by Thom Yee
Of all of the Mission: Impossible movies that I liked (which is all but the second one), I have to admit that the last one, 2015’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation by director Christopher McQuarrie, is the one I probably like the least. For all of its strengths, Rogue Nation, unlike most of its Mission: Impossible predecessors, just didn’t have that one scene or concept that blew me away to the point that it made a real difference in the way I look at modern action movies. It just didn’t have an equivalent to Tom Cruise narrowly avoiding detection in the vault at CIA headquarters or Tom Cruise narrowly avoiding an explosive death at the hands of an enemy drone strike or Tom Cruise narrowly avoiding falling to his death while sprinting down the tallest man-made structure in the world. To be fair, it also didn’t have some of the least engaging, worst-looking action scenes in series history, and to be even more fair, of all of the Mission: Impossibles, Rogue Nation is also probably the most solid and consistent purely as an action movie, which is something I’ve grown to feel about it in the years since I’ve seen it rather than something I felt about it after first seeing it. And now we’re here with Mission: Impossible — Fallout, the first Mission movie to continue with a director, Christopher McQuarrie again, and the closest thing we’ve seen so far in the series to a direct sequel.
What I find most remarkable about the entire Mission: Impossible series of movies is that there’s a strong case to be made for each and every one of its individual installments to be your personal favourite (except, again, Mission: Impossible II, which is an almost impossibly bad movie). The first, from director Brian De Palma, is the darkest and strangest, and the one I find most narratively compelling, the third, from J.J. Abrams (in his directorial debut[!]), is probably the most relatable and the most tense, with easily the series’ best villain in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian, Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol is the cleverest and most joyful and has the best single set piece as Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt scaled the Burj Khalifa, and Rogue Nation introduces two of the series’ best new characters in Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust, a deep cover MI6 agent and Alec Baldwin’s Alan Hunley, Director of the CIA.
On the other hand, when it comes to Mission: Impossible movies in general, while each of them is seared into my mind for at least one of their individual action scenes, the truth is I rarely remember what was actually happening in terms of their plot. I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the overall arc of each movie, but if you dropped me into the middle of any one of them, it would be hard for me to recall why certain things are happening, why this or that character is against Ethan and his Impossible Mission Force, why the only way for the team’s plan to work is to just give the bad guys whatever they want, or why this person or that just jumped into some sort of underwater turbine/data centre that seems to want nothing more than to destroy said person(s). And I usually remember these things too, I just have one of those minds that passively recalls random bits of unhelpful-for-real-life information, but with the Mission movies, the twists and turns can be unusually difficult to stay on top of considering that no single one of them is meant to be especially intellectually involving. For all of their complications, subterfuge, and spycraft, the truth is that every Mission: Impossible movie is a heist movie at its heart, so, at this point, six installments and more than 20 years in, even if it can be difficult to remember precisely what’s going on in any one of them, we should at least consider ourselves lucky that they’ve avoided becoming as bad as those entirely forgettable Ocean’s movies.
What’s it about?
Two years ago, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the IMF were successful in capturing Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the leader of The Syndicate, an international terrorist organization made up of former government operatives who had betrayed their homelands. The remaining members of The Syndicate have since reformed into a group known as The Apostles. So now Ethan has to stop them.
From the outside, the Mission: Impossible movies are probably most known for their crazy stunts (many performed personally by aging movie star Tom Cruise [who turned 56 this year!]), their death-defying set pieces, and their ridiculous face masks, but if you’re someone who actively keeps up with movies, there’s one other weird thing you might know Mission: Impossible — Fallout for: moustache shenanigans. You see, Henry Cavill, who plays CIA assassin August Walker in Fallout, was called back to the set of Justice League in the middle of shooting this latest Mission: Impossible, and while that might not normally be too big of a deal, Cavill’s Walker sports a pretty kick-ass ‘stache in Fallout, and that’s something that just wouldn’t stand for his part in Justice League as Superman. As a result, the decision was made to remove Cavill’s moustache digitally, and it was a choice that, even among Justice League’s many, many problems, proved to be incredibly distracting. You can read more about that here, but the funniest thing about the whole moustache situation is that Tom Cruise would eventually have an on-set accident (busted his leg doing a stunt) that would cause an eight-week shut down of Fallout’s production, and that likely would have been more than enough time for Cavill to shave his moustache to play the man of steel and then regrow it for Mission: Impossible.
