New Review: 'Mission: Impossible: Fallout' (2018)
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, Sean Harris, Michelle Monaghan, Vanessa Kirby, Wes Bentley
Now this is how you do it! Mission: Impossible: Fallout is action film-making in its purest form. Every single shot made by cinematographer Rob Hardy is a thing of breathtaking beauty, and every edit by Eddie Hamilton is done with a surgeon’s precision. In a time when too many filmmakers shake their cameras during moments of excitement, here comes filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie to slap those other filmmakers across the face with a single message: This is how you’re supposed to do it. The man is slowly becoming one of this generation’s best action directors.
One of his signature visual touches during the action scenes, chase scenes in particular, is a wide angle shot where the subject of the shot is kept on one side of the frame, leaving a lot of wide open space on the other side. He used it in the last Mission: Impossible when Tom Cruise was hanging on the outside of the plane just as it took off, and he used it in the 2012 thriller Jack Reacher during the night time car chase (easily that film’s best scene). It’s a simple technique, but it does wonders in immersing the audience in the action. I was not one of the biggest fans of Jack Reacher, but even I’ll admit that car chase was a masterclass in film-making.
He uses that same technique again in Mission: Impossible: Fallout, in one of the most heart-stopping and exhilarating action scenes that I’ve ever seen. IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has tracked a shady figure to a medical camp in Kashmir. The villain takes off in one helicopter, and Hunt grabs hold of a load of cargo being carried by another chopper. Hunt eventually takes over the chopper and chases down the villain, and if you can not detect any green screen effects or CGI, it’s because there isn’t any.
I’ve done my research, and discovered that Tom Cruise prepared for a whole year to learn how to fly a helicopter for that one scene. I’ve seen behind the scenes footage of Tom Cruise piloting a helicopter through dangerous terrain, where if he made a single mistake, the results would be beyond catastrophic. No matter what your thoughts are on the man in real life, there’s no denying that he puts a lot on the line to entertain the movie goers, and more often than not, the results are nothing short of spectacular. Many filmmakers and actors would have played it safe and used stunt doubles and CGI to pull off that scene. Cruise and McQuarrie go for broke, and if the shot of Cruise struggling to get into the helicopter, losing his grip, and falling to the cargo load below doesn’t stop your heart, then I honestly don’t know what will.
The movie is filled to the brim with many extravagant set-pieces. One scene finds Hunt and a mysterious CIA agent named Walker (Henry Cavill) parachuting through a lightning storm above Paris, and the shot of Ethan looking down on the storm clouds from the cargo door of the plane is positively spellbinding. What follows soon after is a sublimely choreographed fist fight inside the men’s room at a nightclub. The production design in this scene is terrific (the men’s room is pale white from top to bottom), the punches are raw and brutal, and adding to the scene is the fact that McQuarrie uses no musical score at all. It’s a fantastic scene. Sometimes, less is more.
I’m six paragraphs in, and so far there’s no mention of the plot. That’s because the plot is exactly what you’d expect from a Mission:Impossible movie. After a botched mission in Berlin, Ethan and his team (Ving Rhames’ computer hacker Luther, Simon Pegg’s wise cracking Benji, and Rebecca Furguson’s elusive British agent Ilsa Faust) are sent after a terrorist organization known as the Apostles and retrieve three plutonium cores before the terrorists can get their hands on it. Alec Baldwin returns as former CIA Director Hunley, although he’s more supportive of Hunt here than he was in the last movie. Angela Bassett also co-stars as the new CIA Director Erica Sloane, and she’s not at all as supportive of Hunt as Hunley is.
It is basically what you would expect from a Mission: Impossible story, although McQuarrie’s screenplay is so tightly structured that, in spite of its familiarity, the story holds you in a vice-like grip from beginning to end. And while he also finds the right balance of darkness and humor, the film’s most satisfying moments come when the IMF team pulls a fast one on the villains who believe that they have the upper hand. Again, we’ve seen this before in previous Mission: Impossible movies, but the villains here are so detestable and slimy that you can’t help but feel satisfaction when the rug gets pulled out from under them.
While Tom Cruise is the star and he turns in a very charismatic performance, what makes the Mission: Impossible movies so special is that these movies are all about the team effort. Every single member of the IMF team is just as important as Hunt (even though Cruise gets all the big stunts), and Rhames, Pegg, and Ferguson all turn in exceptional performances to help carry the movie. Cavill turns in his best performance as Walker, Baldwin and Bassett are commanding as Ethan’s superiors, and Sean Harris is so deliciously evil as Solomon Lane. He’s one of those bad guys that you just love to hate.
Adding considerable emotional weight to the proceedings is Michelle Monaghan as Ethan’s ex-wife Julia. There’s a real tenderness to their scenes, especially when Ethan wakes up in a hospital bed and apologizes to her for all the hell that he feels he’s put her through. I didn’t really buy into their relationship when it was introduced in Mission: Impossible III (aka the only film in this franchise that I don’t like); it felt underwritten and hollow. Here, Monaghan and Cruise really connect in a way that they didn’t really manage in the third movie, and as brief as their scenes are here, it really brings a note of warmth to the proceedings.
Sometimes, when a movie is this well made, there’s a real thrill in simply looking and listening to a movie. I can not remember the last time I felt such a thrill in seeing gorgeous images edited together seamlessly with a great score and sound design, but by the end of this movie (in spite of its competently told yet familiar story), I was ready to go back in line and see the movie again. Mission: Impossible: Fallout is the embodiment of everything one could hope for from a Summer blockbuster, the very definition of a “bad-ass” popcorn movie.
There is a reason why people go to action movies. They can take us one adventures to far away places and help us forget about our everyday troubles. When they’re done well, we get to have a fun time at the movies. When they’re done flawlessly, we get a movie like Mission: Impossible: Fallout.
Final Grade: **** (out of ****)
Rated PG-13 for lots of action and violence and brief strong language