Released July 27, 2018; Written and Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; Runtime 2h 27m; Rated PG-13
Let’s start with a word: Wow.
This is a fun movie – such a fun movie. We’ll get into why in just a moment, because I’d like to extend my thanks to J.J. Abrams and Christopher Nolan for laying the foundation that this franchise continues to build from. J.J. Abrams for hitting it with a defibrillator after John Woo’s erratic M:I:II, with the taught, well acted M:I:III. Sure, Brad Bird gave us the Burj Khalifa sequence, but other than whimsical set-pieces and faulty gadgets, his Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol can’t quite stand up after McQuarrie’s entries; Abrams’s M:I:III has a stellar villain, gifted to us all by the immortal Phillip Seymor-Hoffman. So it holds up where other films in the franchise cannot.
Why thank Christopher Nolan? Without his brand of cerebral, image and action-oriented storytelling, we wouldn’t have Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation or Fallout. Especially the latter – his fingerprints are all over it. From the in-camera stunt work, the measured escalation and logistical-mastery of action sequences, to the beautiful movement of the camera across a scene. The fact that the action is the story here, that very little feels excessive or particularly wasteful, and that Paris becomes a playground for the imagination (McQuarrie’s imagination), is all the product of a particular brand of filmmaking – one which Nolan and McQuarrie both subscribe to.
Now let’s break down the movie itself.
Is adequate. It’s exactly what it needs to be: A tightly wound web of intrigue and double-crosses. Don’t go plucking at any of those entangled threads, though, because it’ll unravel faster than you can keep up with the film’s aggressive pace.
I’ve often thought that Mission: Impossible movies were made backwards. The final showdown or set-piece is created first. I’s a real show-stopper, something requiring very real commitments from all the characters and with the highest stakes. If I had to guess, I’d figure that’s how McQuarrie and Cruise approached their latest outing. They build the finale, get their characters where they need to be, throw it up on the vision-board and get to work on motivations and the requisite plot-threads to get them there.
What makes this Mission better than any that came before it? As far as the story is concerned, it has to do with returning writer-directer Christopher McQaurrie, who resumes his roles from the previous film. This feels like a natural continuation, with momentum and character arcs continuing without any hiccups.
Returning we have Alec Bladwin as Hunley, Cruise as Ethan Hunt, Simon Pegg as Benji, Ving Rhames as Luther, Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust, Sean Harris as Solomon Lane and Michelle Monaghan as Julia (Ethan’s former wife).
Newcomers include the striking Vanessa Kirby as White Widow, Henry Cavill as the mustachioed August Walker, and cold-as-steel Angela Bassett as new CIA Director Erica Sloane.
The cast does the heavy lifting here, figuratively and literally. The plot itself is fairly weak, even though it’s buried in a near indecipherable web of spy-jargon and info-dumps. You have some information, a person, or some plutonium, and Tom Cruise has to chase after it with his buddies – some or all of whom may have differing alliances. All the details are window dressing.
Which is fine. The story here has to be simple. We need double-crosses and the simplest of motivations to accommodate those shaky alliances. Ethan Hunt, as we come to learn, just doesn’t want to let anyone down. It’s black and white, what’s good and bad always in clear view, with gray areas whenever the filmmakers distract us with something flashy or with a latex mask and some clever camera angles.
That’s it. And I love every second of it.
We aren’t here for moral dilemmas, psychological puzzles, or much of anything other than what Mission Impossible is known for. We want stunts, we want excitement, white-knuckle chases through exotic locales, and a timer ticking down to zero. If the plot can provide those for us, justify each without betraying its internal logic, set up and pay-off its threads without derailing our suspension of disbelief – then it’s worth it.
Tell us what they’re chasing, why it matters, who’s after it, and let Tom Cruise off his fucking chain.
I won’t bother elaborating on that. Fallout is basically this: Hunt, Benji, and Luther screw up a deal for Plutonium, former members of The Syndicate called the Apostles steal it, and it’s a race from there to get the plutonium back before bombs are made and deployed.
