Right around the time the first trailers for a new Mission: Impossible movie start showing, I always have the same internal conversation. I see Tom Cruise running like Prefontaine through various exotic locations while explosions and things happen around him, and I think “Oh, gosh, do we need another one of these?”
And then I see that movie and I say “Yes, of course, you idiot. Of course we need another one of these.” Because the Mission: Impossible movies are awesome. And for its sixth entry, Mission: Impossible – Fallout reinvents itself again, turning in a stripped-down, brutal, hard-hitting action movie of the highest order.
Mission: Impossible movies have remained fresh since they began in 1996 by almost fully regenerating based on who’s at the helm. Certain constants remain: Tom Cruise’s stalwart, nigh-pacifistic spy Ethan Hunt; infiltration using high-tech gadgets and perfect impersonation; a team of operatives with special skills needed for said mission; usually some death-defying stunt sequences; twisted plots that are hard to follow some of the time; and so, so, so much running.
Within those constraints, the series has varied wildly, and been a direct reflection of the director in look, style, tone, and even execution. This, for some, was reason to fret since the excellent Rogue Nation’s writer-director Christopher McQuarrie was returning for Fallout. I was therefore even more impressed that Fallout feels like it could have been directed by a completely different person. The plot is typical M:I, but it gets way less bogged down in the details, instead offering up a logical progression for Hunt and his IMF crew, again forced to go rogue.
Hunt and his usual go-to operatives Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are on the trail of some stolen plutonium believed to be in the hands of a dangerous the-old-world-must-die cult. Following a botch, the IMF and its new secretary, the laterally moved Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), are forced to take a CIA blunt instrument named Walker (Henry Cavill) on a mission to correct their mistake. Naturally, nothing goes particularly smoothly and Ethan once again crosses paths with his old enemy Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and his old ally Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) as he traverses the globe and gets in and out of various scrapes. You know, an action movie.
There’s a timeless quality to the action in Mission: Impossible – Fallout; you feel every punch of every fist fight and every high speed turn of every chase scene. The impressive and much-touted sky diving sequence is certainly impressive, made to look like a single take, but that’s by no means the height of the movie’s amazing sequences, which include cars and motorcycles through the streets of Paris, a breathless foot chase over rooftops of London, and an astounding helicopter showdown over the Himalayas.
Just like the lit fuse that begins the old 1960s TV series, Fallout burns along toward the inevitable explosive climax as the films have always done. However, Fallout also deepens the character relationships built through the other films, which is definitely new for this series. In fact, each of the previous five movies is referenced in some way, some in minor nods, and others in much larger ways. They aren’t so steeped in lore as to make it impossible (pun) to watch the movie if you haven’t seen the previous entries, but it makes for fun Easter eggs to people who’ve stuck with the franchise for 22 years.
And what’s more, these references are a reminder that the Mission: Impossible movies have always been incredibly solid, but, to my earlier point, seem to get forgotten in between outings. Only John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II would I consider a true misstep, but even that one has entertaining bits. It shows the malleability of Cruise as an action star, that Ethan Hunt can be so consistent and yet still age with the actor, from a brash and harried young agent in Brian De Palma’s original, to cool guy in Woo’s, to would-be family man in J.J. Abrams’ III, to mission-accomplishing machine in Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol, and finally to slightly outmoded but effective do-gooder in the two McQuarrie films. The character grows, and the action has grown with him, but nothing has been outgrown and the movies are still freaking fantastic.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is an absolute blast and easily my favorite movie of the summer. It’s a reminder that stunt work and characters still hold more weight than CGI and quips. The plot is slightly more predictable than I’d have liked, but the execution and the fantastic performances of all the actors are still amazingly fun to watch. I can’t wait for the next one!
4 out of 5
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!