If impossibly fabulous stunts are all that you want out a summer movie, Mission: Impossible – Fallout would be a dream come true for action junkies. Hell, it still is, despite a convoluted plot that makes this mission virtually impossible to follow. At 56, and so not looking it, Tom Cruise is back as IMF (Impossible Mission Force) undercover agent Ethan Hunt – and in the running, jumping, climbing, diving, flipping, fighting shape of his life. And as the last few M:I movies, that’s Cruise putting his ass on the line; witness the YouTube footage of his well-publicized ankle break he suffered while rooftop leaping. The practical effects, meaning the real stuff the computer never touched, make all the difference when you’re asking audiences to see the characters as human instead pawns in a digital game.
Fallout is the sixth chapter in the series and the second (after 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) to be directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Usual Suspects. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to stop thinking about the plot as soon as possible. Faced with a parade of life-or-death challenges, Hunt likes to say, “I’ll figure it out.” He does. You may not be so lucky with McQuarrie’s script, however.
The basic setup: Three spheres of plutonium are missing, which means the end of the world – it always does – if the contraband gets into the wrong hands. A mystery psycho who calls himself John Lark believes that only real suffering can save what’s left of the real world. His ally in obliterating the globe is anarchist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the villain from the last M:I movie; he’s now sporting a beard and a fixed stare that gives him that chic nutso-Unabomber look. Hunt’s IMF chief (Alec Baldwin) wants Solomon captured, as does the head of the CIA, played by Angela Bassett. And there’s Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust nosing around again. No one seems trustworthy, except for Ethan’s crew: tech wiz Benji (the invaluable Simon Pegg) and bomb specialist Luther (a rock-steady Ving Rhames). It’s the latter who almost blows the operation, since our hero opts to rescue him instead of the plutonium. We now have a theme: Is saving one life more important than saving the lives of millions?
Also: There’s fresh blood on the scene. Henry Cavill, on leave from puffing up as the DCEU’s stalwart Superman, brings unexpected twists to the role of Walker, a CIA agent assigned to watch Ethan’s every move. And best of all, there’s Vanessa Kirby (just Emmy nominated for playing Princess Margaret on The Crown) as the White Widow, a knife-wielding femme fatale with a gift for arms dealing and an eye for Ethan. Except he’s still hung up on his ex-wife (Michelle Monaghan), who’s fighting a smallpox plague in Kashmir.
Got that? Of course you don’t. There’s really no excuse for padding a two-and-a-half hour film with so much needless exposition. But you bear with it, because the set pieces are so off-the-charts spectacular. There’s Cruise, clearly having the time of his life, leaping over those London rooftops, putting pedal to the metal through the death-curves of Paris streets, duking it out with goons in a nightclub bathroom, skydiving out of transport plane at 25,000 feet in a lightning storm or piloting a chopper out of a death spiral that makes IMAX the preferred way to see this movie. There’s a rumor that Fallout may be the last big-screen Mission: Impossible we get. If so, then at least Cruise – who started this series of super-sized, adrenaline-fueled blockbusters 22 years ago – is going out in a blaze of glory.