Mission: Impossible – Fallout (***1/2) completes a cycle

mission-impossible-fallout

Mission Impossible: Fallout – 2018

Written and Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Starring  Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Michelle Monaghan, Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin

The greatness of Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible duology is in the crispness and attention to detail, the subtle coloring of the character lines and the emphasis on Tom Cruise’s willingness to do anything for the shot. We live in a remarkable time when, as I learned on the Dan LeBatard with Stugotz show last week, Cruise is making films like this 6 years older than Wilford Brimley appeared in Cocoon.

So here we are six films in and the films still feel vital and exuberant as a 7 minute Cruise dash across rooftops and various structures. He breaks his ankle and that doesn’t even keep him from finishing the film.

The team is narrowed down to three for this film; Cruise, Pegg and an increasingly girthy but still engaging Rhames. We still get sprinkings of double agent Rebecca Ferguson, along with a real concerted effort to conclude his marriage arc with Monaghan.

The most intriguing recall is that of Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane, who, despite or because of his incarceration, is still stirring of the passionate action of The Syndicate. Only now they’re known as The Apostles. No matter though. It really doesn’t matter what they call the groups of random bad guys (and ladies) they’re all versions of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. in the long run.

Harris is being moved and fro, talking of destruction and chaos, and The Apostles have secured three nuclear activated plutonium MacGuffins and are planning to blow them up because of a manifesto one of their members has written as an ode, of sorts, to their jailed leader.

It’s one of the film’s two weakest plot points, seeing how this plutonium falls into their hands. It’s as though no one taught the M:I team the concept of covering more than one side when they find out they are surrounded. One hopes they could have come up with something slightly more complicated to keep the nuclear footballs going downfield.

This mess up gets Ethan (Cruise) a new partner, CIA Operative August Walker (Cavill). Cavill puts a ton of effort into the role, but he’s hamstrung by a plot that requires he be placed in positions where Hunt has to save him due to his hubris. Hunt still makes is own mistakes, but he never seems indebted to this antagonistic partner, which doesn’t help hide the second glaring plot twist.

There is a mystery guy named John Lark who is either a client or a leader of The Apostles. He is whatever the plot needs him to be, of course. Just keep his shadow a little bit in front of them as they run.

Run he does. This film plays like a double greatest hits album for Cruise in the series. There’s the running, much fighting, double crosses, masks that don’t work in time, motorcycle racing / crashes, gaining access to a flying vehicle, a countdown or three and more rock climbing to name a few of the things we’ve seen before. It’s all great, but it’s all too exquisitely timed to be jarring.

That goes for the new stuff he does, like flying a helicopter for the first time. Cruise the actor had way more experience training on helicopters than his character, yet the stunts astound and the crashes play like NASCAR bumps. So many things rely on variables Hunt can’t control, yet they all play out like they need to do, for the second film in a row.

Therein lay the weakness in the McQuarrie / Cruise connection. As the great Ian Malcolm said:

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Or if they should do everything so perfectly all of the time.

When we have a franchise, there are certain givens. What else can we do?

  • We know the main character survives. Everyone else should be at risk. This is what keeps the wheels spinning. Someone does take a hit this time, which is an improvement over the last film. Not a crucial character, though.
  • If the main guy survives, can we have him make bad decisions but luck out once in a while? This is what made Ghost Protocol such a superior film. The climb of Burj Khalifa is remarkable. That he lands so horribly is even better.
  • It would be nice is someone competently saved Hunt. Yeah there is Ilsa Faust, looming like a shadow. Everyone on the current M:I team seems out of a Disney film when things get hot.
  • Good Lord, find something besides a countdown. Multiplying them doesn’t help.
  • Let Hunt get older, maybe bring someone new into the fold. Maybe push the series out another cycle.

This is an excellently crafted film. It hits every mark that needs to be hit, often times too squarely for effect. The story worked with Rogue Nation for a two film arc, but it would be a good idea to go back to the original premise of different directors for different films now that we’ve seen what McQuarrie can do…twice.

I can’t tell you how compelling it is, but I can say I still like Ghost Protocol and Abrams III as the pinnacle of the series. If they had winnowed both films down a bit and maybe kept the camera rolling after Cruise broke his ankle, we would have had something more than it appears to be.

(***1/2 out of *****)

 

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