Anyway, the Mission: Impossible movies are generally seen as a big franchise by most, but, like the Star Trek ($1.74 billion) and X-Men ($5.73 billion [mostly from the Deadpool movies]) movie franchises, they don’t actually make a lot of money, at least not in the same way as the Harry Potter ($7.72 billion) or Dark Knight ($2.46 billion [across only three movies]) or Marvel ($17.3 billion [!]) movies do. The Mission: Impossible movies usually top out around the $600-700 million mark, and while that’s good, it’s not massive, and usually two-thirds of their earnings come from the worldwide market. That’s a lot of numbers I’ve just put up there, and you’re probably wondering why you should care and why anyone not directly involved with the movies would ever pay any attention to these sorts of things, and I guess my answer to both of those questions, ultimately, is that, one, this is the space where I usually talk about box office and it’s fairly ingrained and a hard habit to break by now, and two, that’s a very negative attitude, mister. The points you should take away from this paragraph, if any then, are that Mission: Impossible movies are merely mid-size blockbusters and that while you may think Tom Cruise is still a big deal, even his biggest movies pale in comparison to the truly big movies of this era, and most of Cruise’s box office success comes from overseas.
Is it any Good?
So… Tom Cruise learned to fly a helicopter for this movie. That, that sort of ambition and drive and insanity and self-confidence and self-indulgence, is in many ways all you need to know about this movie — to shoot this movie’s climactic action scene, Tom Cruise learned to fly a helicopter rather than rely heavily on CGI or JUST LET SOMEONE ELSE DO IT. Mission: Impossible — Fallout is relentless, breathless, and once it starts going it’s one big chase, in cars, on foot, in the sky, and in high-speed aerial vehicles, only slowing down for brief moments of explanation that are often even more tense than the action scenes they’re buttressing.
It seems unlikely at this point that the Mission: Impossible series would be unfamiliar to many of you, but there’s a monologue that Alec Baldwin’s character, CIA Director Alan Hunley, gives about Tom Cruise’s superspy Ethan Hunt, in the last one, Rogue Nation, that encapsulates what this series is about with the perfect mix of precision, hyperbole, and self-aware irony that I’d like to repeat here:
Hunt is uniquely trained and highly motivated. A specialist without equal, immune to any countermeasures. There is no secret he cannot extract, no security he cannot breach, no person he cannot become. He has most likely anticipated this very conversation and is ready to strike in whatever direction they move. Sir, Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny, and he has made you his mission.
Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has always been the star and central character in the Mission: Impossible film series, but ever since Rogue Nation there’s been a growing sense of personal connection and slow-building world-weariness with the character, and now with Fallout, this is the first time we meet an Ethan Hunt who has something close to an arc. He doesn’t just fight and endure and win in Fallout, he confronts his own demons in this one, whether it’s the enemies he’s defeated and the complications that have resulted from the missions he’s chosen to accept, or the choices he’s been forced to make to be the person he feels he has to be. It’s mostly compelling stuff (though not especially original given the themes of the superhero movies that currently dominate the box office), and if there’s one thing I might suggest if you want to get the most out of Fallout, it would be to go back and watch from at least Mission: Impossible III, because there are story threads and Easter eggs all throughout this movie that pay off in this one, unusually so given how standalone the Mission movies have been until this point.
Unusual again with Fallout is that this movie is full of great characters rather than just sidekicks and also-rans next to Ethan Hunt. Rebecca Ferguson, who debuted as the mysterious double agent Ilsa Faust in the previous Mission, remains mysterious, but there’s a warmth and inherent trustworthiness to her that makes her a compelling lead (and the first returning female agent in these movies!). And she moves so well, SO WELL, as a spy, so much so that I remember specifically wishing that she was playing the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Widow during many of her action scenes. Ironically, Fallout also features a character known as the White Widow, a mysterious possible benefactor for our team played by Vanessa Kirby, and she does so much in the movie despite having relatively little screen time that I hope we get to see her again in future installments. Alec Baldwin’s Hunley continues to be just a really enjoyable character for a variety of Alec-Baldwin-y reasons, Simon Pegg’s Benji provides a vital lightness to these movies, Sean Harris’s Solomon Lane, the returning villain from Rogue Nation, is a strong counterpoint and twisted mirror image to and for Hunt, and newcomer Angela Bassett’s Erica Sloane, as the new director of the CIA, dominates her scenes with a cold and cruel energy.
