Monday, August 06, 2018

Zaki's Review: Mission: Impossible - Fallout

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt now comfortably sits in the pantheon of the greatest action heroes of all time. The star continually displays an indefatigable willingness to subject himself to punishing barrages of punches, falls, and sheer gravity that would leave most superheroes gasping for breath. In Mission: Impossible - Fallout -- the sixth entry in Paramount's venerable brand -- Cruise is the effect. Look, there he is executing a HALO jump while trying to get his unconscious colleague's parachute to deploy. Look, there he is dangling from a rope that is itself dangling from an airborne helicopter. Look, there he is literally breaking his ankle jumping across a building.

All for you. All for us. Are we not entertained?

The answer, indubitably, is yes. The story this time (by Christopher McQuarrie, who also returns to direct) picks up in more direct fashion than we're used to from this famously episodic franchise, with Hunt & Co. (Ving Rhames' Luther Stickel & Simon Pegg's Benjy Dunn) enlisted by new IMF secretary Hunley (Alec Baldwin, after getting the gig in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) to track down a mysterious terrorist/ideologue named John Lark. To this end, they must reluctantly work alongside CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill) in a complicated scheme of deception and dual identities that involves gaining the confidence of someone called the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby).

This labyrinthine scheme eventually grows to encompass two nuclear bombs, Hunt's ex-wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan), sometime ally Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), and returning Rogue Nation baddie Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who was unnerving enough last time but ups the stakes substantially here, becoming a Professor Moriarty of sorts for Our Man Hunt. Erstwhile Superman Henry Cavill is also worthy of a shoutout, especially considering the way his very distinctive, very expensive mustache nearly sank Warner Bros.’ Justice League singlehandedly last fall. Cavill’s Walker is suitably enigmatic while also embodying the same mix of charisma and raw physicality that made the actor so effortlessly charming in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. three years ago.

There's much more to the plot, of course, but as is so often the case with these flicks, the less you know going in, the bigger the smile you're likely to have on your face walking out. As I said earlier, Cruise is an absolute marvel in these movies. And while I'm increasingly worried that the pushing-sixty Cruise is one of these days going to end up on the wrong side of a stunt that's just a little too impossible, there's no denying his sheer, stubborn commitment to making these Mission movies an experience unlike any other. And can you blame him?

After all, this series has been his baby from inception (the film series, that is -- lest we forget, there are nine seasons of televised Mission: Impossible that have practically become a footnote in the franchise's history). But let's be honest, while he's a major component in Fallout's (and the franchise's) success, it's not just Cruise. Like his superspy alter ego, the actor/producer has been aided by a worthy coterie of recurring talents in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes that have turned this into the delightfully dependable confection we now think of it as. Among these is producer J.J. Abrams, who directed the third film (his feature debut) and whose Bad Robot Productions has been on the bill ever since.

His Mission: Impossible III in 2006 served as a "re-pilot" of sorts, pointing the way towards imbuing the films with a higher degree of emotional intensity and physical reality, and that ball is now being ably carried forward by McQuarrie, whose first Mission statement was 2015's exceptional Rogue Nation, making franchise history here by being the only director ever asked back for a sophomore effort. And it's easy to see why. In Fallout, McQuarrie has constructed a spy thriller with timepiece precision, one that delves the deepest we've ever gotten into the psyche and emotional life of Ethan Hunt, which in turn makes the world-beating threat he must combat feel that much more pressing and immediate.

And while the Mission movies have (smartly) steered clear of being suffocated by its own collective continuity, this one leans into that twenty-two year history in ways big and small -- from callbacks to Vanessa Redgrave's duplicitous "Max" in movie one, to Hunt's penchant for free-climbing mountains in movie two, to his short-lived marriage in movie three -- none of which feel oppressive, but all of which reward long-timers. And while we're talking about long-timers, I also have to make mention of Rhames and Pegg, both of whom do outstanding work here, and both of whom have been part of the fold for so long -- Rhames since the very beginning -- that they really are indispensable for any Mission to succeed.

The laws of movie gravity aren't supposed to work like this, but here we are. Twenty-two years in, six movies deep, and we have not only a franchise best, but a high-water mark for the entire genre. A template worthy of emulating. The late, great Roger Ebert used to refer to "bruised forearm movies" -- that is, movies so intense that you find yourself gripping the forearm of your date without even realizing it.  This one most certainly falls into that category. There's peril, there's stunts, and there's running. (Oh, so much running.) And while there are a few weeks of summer movie season left, Fallout makes for a perfect bookend with Avengers: Infinity War last April, opening and closing the season in high style and showing how going bigger doesn't always have to mean being dumber. A

For more thoughts on Mission: Impossible - Fallout, check out our special episode of the MovieFilm Podcast for a spoiler-filled chat about the movie, via this link or through the embed below:

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