I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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:
• 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.
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.
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?
• Mission: Impossible 2 (review)
• Mission: Impossible III (review): Sacrificial Tom
• Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (review)
• Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation movie review: familiar yet fresh