What’s the point of choice if you always take the same path? “Your mission, should you choose to accept it.” Come on. He’s Ethan Hunt. For twenty-two years he’s never turned down a job, and if he continues narrowly to escape death, he’ll take every covert mission that comes his way for the next twenty-two years. The psychology of Ethan Hunt offers no choice. He is incapable of saying no.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the sixth entry in the franchise and may very well be the best of the bunch. Christopher McQuarrie is the first director to return behind the camera, and he comes packing his vicious enthusiasm for savage action sequences. Bones get broke, flesh gets torn, and the sound design is cranked to eleven. Having already delivered some of the most memorable moments in the series, McQuarrie might not be able to top the absurdity of previous stunts, but he certainly ratchets the brutality behind each act of combat.
As always, Tom Cruise tackles the proceedings with gladiatorial bravado, and McQuarrie is there to egg him on. The audience gets the impression that his eagerness to risk life and limb for us (he shattered at least one during this production) is in actuality a simple excuse to flex his physical limits. Cruise is as much of an adrenaline junkie as his characters, but even Maverick or Cole Trickle would wince at some of the feats he attempts on the M: I set.
Just as Ethan Hunt cannot deny himself the pleasure of a mission, nor can Tom Cruise. How high did he climb in Ghost Protocol? The Burj Khalifa scrapes the sky at 2,717 feet. Pfft. Cruise can get higher. Early on in Fallout, Cruise flings himself from the back of an airplane, fully committing to a 25,000 foot HALO jump. CGI could have gotten the job done, but there is no denying the carnival-like wonder of witnessing a real human being plummet to the Earth’s surface. Rock on with your mad self, sir.
These films have become part-routine espionage thriller and part-Fear Factor spectacle. The combination is intoxicating, even if our cheers may spur the actor on to face certain doom in the seventh or seventeenth sequel. But let’s not worry about the future. Let’s live for today. Let’s bask in the impossible.
Fallout opens within the mind of our hero. As he sleeps on a cot in Belfast, his dream of wedded bliss to Julia (Michelle Monaghan) is corrupted by the appearance of Syndicate psychopath Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). The life he could have had erupts in nuclear fire, and as his skin and bones are eradicated into ash, Hunt awakens to a knock on the door.
The question of the mission is asked, and Hunt accepts. Three plutonium cores were stolen by The Apostles, the leftover assassins from the Syndicate smashed in Rogue Nation. With the aid of Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Hunt interrogates the scientist hired to construct three nuclear bombs from the material. They learn that the mysterious John Lark is planning to bring about Doomsday as a means of restoring prosperity to those sorrowful souls that survive. Yep, that old chestnut.
Before Hunt can infiltrate an arms deal between Lark and The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), the CIA (Angela Bassett) shuts down their operation. If Hunt and his IMF team are to continue, they must allow the slab of beef that is Agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) to shadow their actions. Not ideal, but manageable. The two take to the friendly skies, and that’s when the truly AWEsome HALO jump sequence comes into play.
Hunt and Walker track Lark to a Parisian nightclub restroom. Inside, the two agents bungle a straightforward snatch and grab job, and are forced into warfare amongst the tile and toilets. The sky-fall sequence was marvelous, but compared to the pure machismo experienced within this brawl, it’s rather basic. Cavill and Cruise hurl Lark through stalls, mirrors, and walls. Pipes are ripped from foundations, transformed into clubs and stabbing weapons. They receive as much devastation, and they deliver, and McQuarrie sells each thwack with satisfying and precise sound effects.
What separates these last batch of Mission: Impossible films from the superhero theatrics of similar spy thrillers is that Cruise is more than willing to allow defeat befall his character. More often than not, it’s chance or luck that saves his (and the world’s) hide. When Rebecca Ferguson reappears as Ilsa Faust, it is just in the nick of time. Cruise is the star, but there is no mission without the team, and there is no rescue without their combined efforts.
Ethan Hunt is not James Bond. The mantra of “I’m working on it” or “I’ll figure it out” peppers the runtime. The solutions are not immediate, but they are there. His heroism doesn’t so much stem from confidence in his abilities as it does from his faith in his partners.
J.J. Abrams in Mission: Impossible III revived the team dynamic to the series and rejuvenated the appeal of the concept. In Rogue Nation, McQuarrie took it even further be introducing Faust as Hunt’s true equal. Now, we have an IMF squad to invest our emotions properly.
The hiccup arrives in Michelle Monaghan’s Julia. McQuarrie is not the type of storyteller to ignore her existence within the canon. He is desperate to bring Faust and Hunt together but to do so, he must remove the emotional complication. The pass Fallout provides is questionable. Not a deal-breaker, but an eyebrow-raiser. For a genre that thrives on coincidence, the solution provided here might be a touch too convenient.
Between the third and fourth films, Ethan Hunt enjoyed the uncomplicated elation of domesticity. We may not have seen much of this existence (such plights are meant for other genres), but we can imagine what dinner around the TV set was like. Every time a news channel reported a terrorist attack or some other form of catastrophe, Hunt would have experienced a shock of guilt.
Hunt is an action hero who cannot say no to a mission. To pretend that he can live behind a white picket fence is laughable, and we demand his presence in the field. The only kind of acceptable romance must come from a badass equal. Faust fits that bill, so Julia’s got to go.
No one will really care, though. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is easily the most thrilling action film of the season, and it is doubtful that any other movie this year will match the rapid heart rate accomplished here. McQuarrie and Cruise have miraculously taken the franchise to its apex. Six movies in, twenty-two years after the original, better than ever.