Why does the handsome man with the twinkle in his eye run so hard? (Was that all of London’s rooftops?) Is he chasing, or being chased?
In Tom Cruise’s case, it’s both, as this evergreen movie star with the daredevil heart of a stuntman puts every ounce of effort he can into the long, hard work of maintaining a blockbuster franchise. For the creative minds behind these endeavors, it’s forever a case of keeping ahead of audience expectations, but also running down fans quick to throw their love behind the ever-increasing army of the masked and super-powered.
In the shootout phase of international action franchise competition, then, “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” has decidedly zinged one past all caped defenders with a rousing, silly-serious, old-fashioned humdinger that could make a whole audience of veteran action stars nod slowly, wide-eyed, and say, “I remember those days, but I never worked that hard.”
At nearly two and a half hours, it’s designed to test your patience for the things that matter in these movies — violent confrontation, deception, jokey camaraderie, and over-the-top action — but it does so with a remarkably re-engaged fluidity of purpose.
The only filmmaker to return to the franchise for a second go-round, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (“M:I — Rogue Nation”) may not have the cloak-and-dagger artfulness of Brian DePalma (“Mission: Impossible”) or the giggle-while-you-gasp rollercoaster sensibility of Brad Bird (the series-reviving “Ghost Protocol” entry). But he’s proven to be a sharp and dedicated keeper of the flame, from first drawn gun to last cliffside stunt.
Case in point: even the climactic rehash-the-plot/re-examine-the-loyalties dialogue confrontation between the good guys and bad guys has that pinging sense of stakes-raising excitement. Then again, those crazy pull-off disguise masks are involved, and after six movies, the fact that this latex flavoring can still be surprising, funny, and well-timed for plot-shifting effect is all the proof one needs that this may be the sturdiest, most enjoyable popcorn franchise out there.
McQuarrie and gang must have high-fived themselves over that “Fallout” title, with its tripled resonance to the story. It starts with a flubbed mission for Ethan Hunt (Cruise), in which his loyalty to his team — returning players Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames, always welcome — is tested in an undercover deal gone sour. The fallout for the IMF gang’s mistake is, well, fallout, since a mysterious anarchist in cahoots with a terrorist sect known as The Apostles plans to detonate nuclear bombs around the world.
Thirdly, though, there’s the definition of the title that action fans care most about: literally tumbling out of a plane at 25,000 feet (which Cruise does for a mission with new franchise member Henry Cavill as a churlish CIA agent) and later from a helicopter in a gonzo climactic setpiece against the Kashmir mountains.
Much of the movie, which sees Hunt re-engaging with Rebecca Ferguson’s principled assassin Ilsa and Sean Harris’ bearded psycho Solomon from the last film, takes place in those espionage stalwarts Paris and London. The former offers its narrow streets, roundabouts, and colonnades for thrillingly conceived high-speed vehicle pursuits, and the latter its rooftops for the on-foot kind.
These sequences – thrillingly conceived and only mildly digital in execution — give this particular installment the semi-nostalgic feel of a Frankenheimer-esque, Friedkin-tinged European spy thriller from the genre’s heyday.
There’s also an effort to enrich the personal story of Ethan Hunt, most notably in the return of Michelle Monaghan as the love that got away, and whose appearance adds the right amount of extra concern – and not in some outmoded damsel way — to the conclusion’s escalating peril. A suitably officious Alec Baldwin is also back as newly committed IMF head Hunley, but the addition of Angela Bassett as a scheming CIA head isn’t as fizzily fun as it should be.
Cavill, meanwhile, as Bassett’s charge, does his best to make his performance distract from his physical stature and mustache, but that isn’t always possible. As for the absence of Jeremy Renner, there’s simply too much going on to notice, which is another indication of the series’ durability.
And Cruise? Whose faith in extending “M:I” beyond its laughable second and ho-hum third entries has paid massive dividends? As one of the world’s last remaining old-school action stars, he’s obviously loath to show his middle-agedness, as the sheer amount of derring-do suggests. (The building-hopping stunt in which Cruise broke his ankle is there in all its ouch-y glory, which would be when the ghost of Burt Lancaster winks in appreciation.)
And yet, as a solidly dependable actor, he also knows the comic value of an exasperated reaction in a fantastically bruising bathroom brawl, and the importance of grounding a globetrotting adventure brand in the occasional nod to heroic integrity. When Hunt stops to apologize to a bystander caught in crossfire, it’s both ludicrous and appealing, the right touch of humanity in the middle of the chaos we love.
Then Cruise is back to the chase, a star on a mission, and summer suddenly feels fun again.