Since the beginning, the Mission: Impossible movies have always been a showcase for Tom Cruise doing insane stunts for our amusement. And god bless the crazy little Scientology monster for that. I’ve said many times that if he can die—and I’m not sure he can—he’s going to die doing one of these movies, and I find a certain nobility in people putting themselves in harm’s way to entertain me. The last few chapters, however, has been a constant escalation in this regard as the franchise frontman pushes further and further the bounds of sanity and insurance coverage with each successive stunt. And Mission: Impossible—Fallout takes things to a whole new stratosphere. Literally in one case.
We all remember him dangling off a plane and holding his breath for six minutes last time out in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation. That’s all well and good, but it’s kind of kid stuff compared to what he did for Fallout. Not only does he do most of his own stunts when it comes to zipping around European cities at breakneck speed on a motorcycle, handle the bulk of the fighting, and snap his own ankle leaping from roof to roof. That’s not enough. He learned to fly a helicopter for a major action centerpiece just so we can see it’s obviously him by himself during the shots. As if that doesn’t obliterate the limits, he also jumped out of a plane 106 times to film a HALO—high altitude, low opening—sequence. This includes multiple actual HALO jumps, which means he jumped out of a perfectly good airplane at more than 25,000 feet with an oxygen mask and reached speeds of more than 200 mph. Multiple times. Just to make us gawk. And it works.
I don’t mean to go on and on about Tom Cruise—though I do maintain he’s the last true “movie star” we have left—but all of this accomplishes something important for the film. It gives the action in Fallout, and the other Mission: Impossible movies, an edge, a sense of actual danger. We watch him actually do these things. Though we know, rationally, he’s as safe as possible, it’s still him doing all these insane things. When he barrels through Paris, that’s him. Same when he dangles off a building or cliff. It sells the action and gives it a visceral quality that so many action movies lack. Even when the film employs digital effects, they use state-of-the-art technology that blends seamlessly with the practical work. I’ve seen Fallout compared to Mad Max: Fury Road, and while the action never quite hits those ludicrous highs—I still have no clue how everyone didn’t die filming that—it’s as close as anything has come, or probably will, for a long time.
As usual, and as it should be, the plot serves as a delivery system for the action. The Impossible Mission Force of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) is back at it, trying to recover stolen plutonium from a self-stylized global apocalyptic terrorist death cult called “The Apostles.” Tagging along, they have CIA agent/wet-work specialist August Walker (Henry Cavill), former ally/love interest Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) pops up, and they once again tussle with international baddie Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who has an axe to grind with this particular crew of espionage professionals.
Though it often nears jumbled territory, to the brink of coherence, and it relies too heavily on preexisting franchise knowledge and character work, the narrative does what it needs to do. If you’re familiar with these movies at all, it’s easy to spot what’s coming. The betrayals happen in all the expected places, as do the things-are-not-what-they-seem moments, the face-peelings, the layer on top of layer of misdirection. Still, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie’s script manages to keep things engaging and tense and tricky between action spectacles, and though it’s tangled, it never bogs down. The story-telling fireworks never cause the pace to flag and you rarely feel the 147-minute run time.
Mission: Impossible—Fallout has everything fans want. The action is top notch and a constant amplification of what came before, like every scene resulted from McQuarrie daring Cruise to take things one step further. Though they don’t bring anything new to the table, the characters are engaging and there’s enough of an emotional connection it’s not simply a pyrotechnic action spectacular. Fallout is brisk and propulsive and blockbuster summertime popcorn entertainment at its peak. And Tom Cruise didn’t die filming it, at least not that we’ve been told, so that means we’ll probably get another one, which is good news. [Grade: A]