul Wartenberg
Wed, Jul 25, 2018 9:13pm

As the late Harlan Ellison used to say, when you consider how much time and effort go into making the average movie, it seems almost ridiculous to spend all that time making something that was at best okay.

And to spend all that time making something that was awful…Don’t get me started…

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Wed, Jul 25, 2018 9:15pm

Competency. The choice of a new generation…

Thu, Jul 26, 2018 11:58am

What readers and publishers tend to ask authors for: “the same as the last book, only different”.

When there’s this much money going into a production, you don’t take risks.

Fri, Jul 27, 2018 2:58pm

I’ve enjoyed all of these prior to this one, but have yet to see a single one in a theater. The people I go to movies with have no interest.

So, as usual, I look forward to watching this in 4 months at home.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  MarkyD
Tue, Jul 31, 2018 5:00pm

Go by yourself. This one deserves to be seen in IMAX. It’s pure spectacle, and will be diminished on the small screen. (Also true of the previous few.)

John Doe
John Doe
Sun, Aug 16, 2020 4:10pm

So this the epitome of post literate cinema. Action, OK. Acting, meh. Story, the more confusing who cares, Dialog, scrape a 1990s midden of cliches et voila! OK, it was made for the brain dead millennials who only watch deafly. For those few of us who still listen when people speak, switch off your hearing aid and engorge your eyeballs, you ain’t missin’ a thing. Trite is a word I haven’t used for years, until now.

Stacy Livitsanis
Stacy Livitsanis
Sun, Aug 16, 2020 4:10pm

Missed this at the cinema, but it was still a blast at home. Had to laugh at how every aspect of the movie (and all the previous ones) is rigidly centred on Cruise. Feels like every conversation between two characters who aren’t Ethan is about Ethan. Fully agree that when the apparent shock event in the beginning was revealed to have not actually happened, I felt a bit deflated. For a moment I thought, ‘Ooh, we’re doing this? That’s new.’ But no. That would have been something genuinely thematically daring for a series like this to explore. [Not Really a Spoiler: the Vatican, Jerusalem and Mecca were NOT nuked]

More than my reaction to the movie itself, I loved the compersion generated in seeing my mother love it and watch it at least ten times so far. Ever feel good about someone loving something, even if you don’t love it that much?