Review: Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Let’s begin with the magic act.
It’s found in Michael Mann’s debut Thief, released in 1981. Frank, a safe-robber played by James Caan, knows he’s running on fumes, and he feels time going for his neck, stating that “I can’t work fast enough to catch up and I can’t run fast enough to catch up and the only thing that catches me up is doing my magic act.” It’s not about what he does, but what it accomplishes for him – a sense of guilt wiped away, cleansed from the earth – and for others in his life.
Ethan Hunt has been doing this for years. He even thought he got away clean in Mission: Impossible III, until his fiancée was ruthlessly thrown into the mix. His tendency to always save the earth at the last minute (remember Ghost Protocol when a nuclear warhead just barely missed its target and landed in the sea?) has built a haunted history for the character, suggesting a destiny of being present when needed, and acting on the notion of protecting the world’s citizens. The capacity for survival for Ethan Hunt is outrageous, going past the point of Silent Era comedy and barreling towards Looney Tunes, with several blows to the face along the way. But the concept remains the same – his selflessness, in saving others and the world at large, imbues the latest installment, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, with bruising moral weight. The astonishment isn’t only in Ethan Hunt’s magic act, but the illusions of Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie. The film is an Action Masterpiece, with two capital letters needed, precisely because the film proudly displays the magician’s tricks, and then fools you anyway.
Following Rogue Nation and the capture of evil mastermind Solomon Lane, Ethan Hunt and his team follow up on a mysterious group called ‘The Apostles’ who are dabbling in nuclear weapons, which causes a conspiracy that moves in and out of IMF and beyond. As always with his work, McQuarrie’s writing is the central nervous system (as in Rogue Nation), and not necessarily the action (it’s the sweet, beautiful beating heart), primarily due to the swiftness of its plotting and the twisty-turny focus of implausibility. There is barely time to breathe during Fallout, much less decipher the details of the narrative at hand or the outlandish realism in play during the set-pieces, so McQuarrie paces the film’s entirety as a time-bomb of sequel subversion, with spare exposition and a set of goofy McGuffins to set the chess pieces. Fallout extrapolates on Hunt’s goodness within a modern time with rules dropping under their feet. He doesn’t feel old, just old-fashioned, but the worst of the terrors facing the world find startling similarity, installment after installment, and it is what gives Mission: Impossible its longevity as a franchise: we’re still fighting the same thing, time and time again, so why not refine it to its most efficient, galvanizing elements?
An important distinction, then, is the variety in the set-pieces of the series, going from a vault in Langley to an Opera House in Vienna. Fallout’s array of action bangers are front-to-back exceptional, and that’s being reductive. Some of the greatest action sequences in cinema history are in this movie, and they’re not unlike a magic act of their own – constantly fleeting, in pursuit of the emotional truth of a moment, and utterly uncompromising of the methods to achieve it. Their authenticity, mind-boggling poetics, and harsh, vicious beats of storytelling offer a constant head-rush of stunt work, classical cutting, and pounding intensity. These chases and fights and jumps and sprints vibrate through the whole of your physical form, seemingly slamming off the screen in brute-force waves. From a HALO-jump to a complex chase through Paris and an (already) classic helicopter trip through the mountains; Fallout flies through all the typical action-spy conventions with panache, while still thrilling on a minute-to-minute level via the confidence of the narrative structure, which is comprised of a few sustained movements as opposed to cleanly-broken ‘acts’. There is no holding back, no catch-up. Instead, embrace a constant depiction of life on the edge, the world perpetually on the edge of doom, with human bodies fighting for and against an inhuman cause.
When viewed under this lens, Fallout is both a direct-sequel (refresh yourself with Rogue Nation and thank me later) and a stand-alone embodiment of what the series’ true appeal has always been – the illusion of spectacle and reality fighting for its claim on the silver screen. Over the course of the franchise, they’ve collided into one distinct entity that flourishes as an insane testament to actor and performer, Tom Cruise. His dedication allows the sixth film, as well as those that have preceded it, an instinctual understanding of the fight against time’s inevitability, and the moral gravity of giving everything of yourself to something intangible yet so priceless and grand. It’s a funhouse mirror – Cruise giving his all to the spectator, Hunt giving his all for humanity, and Cruise going back to giving his all to himself, because it’s his magic act just as much as it is Hunt’s, and we’re fooled. This makes Fallout the ultimate distillation of Cruise’s magnetism, as well as his madness and grossly inflated self-image. McQuarrie finally breaks down the idea of why Ethan Hunt (and Tom Cruise) is not only forced but compelled and liberated to save the day. It’s all he has.
“But it ends, you know?”