- Title: Mission: Impossible – Fallout
- Written and directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
- Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill and Rebecca Ferguson
- Classification PG; 147 minutes
As the world readies for the release of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, a funny and astonishing bit of trivia is making the rounds online: Tom Cruise is six years older in the new action film than Wilford Brimley was when Brimley starred in the 1985 drama Cocoon.
Partly, the meme trades off Brimley’s eternally grandfatherly looks, as the Quaker Oats spokesman was just 49 when cast against the more age-appropriate Jessica Tandy (75) and Don Ameche (76) in Ron Howard’s movie about senior citizens getting into extraterrestrial hijinks. But, mostly, the factually accurate joke underlines how, at age 56 (55 while filming), Tom Cruise is a physical specimen unto himself.
When Cruise’s last Mission: Impossible film came out three years ago, I riffed that the actor was a living, breathing manifestation of pure determination. Exhausting himself to the brink in order to charm and seduce, Rogue Nation’s Tom Cruise is the platonic ideal of a movie star. In Fallout, that is still true. But Cruise is also now something of a next-generation human. He runs, jumps, dives and thrusts himself into the action with a delirious and insatiable glee – all while cocking his eyebrow, smirking and asking whether that’s all mortality’s got, huh?
During the production of Fallout, Cruise should have died a dozen times over. Relying heavily on practical stunts (no green-screen technology here), the sixth film in the M:I franchise asks Cruise to leap from tall buildings, ride a speeding motorcycle through Paris without a helmet (against traffic), dangle from a helicopter before piloting it into a 360-degree barrel roll, and perform a high-altitude, low-opening 200-miles-per-hour free-fall jump from a moving plane 25,000 feet in the air. (That last feat took 106 takes.)
Cruise emerged from Fallout with only a broken ankle. And, it should be noted, the most thrilling, entertaining, stand-on-your-feet-this-is-bananas blockbuster in recent memory.
That rave might sound familiar, probably from the last time a M:I film premiered. But Cruise and his death-defying co-conspirators have taken all that is remarkable about their improbable franchise – who would have seen the potential in exploiting a decades-old TV series starring Peter Graves? – and pushed it past any reasonable limit. Not only in style, but those funny things such as narrative and character, too – elements so often forgotten by modern CGI-heavy blow-'em-ups.
Previous M:I films essentially started from scratch each time, ignoring any previous installments. Fallout not only acknowledges critical points in the series' history (especially M:I III), but uses the central villain from Rogue Nation to further up the stakes. As this new film opens, raspy anarchist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is again bedeviling Cruise’s super-spy, the increasingly weary Ethan Hunt. The specifics of Lane’s plan aren’t really important – there’s not only one MacGuffin in the form of missing plutonium, but at least two more plot devices that may or may not make 100 per cent sense – but the threat is strong enough to push Hunt and his team (returning players Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and Rebecca Ferguson, plus Henry Cavill’s new CIA bruiser) to breaking points.
Mostly, M:I films like to remind you that its heroes are having the time of their lives while saving the world. Here, the characters seem genuinely distressed – a slick reminder on the part of writer-director Christopher McQuarrie that explosions only matter if you’re invested in seeing who makes it out of the fire.
McQuarrie, who also directed Rogue Nation and has written a number of Cruise features, is the only filmmaker who’s ever been invited back to helm a M:I sequel. (The series has already cycled through a mind-boggling amount of talent in the form of Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird.) As Fallout unfolds, it is exceedingly easy to see why Cruise and his fellow producers broke tradition. McQuarrie indulges his star’s unprecedented and maddening whims – sure, Tom, why not scale an elevator shaft like a hopped-up monkey, go for it! – but also ensures each middle-finger to Death is captured with extreme visual clarity. Unlike many of his action-cinema contemporaries, McQuarrie excels at creating clear lines of sight for his set pieces, and cutting them together to ensure maximum tension. We’re reasonably sure Hunt (and thus Cruise, though the distinction lessens with every movie) will live to see another day, but nearly all of Fallout’s 147 minutes force us to question that assumption.
The action is engineered with such confidence and precision by McQuarrie that it is easy to forgive Fallout’s minor defects. Harris’s villain is more menacing this time around, but Lane still pales in comparison to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sociopath from M:I III, still the series' high-water mark in terms of evil geniuses. Confounding, too, is how the CIA continues to distrust Hunt’s IMF (that’d stand for, um, “Impossible Mission Force”) team despite five films' worth of globe-saving derring-do. And where, exactly, is Jeremy Renner’s Brant? (Answer: The Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation actor faced a scheduling conflict with his Marvel work – a movie series that, stacked up against Fallout, looks like a sub-par Netflix original.)
Any concerns, though, immediately disappear after witnessing Cruise scale a cliff in Norway, or pummel dozens of decades-younger henchmen in Paris, or execute a prisoner-extraction scene that reveals just how visually incomprehensible Christopher Nolan’s attempt at the same was in The Dark Knight. Add in a supporting cast that’s just as eager to match Cruise’s intensity – finally, someone has figured out how to properly exploit Cavill’s smarmy athleticism – and Fallout becomes the perfect summer crowd-pleaser.
There is just one problem: What will producers (and possibly, hopefully McQuarrie) deliver for the inevitable follow-up? Just like Tom Cruise’s insurance provider, I’m terrified of the answer.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout opens July 27.