From there you’ll have to see it for yourself.
From a logistical perspective, this film is mind-blowing. What does that mean? Short-answer: Knowing in the back of your head that the mayhem playing out on-screen had to be planned, arranged, and filmed with real people and props in real locations. McQuarrie and Cruise are on a mission to provide for us the most audacious set-pieces they can while keeping everything grounded and in-camera. What does that mean? It means that the stuff you’re seeing is really there. Limited use of green-screens and CGI, both used only to scrub out wires and restraints, as well as gussy up some images.
When Cruise and Cavill are fighting someone in a bathroom, they really are throwing themselves through plaster and bathroom stalls. Tom Cruise really is jumping rooftop to rooftop. He really is sprinting, full-tilt, across London. The guy is an animal, obsessed with providing the entertainment on display in this movie. It’s bliss.
Fist-fights are clearly composed, shot with minimal post-production interference (read: shaky-cam), and are well-choreographed. You can imagine that these are special operatives hammering away at one another. Each strike has a counter-measure, a block and reversal. It’s an idea that permeates the entirety of the film.
For every vote of confidence, there’s a betrayal. For every bad-guy beaten, there’s another pulling the strings from afar.
Some of them will surprise you, and others may infuriate you. Grow accustomed to characters shouting, “He planned this all along! That’s what he wants us to do!”
But the balance of power is constantly evolving. Down to the individual frames of every chase sequence in the film.
Acting is fantastic, especially between Cruise and Ferguson. They have sure-fire chemistry that never once fails to deliver, no matter which side of the conflict they fall on. It gets a bit sentimental near the end, but never goes so far as to have her fawn over him. The movie spares us that much, at least.
My only qualm would be Henry Cavill. The delivery of his American accent requires a stoicism, fitting for someone like Snyder’s Superman, but juggling lines with Alec Baldwin? No. Baldwin chews up nearly everyone on-screen with him. It would’ve been great to see more of him. Also missed is Jeremy Renner, who was an excellent foil to Cruise in Ghost Protocol and ally in Rogue Nation. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames have more than enough chemistry, Angela Bassett and Vanessa Kirby enough screen-presence, and Sean Harris enough breathy portent to round out the supporting cast without any help. Michelle Monaghan even carves out some time for herself near the end.
Coupled with the infallible charisma and daring action-sequences, is a superlative attention to artistic detail. Paris feels alive, its very architecture implemented into the action of the lengthy car and motorcycle chases through its streets and alleyways. Colors pop, symmetry abounds, and no light is wasted for dramatic effect.
Add to this the placement of the camera in the film’s most exciting moments. We are exposed to everything, every crash and crunching bone.
And sometimes we are just left lingering by the wayside to absorb the sets on their own.
As for sound? Superb. Punches land with authority, glass breaks and beaks again on the floor, and gunshots hammer against the side of your head. This is as close to technical perfection outside of Mad Max: Fury Road as you can get.
The music feels borrowed, though. From Hans Zimmer, probably. It just sounds familiar, but with enough of that Mission: Impossible brass to keep you smiling.
There are flaws. For as adequate and exciting as the plot and action are, respectively, the dialogue itself occasionally fails. There’s a pattern to the film that becomes apparent early on – a juggling act between exposition and action that feels at once arbitrary, then later a painful necessity. It doesn’t drag on, however, not at all. And from a visual stand-point, it’s the smartest movie you can see in the theaters right now.
This movie, should you choose to accept it, will put a big goofy grin on your face for a little over two-hours and keep it there for hours afterward. So long as you don’t subscribe to picking through its narrative with a fine-tooth comb, it’s a great time at the theater. See it on the biggest screen possible.
If you’re like me, you’ll still be humming the theme song to yourself a few days later.
4/5 – The best action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road, but lacking anything fresh in its dialogue and plot.
This review will self-destruct in five, four, three, two…