There are few cinematic franchises as consistent in delivering action and thrills as the Mission: Impossible franchise. While not as institutionalized as the James Bond: 007 series nor as gratuitous as the Fast & Furious franchise, the Mission: Impossible films wows audiences time and again through its strict dedication to misdirection and reality-bending stunts. By focusing on these key ingredients, even Mission: Impossible 2 – the entry considered the weakest – delivers memorable cinematic moments that stick with audiences years later. The sixth entry in the Tom Cruise-led franchise carries on this tradition in all the ways you expect, while once more stunning audiences at every turn. But more than that, the script written by returning director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) digs into an emotionality previous M:I films touch on without exploring. The result of this is a film that’s as much of an ending to the adventures of Cruise’s constantly maligned Ethan Hunt as it is a suggestion of a new beginning.
In the aftermath of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, which saw Hunt and his Impossible Mission Force capture Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the leader of an elite terrorist group known as The Syndicate, the team’s new mission is to prevent the remaining members of Lane’s group, now called Apostles, from assembling three nuclear bombs. When a plan by Hunt to acquire the Apostles’ plutonium goes wrong, CIA Director Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett) insists that her man, August Walker (Henry Cavill), join the IMF team to ensure the plutonium is acquired, at any cost. With time running out, the Apostles on the move, and uncertain alliances at every turn, Hunt needs to utilize everything he’s ever learned, everything he’s ever done, to prevent fallout.
Fallout is top-tier action cinema. The story is exciting, the stunts are thrilling, the narrative hums, and the cast imbues their characters with far more emotional weight than one would expect from a franchise entry six-deep. Much of this is due to McQuarrie’s script which balances easing new entrants into the M:I franchise with a mixture of new and old characters alike, while also piling in easter eggs galore for long-time fans. So great are the nods – some obvious, while others are more like echoes – that Fallout cements the M:I films as not merely a franchise comprised of individual adventures but as a confirmed serial tracking the rise and fall (and rise and fall and rise…) of Ethan Hunt, IMF spymaster.
While most audiences come for the stunts – and Fallout features some of the best in the franchise – or the unreal technology that helps the team pull off ridiculous tricks, it’s the characters and their relationships that connect with audiences the most. Fallout takes the greatest advantage of this connection by giving each character reasonable motive for any action they take, whether against or in support of Ethan, making all the twists and turns carry weight. Franchises like 007 just reboot their characters when films make big moves and Fast & The Furious bring people back from the dead, but in the M:I franchise, there is actual fallout. Actions carry consequences and this sixth entry seeks to bear down on Ethan using every single one that he’s created – knowingly or not. It’s a brave choice and one audiences can tell McQuarrie takes seriously in direction and script, even when the IMF team themselves make light of the terrible, yet ridiculous nature of their undertakings. Without this weight, the M:I franchise would likely find itself relegated to the trash bin, hitting rinse-repeat on any next entry. Instead, based on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it throwaway line, Fallout doesn’t just end a significant chapter in the Ethan’s life, but kickstarts a new one.
For all of McQuarrie’s brilliance, there are two glaring issues within Fallout. The first is the seemingly exorbitant amount of exposition, possibly the most in any M:I film to date. Considering the pieces on the board, there’s a certain amount of explanation required to get things moving, yet there’s a strange reliance on it at times when other films have left some things unspoken, allowing the more cerebral moments to carry the narrative. Perhaps due Fallout’s finale-like aura, the script seems intent on spelling everything out for the audience. The M:I franchise is built upon two things: misdirection and stunts. If you spell out all the details for the twists, they lose their allure. That brings us to part two: the reality-defying stunts. Though the stunts are unbelievable at times – something that the characters themselves often recognize while in the act of doing them – a growing sense of stunt fatigue begins to set in the further into Fallout we go. That’s not to suggest that the stunts aren’t impressive – the Halo jump, Hunt’s run across London, and the helicopter chase are all incredible feats of cinema – it’s just that the longer each stunt runs, the harder it becomes to maintain the audience’s level of urgency over the prolonged sequence. Even though it’s a more noticeable issue toward the latter half of Fallout, it’s worth noting that McQuarrie and his team find inventive ways to recapture the audience just as the fatigue is growing to a disengaging level.
The hype for Mission: Impossible – Fallout is absolutely justified. Thrilling, action-packed, surprisingly emotional, and filled with such delights (easter eggs, amazing tech, and Cavill reloading his arms in a beautifully staged bathroom brawl) that audiences are going to want to go for another ride as soon as it ends. Though not perfect, it’s perfect enough to signal that Cruise is not ready to give up on Ethan Hunt and the audience is ready for the next mission. So go ahead, light the fuse.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.