Special Effects: A-
As I sat watching Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible -- Fallout, a thought occurred to me that never had before. Sure, everyone knows this guy is an enduring movie star. But it could also be argued that he is not only the 21st-century equivalent of Sean Connery, but that no other actor working today comes close. This is a guy who, like Connery, could very well keep offering us these delightful action thrillers well into what for anyone else would be retirement years.
No disrespect to Daniel Craig, who has very well held his own as James Bond the past decade plus, but the mantle that Sean Connery had has really been passed on to Tom Cruise. In the <i>Mission: Impossible</i> universe (the <i>Impossiverse</i>?), Cruise has been going strong though six films, each of them well-oiled adventures more exciting than the last. Connery played Bond in seven films over 21 years from 1962 to 1983, when he was aged 32 through 53; Cruise has played Ethan hunt in six films over 22 years from 1996 to 2018, aged 34 through 56. And whatever camera tricks or cosmetic procedures may have been employed in either case, both actors remained remarkably handsome and fit through all those years. It's too bad Cruise in particular has spent so many years trying to convince us he's a lunatic but whatever. Onscreen, his charisma and appeal never wanes.
What's more, Mission: Impossible knows just how ridiculous it is, revels in it, and yet is presented with increasing sophistication each go-round. I'm not so naive as to say "sophistication" applies to the script: Fallout is as preposterous as ever, although at the very least we have something we can understand as the thing everyone is after: as opposed to, say, a "rabbit's foot," it's three little spheres of plutonium, intended for rogue use of nuclear weapons.
I've got to hand it to the marketing team for this movie. Much of what you see in the trailer is not what it seems. Instead of it giving away the entire movie as many trailers do, I found myself identifying scenes in which I knew a clip I had seen was coming. Instead of it feeling like a rerun, once that bit I had already seen was presented in its full context, it felt like payoff. This is the kind of movie it pays to see in a theatre.
What's more, the editing is competent enough that this time, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (the first repeat director in the franchise, having written and directed 2015's Rogue Nation) avoids what some might call a minor pitfall of many of the earlier films: starting off not just with a bang, but with a bit too much of a bang. The rest of the film shouldn't feel like a competition with the opening sequence -- and Fallout starts comparatively quiet. It settles into the spy-movie tone of the earlier days, until the inciting twist in the plot -- such as is it -- sets off the fuse that begins the title sequence.
Fallout just gets more and more thrilling from there. And although one has no need to have seen any of the other films to enjoy this one -- in spite of it being the first direct-continuation of the story in the previous film -- there are rewards in having seen the others. Michelle Monaghan returns as Julia from Mission: Impossible III (1996) -- I found her to have similar features to Rebecca Ferguson, who returns from Rogue Nation, but I got them straight eventually.
And then there are the stunts -- really, at this point, the only reason to watch any of these movies. They sure do like motorcycle chases: this is the third Mission: Impossible movie in a row to have one. Ditto helicopter chases -- another throwback to Mission: Impossible III, although this time it also includes helicopters rolling down snowy mountainsides, and hanging off cliffs. Oh, did I mention Ethan Hunt climbing a rock face? A throwback to the opening sequence of Mission: Impossible II!
I guess there are only so many modes of transportation you can chase someone in. That includes running, another standby of countless Tom Cruise films -- let alone Mission: Impossible -- and in one sequence, he runs for so long he almost seems to be trying to prove a point about it.
So does this movie offer anything new then? Arguably, not really. Unless you count the fact that everything you've seen in other movies, this movie does better. Much like Rogue Nation and Ghost Protocol (2011) before it, the chases and action sequences as shot with unique panache, in this instance by Rob Hardy, who deserves acknowledgment. Even blink-and-you-miss them scenes, involving no more than two characters talking, make a visual impact with their framing and staging. This blends well with excellent special effects now a hallmark of the franchise -- a far cry from the janky effects of the original film in 1996 -- in so doing never calling attention to themselves, but moving the story forward and keeping the viewer absorbed.
The acting, though, is . . . not great. It's wonderful to see Angela Basset as the head of the CIA; not so much to hear her phoning in her lines. Another character's death scene had me wondering if they'd even bothered rehearsing -- or doing multiple takes. Even Cruise himself seems less concerned with being convincing than with showing off the stunts he can do on his own. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg are reliably amusing in their usual parts. Henry Cavil, in a part whose twist is identifiable a mile away, gives perhaps the best performance, but that's not saying much.
But that's what we've come for, isn't it? If you have no interest in this movie, then it isn't for you. If you even got this far in the review . . . why? Move along! The rest of us are here for death-defying skydive into lightning-riddled thunderclouds (itself a subtle visual nod to the dust storm in Ghost Protocol, perhaps). It's a truly spectacular sequence, a long, unbroken shot straight out of a plane and plunging through the air toward Paris (or was it London? whatever) below.
And there is so much more movie after that, all of it fun as hell and a thrill to experience. At 147 minutes this is by far the longest film in the franchise, but all of those minutes just fly by. What more can you ask for?