All of which brings us to Henry Cavill’s August Walker, who Bassett refers to as a “Hammer” to Ethan Hunt’s “scalpel”. And he’s pretty great here. And listen, I love Man of Steel, it’s actually become one of my favourite movies of all time, but even I will admit that Cavill’s turn as Superman was met with the kind of resistance that made me wonder at his chances of becoming a big star, but it’s roles like Walker here or as Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that might not make him a star but at least let you know he has everything he needs to be one. His arm-pumping alone, which was an improvisation, threatens to overshadow everything else in this movie and it’s certainly the one thing I remember about Fallout above all else.
There are moments and shots in Fallout that are really quite striking, especially early on with the HALO jump, again, done by Cruise himself, and in the bathroom fight scene soon after, where I assumed Cruise and Cavill were facing a group or squad of bad guys based on everything going on in the trailers, but it turns out they’re both just fighting one guy! That scene implies the two as fighting on the same side, but without spoiling anything, I’ll say that Mission: Impossible — Fallout is supertwisty, with multiple betrayals and reveals on top of reveals, almost to the point of self-parody, but it’s done in just such a way and within a series built on these types of twists that it doesn’t become tiresome. In fact, just about the only thing I’ll call out as a negative in Mission: Impossible — Fallout is a very personal one for me, though it’s the same concern I had with Rogue Nation: I didn’t always like the way the action was shot. I called the action workmanlike last time, and that tradition continues here. It’s often up close and visceral in a good way, but it’s also often almost documentaria, and that makes it kind of boring even as it’s actually impressive in terms of the real actors doing the real work, dangerous, death-defying, schedule-interrupting stunts and all. It’s sort of like watching a really impressive, well-choreographed fight scene entirely in a wide shot, in that it’s sometimes not stylized enough to really capture me and can come across as boring. But, to be honest, I’m starting to wonder how much of that is me problem, because a lot of it is objectively impressive.
So should I see it?
I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the Mission: Impossible movies necessarily, but I would at least consider myself a devotee. I may not speculate on what’s going to happen in the next Mission or wait for each new movie with bated breath, but there is no way I’m going to miss each and every installment while they’re in theatres. And like almost every previous Mission, Fallout lives up to that feeling as something that needs to be seen in a theatre.
I started off this review mentioning how Rogue Nation, Fallout’s direct predecessor and its most immediate contemporary given that both Rogue Nation and Fallout, in a series first, are directed by the same director, Christopher McQuarrie, and while I stand by my statement that Rogue Nation wasn’t my favourite, I’ve realized with Fallout and the subsequent rewatching of Rogue Nation I did immediately after seeing Fallout that there are good reasons for theselast two to be anyone’s favourites. For me, the first Mission: Impossible will always be a favourite because it’s so different and dark and I saw it when I was so much younger, I will always love Philip Seymour Hoffman’s turn as a villain in the third Mission, and I think that Ghost Protocol will be a standout for what I think is the series’ high watermark with the Burj Khalifa scene. But the thing about the first Mission is that a lot of people didn’t like it as much as I did, a lot of people don’t even remember the third one and it made the least money of all of them, and I almost never watch Ghost Protocol for anything that happens after that Burj Khalifa scene. Rogue Nation, in contrast, may be the most solid of the Mission movies and it’s among the highest earning, and now with Fallout, especially with the two together, it’s hard not to look at this latest Mission as one of the series’ bests.
Thom’s Mission: Impossible — Fallout final score
On the Edge
- Hopefully Ilsa becomes a regular part of Ethan’s team, because otherwise he doesn’t have any good field operatives any more. Benji doesn’t count, not in the field at least, not for more than tech backup.
- That insurance plan’s going to be expensive on the next one!
- Poor Wes Bentley, I don’t think the guy’s ever going to get a shot at a starring role again.
- What happened to that truck scene?! Now we’ll never know how he got out of that one!
- And with that we have what’s likely to be the last good movie of the summer. We’re entering into the big sleep time of the movie year, August, when almost no movies we want to see ever come out, and this year is no different. We’ll try to provide some updates where we can (maybe some Marvel Netflix updates?), but coverage may be even more spotty this month than usual. Just so’s you know.
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