The Mission: Impossible franchise has proven itself to be perhaps the most reliable and more importantly most fun spy caper series of the decade. Bourne didn’t know how to walk away, Kingsman turned out to be a one-hit-wonder, and James Bond is so hot and cold I don’t know if Justin Bieber has a better chance to star in the next one than Daniel Craig. But who would have guessed that fifty-something year old Tom Cruise would be single-handedly leading the pack film in and film out, shattered ankle or no. And oddly enough they’ve only been getting better as the years go on, Mission: Impossible III invigorating new life in the franchise, Ghost Protocol taking it to new heights – literally – and Rogue Nation settling in with director Christopher McQuarrie who seems to be the perfect fit for Cruise after also working with him on the first Jack Reacher. Unfortunately, the buck kind of stops here, as far as creating a new ladder for it to climb is concerned. Of course, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is another technically astounding entry that will probably provide the most fun you’ll have at the movies all summer – assuming you’re a normal person and only ask one thing of it, unlike me – but it does have an air of mechanicalness as if it’s simply scratching a three-year itch that it’ll return to come 2021, mathematically speaking. There’s no denying Cruise’s or McQuarrie’s sheer adroitness at being the best at what they do, but I wouldn’t be surprised if decades down the line this is the one they kind of forget the most about because they were a little drowsy at the wheel. And hey, no judgment; I’d be drowsy too if I had to run for ten minutes of screen time. At the end of the day, it does its job, even if it isn’t too concerned with being a sixth installment and having an endgame in sight.
Two years after the events of its predecessor, the Impossible Missions Force has been hunting the remants of the Syndicate, who have since rebranded themselves as the Apostles. Stalwart teammates Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) make moves to intercept an arms deal that would see three plutonium cores go to a mysterious buyer by the alias John Lark. The deal goes south, and the cores are lost to the Apostles, who they fear will use them to bring nuclear fallout to the world’s population. Newly appointed CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) assigns operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) to assist the IMF in retrieving the cores. The plan is given an alternate objective, as the team must break out former Syndicate leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who may be the key to tracking down the cores. However, the mission is complicated when former ally Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) enters the fray, having been tasked by MI6 to eliminate Lane. In all this bedlam, our heroes must make sense of who is friend or foe, and more specifically, who is this John Lark, and how many steps behind him they are.
If you went and skipped that last paragraph, I wouldn’t blame you, because nobody nor their mother comes to see Mission: Impossible for the plot. You come to see middle-aged man Tom Cruise jump over the thing, hang from the thing, drive the thing, and run away from or towards the thing before the thing explodes. That’s pretty much it. Everything else is just a tool for achieving that, including any and all characters and whatever vague MacGuffin – ahem *Rabbit’s Foot* ahem – is driving the so-called plot forward. If the movies were a delicacy, it’s obviously not about figuring out how it ends because it all goes to the same place. It about how f*cking good it tastes in your mouth before we all go back to school and subsequently burn off the calories with an awards season contender. In essence, it’s Cirque du Soleil, and as far as the spy genre is concerned, it’s the best show on Earth right now. So for all you action junkies who’ll be buying a Monster energy drink at concessions, it’s two hours and twenty-seven minutes of exactly what you want. If you asked me if the stunts were any better than the previous two installments, I’d probably just shrug and tell you they’re all so good they just wash together at this point – with the exception of the Burj Khalifa scale in Ghost Protocol; that sh*t was unparalleled. I mean, it’s kind of hard to criticize when nearly everything you see onscreen is actually happening before your eyes. It’d be like complaining that a magic trick used actual magic. So, yeah, you might as well have skipped this paragraph too seeing as it’s pretty much a sure thing.
