Updated: Jan 29
“What the hell is he doing?” “I find it best not to look.” This exchange, which takes place between IMF Agent Ethan Hunt’s estranged wife, Julia Meade, and Field Agent Benji Dunn in Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) sums up what makes the enduring film series so much fun. Namely, Tom Cruise is a nutcase who will stop at nothing to provide breath-taking entertainment in a variety of death-defying ways, whether it be clinging one-handed to the side of a cliff-face, hanging off the side of a plane in flight, scaling the world’s tallest building or, in the case of Fallout, an infamous leg-breaking jump between London rooftops. Cruise’s commitment to his craft remains quite formidable. He knows what the audience wants and gives it to them. It’s of very little surprise that he has largely maintained his premier action star status since the character of Ethan Hunt first exploded onto our screens in 1996.
Over the years, each 'Mission: Impossible' film has had its own distinct style and flavour, dictated by an eclectic roster of directors, including Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird. Genres have ranged from film noir espionage to psychological thriller taking in elaborately frenetic action en route. Fallout skilfully blends the best elements of these series tropes into a pleasingly heady concoction. It has the dense spy thriller texture of the 1996 original, the dramatic weight of MI:III (2006), and the exhausting but exhilarating action-adventure spectacle of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015). In many ways, Fallout is the first in the series that could be regarded as a true ‘sequel’, continuing the story set up in Rogue Nation.
Two years on from the events of Rogue Nation, the remnants of terrorist consortium the Syndicate are now known as the Apostles, a rogue anarchist splinter group. They plan on obliterating the established world order by launching simultaneous nuclear attacks on key religious sites and it is up to Ethan Hunt and his trusty IMF team - Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, returning for a sixth time) and Benji Dunn (a typically spirited Simon Pegg) - to track them down. Added to the mix are new IMF secretary Alan Hunley (a reliable Alec Baldwin); a returning Rebecca Ferguson as MI6 operative Ilsa Faust; mysterious black market arms broker, White Widow (a smooth Vanessa Kirby); Henry Cavill's moustachioed CIA assassin August Walker, and the captured Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) from the previous film. Naturally, plenty of 'Mission: Impossible' patented double crossing and double dealing ensues.
Fallout keeps Ethan Hunt’s humanity front and centre - a man who cares about the one life as much as he cares about the millions, as CIA Director Erika Sloane (Angela Bassett) puts it. He tries to protect a police officer unwittingly caught in crossfire and is regretful of a course of action that may endanger Stickell’s life when part of a mission goes awry. In a particularly poignant scene, he meets his estranged wife Julia in Kashmir who, with her new husband, has been strategically placed in harm's way by the villain to challenge Hunt's loyalties. It may be just another day at the office but, for Hunt, it's about protecting those he cares about.
A key to the series’ recent successes is the man calling the shots. The release of Rogue Nation in 2015 came with an ace up its muscular sleeve, in the form of writer and director Christopher McQuarrie. McQuarrie and Cruise have become frequent creative collaborators of late, encompassing Bryan Singer's war drama Valkyrie (2008); the first film adaptation of Jack Reacher (2012); Doug Liman's stunning but underrated Edge of Tomorrow (2014); and Alex Kurtzman’s misguided and franchise-quashing version of The Mummy (2017). To date, 'Mission: Impossible' is by far their most successful collaboration, both creatively and commercially.
The precedent for Fallout's ultimate success can be traced back to the fourth entry, Ghost Protocol, which was a make or break film for Cruise, acting as both a reinvigoration of the franchise and a career resurgence for its star. Fortunately, it was a gigantic hit, scaling heights unseen before in the franchise (not just the now famous Burj Khalifa sequence). Many have declared Fallout to be amongst the best action movies ever made. It is not difficult to see why. Fallout capitalises on both Cruise’s apparent fearlessness and McQuarrie's deftness in choreographing action. I particularly enjoy a technique McQuarrie employs which I have termed the ‘yes, it's really him’ shot. In Fallout, the camera tracks Cruise, pursued on a motorbike at full tilt, riding the wrong way through Parisian traffic around the Champs-Élysées, occasionally zooming in for a close up of Cruise’s face.
Fallout is at its spectacular best with the climactic helicopter chase and cliff-top battle, which is one of the most ridiculously tense action sequences in recent memory. We are used to the genre convention of a ‘race against the clock’, but Fallout takes the concept to a heart-stopping new level. Needless to say, Hunt is a spy for whom a plan is always a work in progress and the mission’s success is not always guaranteed.
Ghost Protocol remains the best of the series, but Fallout is not too far behind. Just don’t forget to breathe.
| To be continued... |