“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (2018): Action Figured Out (Review)
In just about every single action scene, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is asked how he’s supposed to do something. His reply: “I’ll figure it out.” This movie figures it out.
Okay, all you hopeless nu-franchise Disney thumpers who hated me for being such a sourpuss on Solo – here’s your assignment.
Go to the box office this weekend and spend your cash on Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Don’t bother with popcorn. You won’t need it since you’ll be chewing through your fingernails until your cuticles are fused with your stomach lining.
Yes, it would appear that Christopher McQuarrie – whose talents I thought little of until now, given his lackluster work with Bryan Singer (Valkyrie & Jack the Giant Slayer) and that literary bastardization Edge of Tomorrow – has been studying the art of blockbuster plotting. What he presents here is unlike anything you’ve seen from him before, perhaps at long last vindicating the curious confidence Tom Cruise has had in him for a decade. Oh sure, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was pretty good, but McQuarrie had about as much to do with that as Jeremy Renner, whose absence from this film is not missed.
Is Fallout a masterpiece? Probably not; its plot – three plutonium cores are now in the hands of anarchist terrorists; the IMF, comprised of Hunt, Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) must find them before they blow – is a thing you’ve seen a few hundred thousand times. But there’s a reason people keep coming back to this kind of storyboard formula; novelty isn’t the objective so much as the chance to feel that tingle of adrenaline that great action movies can deliver.
So why does this one work where others fall flat? It’s simple (not to be confused as easy – it’s actually incredibly difficult, much as I mock the duds): clarity of information and direction. The Last Jedi has plenty of the latter and none of the former. Interstellar has copious amounts of the former and very little of the latter. Those movies might be argued as “good” but only in one or two dimensions.
A story needs to have both a basic awareness of what its audience knows at each given moment and the temerity to point to the path it desires to travel. And the tension comes from an audience actually being able to see what the characters are actually pursuing and why, so when things go horribly wrong, the process of getting back on track is all the more electrifying. I could not have cared less about the Kessel Run sequence in Solo because I was given no hint at what was supposed to happen other than “they make it.” It throws everything into it from TIE Fighters to lightning to a giant slug and gravity well, and it’s just… so… boring!
If you’ve heard anything about this film beforehand, you’ve heard that Henry Cavill plays the villain and was contractually obligated to not shave his epic mustache during the creation of Justice League one year ago. The reveal is so obvious Fallout doesn’t even try to obfuscate it. Oh sure, like it’s really just going to be the same guy from Rogue Nation plus a hot blonde running with him. So instead, when the reveal does happen, the “gotch’a” is somewhere else. From there, the mission takes a turn upon an even clearer path than the one it had before. And what follows is a helicopter chase that’s as surefire a classic as anything else in this series.
For the action itself, its magic comes from a basic use of both limitations and use of setting. There’s a bathroom brawl straight out of WWE that makes you fear the possible entry of a bystander at any moment. When the obligatory Tom Cruise sprint chase happens, one character’s ignorance of a very important detail in guiding him makes his falls all the funnier. And when the helicopter chase starts, Fallout goes out of its way to tell us that Hunt doesn’t know how to fly a helicopter.
All of this helps to make this not only the strongest-paced movie in the Mission: Impossible franchise, but one of the best “pure” action movies to come out this decade – right alongside John Wick, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Raid, and Furious 6. Every detail is mentioned for a reason, and just when you think that the stakes can’t get higher, suddenly they do. The callbacks don’t feel like forced devices – just gravy.
Okay, I’ve slobbered enough. It’s not perfect. The previous film’s villain is still just a bit too heavily involved in this film, as though McQuarrie is apologizing for how abrupt his ending was in Rogue Nation. There’s one character fate that feels like it should’ve gotten an additional mention alongside everything else at the end of the film. And I’m still not sold on Rebecca Ferguson being much of anything in these movies. She’s trying to fill Paula Patton’s shoes from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and… well, keep trying.
The Mission: Impossible movies have quietly been growing on me, even as they wax and wane. If you’re a fan, Fallout won’t disappoint. If you’re not, Fallout might be the entry you’re looking for. And if watching Mr. Scientology in action is still your guilty pleasure, McQuarrie finally figured out how to be worthy of Tom’s talents.
 I know it has its fans, but read Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s light novel All You Need Is Kill and you’ll weep for how many missed opportunities there were in that film.