When writing the outline for this article, I put “Cast” as the placeholder for what I wanted to say here. But now that I’m writing it I realize that the “cast” is simply Tom Cruise. Everyone else simply appears onscreen and has lines. But since one of the selling points was real-life Superman Henry Cavill and that notorious mustache of his, here we go. As far as he’s concerned, he’s probably the most physically imposing point of contention Ethan Hunt has had in the series, and said mustache was a pretty good call on his part. I’d probably say Cavill should get funny real fast before Hollywood learns he can’t act, at least not with an American accent, but his involvement here is welcome in comparison to the blue tights he has to wear for his other blockbuster films. As far as the rest are concerned, Ving Rhames retains his tie with Cruise for most appearances in the series but again is hardly used; Simon Pegg is utilized comedically probably less than he’s ever been in these movies; and Rebecca Ferguson is again given I guess some semblance of character development in her frenemy-ship with the IMF. And then there’s Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin and even a surprise cameo from Wes Bentley to add prestige to the picture but not really contribute in a meaningful way but I suppose that’s okay. However, I will say that newcomer Vanessa Kirby is perhaps the most captivating persona in the film, walking that fine line required of a femme fatale, rivaling the likes of some of the best Bond girls. Still, the biggest head-scratcher in terms of supporting characters is and has been for some time Michelle Monaghan as Ethan Hunt’s estranged (sort of) wife Julia, who I’m never actually sure really matters or not in the eyes of the franchise. Cruise has always had interesting leading ladies by his side in these things, including Thandie Newton in what’s almost universally considered the weakest installment Mission: Impossible II, but as far as romantic interests go, none compare to Monaghan’s Julia in the third film, not even Ferguson’s Faust – though I’m still not totally sure that’s even a thing. Yet for some reason Monaghan’s been relegated to mere cameos in service of the “plot” – there’s that word again – in the previous two films to the point where I wonder why they bother to bring her up at all. Granted, they finally get around to explaining it all and potentially wrapping up the subplot here, but now that they’ve actually forced me to think about it, the less it makes sense just on a filmic perspective. I’m guessing nowadays Monaghan isn’t the box office draw to rely upon outing after outing, but their waffling commitment to her as a character these last seven years worth of movies has me realizing this will-they-won’t-they game won’t end in a fully satisfying way, it being obvious they won’t. Even though their pseudo loyalty to her is the only thing giving Ethan Hunt as a character any sort of depth.
And speaking of commitment, anybody would be a fool to believe Paramount would take their $600 million-odd share from this installment and pack up their things after six movies. No, so long as Tom Cruise has two working legs and arms, they’re gonna keep pumping these out until the man is in the ground – or more likely, outer space. So in that sense it adds up that even though each film could now occupy the side of a die, the studio is gonna want enough ideally to the point that it can play a full game of craps. In other words, don’t expect an ending to be in sight. That said, the one thing that kept me from enjoying it totally is the sheer fact that there is no end in sight. Structurally, these last three installments have all given pretty much the same dosage of amazing action to the point that it feels like they’re made on a conveyor belt. I’m not saying this needed to be the epic conclusion that crams more pathos than the little it does into its already bloated runtime, but it would’ve been nice had it laid the foundation for the final chapter – at least for this incarnation of the IMF – or had it pointed to a shake-up of some sort. Because these are just about the most predictable things ever, and you can only have a fireworks show go so long before the explosions all start looking the same. There’s a reason Breaking Bad only went five seasons: not because they couldn’t go longer, but because they knew when to cash in their chips and walk away. And by walk away, I mean green-light the prequel series.
So yeah, Mission: Impossible – Fallout promises more of the same. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and another excellent vehicle for Tom Cruise to defy logic and physics apparently and again inject what was once a television series with his signature brand of charisma – though I’ll contend the biggest contributor to the franchise has to be Lalo Schifrin’s timeless score, which they hold back on employing here, but, to each their own. Sure enough, fans of the other films will be equally impressed and it’ll make the last of the actual money there is to be made at the box office this summer. And though I was a little disappointed with its lack of ingenuity in regard to itself, I like everyone else look forward to seeing Cruise top himself three years from now in the next installment. Just, please, don’t make another Jack Reacher movie before then.
Final Score: 7/10