Watching Mission: Impossible — Fallout made me feel like I was seeing a 56-year-old man’s midlife crisis dialing 911. I can’t be the only one who feels this way, can I? The sixth film in the spy series features numerous shots that make it clear that Tom Cruise really is scaling a rock face 2,000 feet in the air and driving a motorcycle at high speed against traffic around the Arc de Triomphe. Unseemly as it all might be, it doesn’t lessen my admiration for him, nor my awareness that most men half his age couldn’t hope to duplicate his physical feats. Yet for all that, having it unfold before your eyes is like having your uncle roll up in a new Ferrari with new hair transplants. It’s like, Dude, you’d be cooler if you didn’t try so damn hard.
The story picks up where Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation left off, for those of you who care about continuity in this series. (And if you do, who are you?) With their leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) in prison, his terrorist network has become a mercenary army, and Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his IMF team screw up a job that results in the organization gaining control of a plutonium shipment capable of unleashing a nuclear holocaust. Getting it back from a shadowy arms dealer named John Lark involves making pawns of both Lane and Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), the MI6 agent who’s still considered a threat by her own government and who shoots at Ethan an awful lot for someone who’s supposed to be on his side. Meanwhile, the captive Lane is running his own plot to exact revenge on Ethan and everyone he cares about, and one of the other villains asks Lane, “Why’d you have to make it so fucking complicated?” My feelings exactly.
(Also, didn’t Lane see the first movie back in 1996? Ethan has already been made to watch helplessly while all his friends were killed. He got over it.)
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie is on his second tour with the series, and he’s strongest on the most important aspect of these films, which is the stuntwork. Early on, there’s a one-take shot with Ethan and a CIA tagalong named Walker (Henry Cavill) jumping out of a plane and encountering difficulties because they’re dumb enough to execute a parachute jump in the middle of a lightning storm. I like the fight choreography in a men’s room when Ethan and Walker try to apprehend Lark (Liang Yang), and the short-statured businessman kicks both their asses pretty good before a fourth party intervenes. This series isn’t much more than its action set pieces at this point, but unlike the Fast and the Furious franchise, the stunts feel somewhat rooted in reality, partly because you know it’s Cruise actually doing many of them.
In addition to his stunts, Cavill, who hasn’t shown much star charisma in his lead roles, seems much more comfortable here as the good guy who’s such a douche that he might actually be a bad guy. Fellow Brit Vanessa Kirby (from TV’s The Crown) is a nice pickup for the series, too, as a billionaire philanthropist who’s handy with a switchblade.
Forget the oh-so-convenient flaw in Lane’s nuclear bomb mechanics or the climactic struggle where the detonator keeps getting kicked to a place where Ethan can reach it. Where the movie falls down is the parts when McQuarrie tries to connect emotionally, as Ethan finds his ex-wife (Michelle Monaghan) in danger from Lane and his cohorts. The character development that follows makes sense on an intellectual level, but it doesn’t land, and neither McQuarrie nor the Mission: Impossible movies were put here to tug at our heartstrings. From the beginning, this series has been at its best when it abandons logic and just suspends Tom Cruise on a wire a couple of inches above the floor or has him rappel down the side of the Burj Khalifa or lets him battle three assassins backstage at the Wiener Staatsoper. To the large extent that Mission: Impossible — Fallout delivers on that, it’s a success.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout
Starring Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, and Rebecca Ferguson. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, based on Bruce Geller’s TV series. Rated PG-13.