Given it’s the sixth film in a series, you might expect Mission: Impossible – Fallout to get around to the long-awaited process of deconstruction. After all, its hero, a rangy force of chaos named Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is peculiarly unsuited for these cinematic and political times. He’s not a brooding, haunted killer, or an alcoholic wrestling with demons and regrets – even when he finds time to mourn the forced life of exile his ex-wife must endure, this melancholy is quiet and subtle. No, for the most part, Hunt is a grinning,wide-eyed mastermind who coasts by on a mixture of superhuman skill and dumb luck – and appears to love every manic minute of it. Surely then it’s time for Hunt to get knocked down a peg?
Certainly, in Fallout’s shadow-soaked prologue, that seems to be the direction returning writer-director Christopher McQuarrie wants to poke proceedings. Forced into a terrible choice between saving a life he knows and millions he doesn’t, Hunt does something uncharacteristic – he fucks up – and in the process upsets the status quo of the entire world. Suddenly, his arch nemesis Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, turning in another tremendous steel and gravel performance) has all the cards, a shadowy group of terrorists called The Apostles are looking to murder untold millions, and Hunt finds himself forced into the unwanted care of a granite-jawed CIA enforcer August Walker (Henry Cavill).
Watch the trailer for Mission: Impossible – Fallout here:
But despite all the initial hints to the contrary, McQuarrie has no interest in stripping Hunt of his charisma and selling it for parts. With a string of some of the most thrilling set-pieces put to screen in decades, the filmmaker reinforces everything that makes Hunt, Cruise, and this film series so extraordinarily special. Rather than creating an ersatz sense of stakes by bringing his main character down to the dirt like so many other franchise filmmakers have done before him (think the way The Dark Knight Rises transformed Batman into a blubbering wreck), McQuarrie doubles down on what audiences want from Hunt, and allows the world to come around to him, rather than the other way around.
But these are the things that soak in about Fallout afterwards, not during. While the film’s breezy 147 minutes are unspooling before your eyes, you’re not thinking very much at all, the same way you don’t think much while skydiving, or doing the loop in a rollercoaster. Fallout is sheer, unadulterated spectacle; kinetic filmmaking of the very highest order. Indeed, it is difficult to remember the last time complicated action sequences have been pulled off with this much flair, and intelligence, and sheer, audacious verve.
Maybe Mad Max: Fury Road – but Fury Road was, to borrow a line from Fallout’s Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett, full of side-eye), a hammer, and this film is a scalpel. As it nimbly jumps from Berlin, to Paris, to London, introducing new characters – chiefly the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), a sly broker whose motivations are enjoyably enigmatic – and juggling familiar faces, the control remains masterful throughout.
Watch a behind the scenes featurette for Mission: Impossible – Fallout here:
This is a film that moves from a heart-stopping HALO jump, filmed for real, to a throbbing nightclub sequence, to a bone-cracking bathroom brawl, to a knife fight in a crowded backroom. Every moment of it crackles, none of it ever starts to numb, and even as the double-crosses and twists that lie on top of twists begin to build up, plot fatigue doesn’t sink in for a second.
That’s largely because McQuarrie understands the importance of silence – of glimpsed moments of calm peppered throughout the chaos. A car chase that forces Hunt to become an unwilling protector of the hateful Lane is punctuated by these brief, extraordinary close-ups of the latter supervillain, as he sits, entirely still, his face drawn against the madness unfurling around him. And a heist sequence, shot without sound, culminates in a shared look so powerful it prompted gasps in the screening this critic attended.
It all leads up to one of the most orgiastic, overstuffed climaxes of recent cinematic memory – an embarrassment of action setpiece riches. And then it’s done, exploded in a rich bang of joy. If, as has been rumoured, Fallout is the last film in the Mission: Impossible franchise, what a way to go out. It’s a highpoint in a series that has been stuffed with them, and one of the wittiest, most exciting action films ever made.