Mission: Impossible — Fallout is not a smart movie, but it is a thoughtful one is in all the ways it should be. It considers its action, making sure all the set pieces are the most breathless and dizzying possible even if we know the outcome. It ponders its characters, turning what should be hollow action ciphers into quandaries of motivation. And it is the best blockbuster of the summer.
Fallout sees Christopher McQuarrie return to both the director and writer’s seat after Rogue Nation and for good reason: he knows what he’s doing. (I did like how the Mission: Impossible series was a multimillion dollar set of fan films, but oh well.) He knows how to set up complex stakes and make the absurd feel grounded and dangerous. This includes an absolute batshit tapestry of nuclear weaponry and terrorist manifestos.
IMF Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has to saddle up once more to recover three hilariously (but accurately) round payloads of plutonium, plutonium that terrorist John Lark wants so that he and his 12 apostles can blow up the planet for world peace. (As he says repeatedly, “the greater the suffering, the greater the peace.”) Hunt rounds up his old crew in Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) under new IMF Secretary Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), but he also has to deal with CIA oversight in the form of Hunley’s replacement Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) and Agent August Walker (Henry Cavill).
While the idea that there’s once again a government agency that distrusts Hunt and the IMF is tiring at this point, the way it surfaces through the hulking babysitter Agent Walker is fresh. It’s the first time in a long time where the one-off addition to the team is immediately recognized as commensurate to the team, and it’s certainly it’s the first time as Hunt’s equal in field efficiency, though not methodology.
It’s an interesting wrinkle, seeing one of the many ways Hunt’s mission goes awry manifest in the way of unrelenting brute force that’s on his side. On some level, it harkens back to Jean Reno’s Franz Krieger in Brian de Palma’s Mission: Impossible, trying to keep tabs on an unreliable influence. Except in this case Walker wants the mission to succeed but through his indiscriminate biceps rather than Hunt’s precision hands.
This also adds the requisite layers to the plot because otherwise, it’s relatively straightforward. You know upfront the antagonistic half of the movie will involve returning terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and that there will be some amount of subterfuge, backstabbing, and haphazard stumbling to success. Even if you can’t put into precise terms how it all shakes out, this is still a fairly predictable chunk of action chicanery.
It kind of bungles the handling upfront, throwing a tremendous amount of exposition at you with the assumption that we’ll then be on a nonstop ride of explosions, fights, and chases. But then it just keeps going, stewing in setup for longer than you’d expect because none of its complicated or nuanced enough to warrant the protracted handling. Once it gets going, however, it fucking goes. Just not as smoothly as you’d like (though points for ruthless efficiency).
It’s surprisingly how pleasant, however, the way the shenanigans get twisted and torn as it goes on for the impressively agreeable 148(!) minutes. This is especially true as former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson ) returns to the fold with her own motives regarding Lark and the influences of Hunt’s ex/forever wife Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan) come to a logical conclusion. This is also where the film gets closest to saying something.
Shown through the lens of Hunt’s choices, the film (partially) examines the ethics of heroism. This is a character that absolutely refuses collateral damage on every level, a stark contrast to the likes of Skyscraper where The Rock just sort of barrels through things like, well, a rock. This adds tremendous layers to an otherwise stock action hero (though it is neat he exhibits his romantic love in multitudes and as a facet of platonic love for people), giving texture to his weighing of the perennial trolley problem.
It’s also impossible to talk about Fallout without talking about the action sequences because—hot damn—is it incredible. A lot of people chalk up Cruise’s desires to do his own stunts to a death wish or dedicated PR fluffing but the real value comes through in the footage. By not having to rely solely on stunt doubles or blurred CGI masking, McQuarrie can let the action live in wide shots, the framing that action like this deserves. This is the kind of real estate that cinematographer Rob Hardy (Ex Machina, Annihilation) thrives in.
With complete and uninterrupted framing, the drama of things like chases and free fall (listen to McQuarrie talk about that one) can play out naturally. Shot composition and editing can work to the rhythm of traditional scenes rather than at the whims of when you have to cut to hide stunt performers’ faces or to artificially inject momentum. This comes through in spades in IMAX where things like the entire fucking finale is enough to give you a heart attack. Let’s just say those helicopter classes really paid off.
There’s a lot more to say about the action sequences, but not now. To get you to go see them and this film, it’s best to just leave it there. (Just consider, though, running.) But know that even aside from the meta knowledge of the herculean efforts put into the stunts, these set pieces are the closest we’ve gotten to the euphoric dynamism and drama of Mad Max: Fury Road since John Wick: Chapter 2. And if dropping those names doesn’t intrigue you, then my condolences because you’re probably dead.
Final Score: 9 out of 10