A fun but very familiar entry in the long-running franchise.
The lasting appeal of the Mission: Impossible film franchise has been to watch Tom Cruise perform increasingly dangerous (and over-the-top) stunts in cool locations around the world. And seeing Cruise’s IMF agent Ethan Hunt run, fight, jump, shoot, drive, run, fly, crash, climb, and — did we mention run? — his way through life-or-death situations is, fittingly, also the most memorable aspect of this latest installment, Mission: Impossible – Fallout. While the Mission: Impossible films remain a winning formula overall, Fallout also shows the franchise straining itself to stay vital and fresh after twenty-two years and five previous films.
By bringing back so many familiar faces and making callbacks to earlier films, Fallout feels like the most self-aware of the Mission: Impossible movies. This is the franchise’s most direct sequel yet with Rogue Nation’s Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), and Alec Baldwin’s intelligence honcho Alan Hunley all back in key roles. (Fallout also marks the first time an M:I director, Rogue Nation’s Christopher McQuarrie, has returned to helm another installment.)
Ethan’s past then, as Solomon Lane would have us believe, is finally catching up to him here. Lane wants Hunt to see the world order he’s long protected destroyed and lose what he loves the most. Unfortunately, Lane remains a one-note and uninteresting bad guy. He’s a lot of talk and not much personality. Fallout’s decision to bring him back comes across as a gimmick in order to create a motivation for a villain the movie otherwise didn’t have much interest in developing. Lane himself is a MacGuffin for most of the movie, a villain seemingly so devious that he’s pulling strings even when he appears subdued, like the Joker in The Dark Knight or Silva in Skyfall, but Lane’s just not compelling or intriguing enough to really be impressed by.
A more menacing antagonist for Hunt this time around is Henry Cavill’s CIA agent Walker, a black ops assassin tagging along with Hunt on his mission to retrieve some black market plutonium and to stop Lane’s larger doomsday plot. While Cavill proves a formidable physical threat, his character and performance are fairly wooden. Still, Cavill excels in his action scenes and the Superman actor seems to relish in playing a far from noble character here.
But the new character who’s the real scene-stealer here is Vanessa Kirby as the White Widow, an enigmatic underworld broker. Her femme fatale appeal and Film Noir vibe suits this franchise and its Cold War origins. Likewise, Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust once again proves why she’s the best female character the franchise has had and a true match for Ethan Hunt, who she’s back to being at odds with for a good part of the movie.
The Mission: Impossible films’ convoluted plots, endless betrayals and disavowals, and their litany of doomsday weapons all seem so terribly important in the moment but they are ultimately forgettable and interchangeable plot devices. The same’s true here in Fallout, whose plot you’d be hard-pressed to really make much sense of but, again, it’s really all about watching Tom Cruise do his death-defying thing.
Sheer adrenaline mostly sustains Fallout even when its story runs out of steam and the film way overstays its welcome with an overlong and trope-riddled finale. Its big twists are hardly surprising because it’s been way too obvious all along who can’t be trusted, and the franchise has already done variations on such scenes in every other movie. Even the action scenes — as fun as they all are, and as fully committed as Cruise remains to risking his own neck for our entertainment — never quite feel distinct from what’s come before.
As hugely entertaining as many of the action set-pieces are here — particularly the brutal bathroom brawl, the HALO jump, the Parisian motorcycle chase, and the helicopter battle — none of them prove as breathtaking or as memorable as the franchise’s biggest past standout moments, such as the CIA vault break-in, Ethan climbing the Burj Khalifa or clinging to the side of an ascending cargo plane.