Review: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

An absolutely stunning action masterclass, Mission: Impossible – Fallout will likely be the best film of the summer, and one of the best this year – an all out assault, and a reminder of how fantastically thrilling action films can be.

Following Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, superspy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) learns that the terrorist syndicate led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) have teamed with mysterious criminal ‘John Lark’ to steal plutonium for three nuclear bombs. Juggling personal concerns, CIA babysitter August Walker (Henry Cavill) and the differing interests of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Hunt and crew aim to save the day… again.

This starts with a bang, and after some clever twists and turns takes on a very Mad Max: Fury Road feel – it’s a relentless, ever more tense and concussive couple of hours that fly past. Director and writer Christopher McQuarrie is at the peak of his powers with a script and a filmmaking style that do all but punch you in the face as the film gets more propulsive.

McQuarrie seems to have – more so than most action directors, and earlier directors in this series (bar J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird) – understood perfectly what Mission: Impossible is: impossible odds and spectacular action through the prism of the spy world.

What distinguishes the series – and what always has – is its connection to the original US show, adherence to nearly unbelievable gadgets and more backstabbing and twists than a Conservative government. McQuarrie takes these elements, adds the everpresent, evergreen Tom Cruise, mixes in a double measure of action and shakes it up into a powerful spy film cocktail.

Having written and directed Rogue Nation, McQuarrie is also well placed to handle the human side (both the fun group dynamic, and conflicts with authority and the enemy), making dialogue scenes zing. He also strongly utilises the acting abilities of those he works with, but the utterly insane action is key to his success.

I would give McQuarrie a Bond film or any action franchise based entirely on his work here, as the action and stunts are simply amazing. This is largely down to Cruise being a complete nutter and electing to do all stunts himself, with each film escalating that personal threat (on his say so)!

Quite frankly, some of the stunts are remarkable, not least a huge chase across Paris that reminded me of a similar scene in The Bourne Identity, but much more clearly shot and expertly edited. It’s quite obviously Cruise who weaves through traffic at high speed on a bike, crashes vans into trucks and legs it from police.

Later on, another huge scene in London does the same on foot, and I haven’t even mentioned the jaw dropping, aerial stunts that bookend the film, let alone an excellently shot and bone breaking brawl in a nightclub toilet!

To be honest, it is unbelievable – honestly – how few special effects are used. With so many films turning to CGI for its lack of risk, action as a genre has suffered (bar those I’ve made a point of highlighting like Fury Road and the John Wick movies). This feels like a moment: Hollywood can continue down the effects path, or take a step back and see how much more engaging these set pieces are, when we recognise the people fighting, flying, driving or shooting.

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A lot of McQuarrie’s direction reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s distinct action staging in The Dark Knight. What strikes you is that this elevating, continuing madness keeps outdoing itself, so by the end you are agape at watching THE Tom Cruise piloting a helicopter through mountain valleys. For an action junkie like me, this left a huge smile on my face, and I left the cinema unable to stop grinning at the lunacy I’d seen.

McQuarrie’s work with editor Eddie Hamilton offers sharp, crisp and bombastic techniques to make action and dramatic scenes hit home, while cinematographer Rob Hardy makes the various locations feel epic and impressive, from sunny Parisian streets and stormy evenings to the damp and forboding London skyline, through to the stunning vistas of New Zealand (standing in for Kashmir).

The music is another strong element, Lorne Balfe’s Zimmeresque electronic, thudding score chopping and changing the famous theme for more impact, some moments memorably distinct as they reorganise and reshuffle for added suspense. His quieter, personal work for Hunt is also quite affecting, backgrounding our first look into his personal world since Abrams’ third film.

Cruise clearly knows that what audiences want to see is him suffering, and his remarkable commitment saw him put his body on the line again (during the London sequence, you can see where he broke his ankle as he hits a building when jumping!).

It’s in more human, quieter scenes that Cruise the actor reappears, the film’s subtitle reflecting on the potential for everyone Hunt cares about to get hurt – everything is threatening to collapse on him figuratively and literally.

His more dramatic scenes remind us that he was known for being an actor rather than an action hero, showcasing more emotional and darker sides he really should engage with more. This franchise, to be Frank wouldn’t work without Cruise.

Cavill has at last built on the promise of the (not too shabby) Man from UNCLE, and shown he can tackle comedy, drama and action. Walker is described as a hammer to Hunt’s scalpel, and Cavill is absolutely no slouch in action scenes – you might describe him as an absolute unit – though faring much better dramatically than as the Man of Steel.

Harris, a very intense British actor given international recognition through these films, picks up his ice cold depiction of Lane – a more bookish Bond gone rogue – and is disturbing, particularly in a couple of monologues. He’s able to get across an almost dead eyed, malevolent air in short scenes, and has given the series its best villain bar Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa is the true counterpart to Hunt, and the actress is more than capable in the action stakes, and equally capable dramatically. I particularly liked the way she showed conflict between cold, professional duty and a growing concern for others she’s come to care for.

Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg have become quite the double act, but have much fewer laughs this time around (Pegg is still the comic relief). Rhames surprises with a couple of really heartfelt scenes, blasting through that air of cool he always seems to have, while Alec Baldwin’s smaller input sees him still quippy as the stern but accommodating head of IMF.

Finally, Angela Bassett brings a bit of welcome (you might say M-like) feminine steel to a CIA boss role, while young Brit Vanessa Kirby makes an impression as a femme fatale broker and manipulator, an interesting and strange role that could and should recur.

If you call yourself any sort of spy film or action thriller fan, you owe it to yourself to see this. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to… put aside any quibbles about Cruise the weirdo, and enjoy watching Cruise the insane stuntman throw himself in harm’s way – appreciate an action classic before it leaves the big screen!

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