Mission: Impossible – Fallout
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No moment in Mission: Impossible – Fallout captures Tom Cruise’s outsize persona better than the long shot of Cruise racing a BMW Scrambler motorcycle around the Arc de Triomphe. Cruise’s fascinating mélange of ego and effort is his stock-in-trade, so an iconic monument commissioned by Napoleon is a fitting backdrop for another diminutive celebrity as he zips in and out of Parisian traffic. That’s really the fifty-six-year-old Cruise driving the bike, just like it’s really Cruise doing a breathtaking (literally and figuratively) HALO dive, scaling a skyscraper, dangling from a helicopter, piloting said helicopter, and leaping across London rooftops. One jump broke Cruise’s ankle and delayed production for two months.

The audacious indulgence pays off. Mission: Impossible – Fallout isn’t a good action film; it’s a great one, rivaling genre exemplars and surpassing (while also drawing upon) the previous entries in the Mission: Impossible film series. It’s a big-budget movie where the money is on the screen, and even the most outlandish action sequences feel grounded by the vulnerability and occasional desperation that prompt them. ”I’ll figure it out,” Cruise’s Ethan Hunt says repeatedly to his confounded colleagues, just before another madcap improvisation.

The excessively expository cold open begins with Hunt and IMF regulars Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) botching a buy of loose plutonium. (It ends with the first good Wolf Blitzer movie cameo.) Hunt’s capture of über-baddie Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) in Rogue Nation has left a terrorist power vacuum filled by religious radicals who want to rain nuclear Armageddon upon the world. Hunt and company need to recover the plutonium by any means necessary. August Walker (Henry Cavill), an assassin who prefers brute force to latex chicanery, is tasked to mind the mission by CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett).

Christopher McQuarrie, who helmed Rogue Nation, becomes the franchise’s first two-time director, and his continued maturity and ascendance is on full display. A rollicking car chase through Paris could have come from William Friedkin. An assault on a prisoner police convoy is shot and scored like a similar sequence in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. A bathroom brawl re-imagines The Raid 2’s kitchen fight scene. A helicopter dogfight is skillfully rendered with real choppers and the real actors. The fights and chases never have a straight-line approach but instead come with unexpected quirks.

Fallout shrewdly appropriates the best elements from the M:I universe: a better version of the thorny plotting in the first film, the pathos of the otherwise forgettable third, and the humor and gonzo stunts of the last two. Rebecca Ferguson, the breakout star of Rogue Nation, returns as disgraced MI6 agent Ilsa Faust, still harboring affections for Hunt but armed with aims that clash with his. Alec Baldwin becomes the first actor to reprise the role of IMF head Alan Hunley. Listen close and you’ll hear that a black-market broker named the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby, terrific) is linked to a character from the first Mission: Impossible.

The desire to preserve Hunt’s virtue inhibits Fallout from going down some truly brooding byways—he must free Lane to achieve the greater good, but the sight of Hunt helping slaughter cops to preserve his cover is only a daydream. The film brings back his ex-wife (Michelle Monaghan) under unsettling circumstances, but there was little need to foreshadow her return with two dream sequences.

These quibbles are forgotten amid the absorbing bulk of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which rivals the best of Bourne and recent Bond. It’s the sort of tour de force for the masses that makes us fall in love with big movies and big movie stars. Between the sleek, soaring set pieces, the film’s quieter moments hint at its characters’ morality, as if acknowledging that one day, even the seemingly ageless Hunt/Cruise will meet his Waterloo. Until then, let’s all enjoy the ride.