How do we define a good movie these days? I’ve seen some lofty expectations when it comes to that, especially on the Rotten Tomatoes site. I’ve seen movies herald a 92% score that aren’t worth a 60% score. I’ve seen a 60% scored film that is worthy of the 92% mark. But what one forgets is that RT is about how many critics liked the film. Each critic could individually score the film 3/5 (A 60%!), but RT calls it a positive review and that boosts the film’s overall score. It’s a weird system that somewhat misses the critical analysis of film, the part of filmmaking that years later true film buffs love to debate. How the camera and lighting is used to effectively project a film’s tone. How the surface storyline serves to represent the deeper themes of the story. Are the performances over-the-top and does it serve the film? Does the logic of the plot make any sense?!
That last one is pretty rarely asked, but one thing can be said that when a director and/or writer is able to keep track of all these separate moving parts, creating a symphony on-camera of sorts. When Mission: Impossible first hit theaters in 1996, how you feel if I told you it has an RT score of 63%? That’s right! The original film directed by legendary Brian De Palma actually is considered one of the weaker installments by the standards of RT.
But let’s focus on the positives, because every once and awhile a film is so good that it’s impossible to ignore. A film not bolstered by contemporary themes that guilt critics into liking it, a film not bolstered by journalists looking to gain some favor with the industry. Sometimes, a film just gets it right and you can’t ignore it. It’s safe to say the sixth, count it SIXTH, installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise, subtitled Fallout, is one of those films. A daring, maddening, yet sharply written action film that propels itself from scene to scene with purpose and a domino-like effect as Ethan Hunt (Played by Tom Cruise) faces a collision course with his choices as a spy over the years. The consequences of his good intentions, his iron will, and his loyalty to the mission. A mission he never refuses that takes him on each of these increasingly dangerous tales. For Fallout, dangerous doesn’t even begin to describe the perils Hunt and his team go through.
Like most of the M:I films, the actual mission of the story is simple. Hunt, while undercover to stop the selling of plutonium that is expected to be used by the remains of the Syndicate from the last film Rogue Nation (Who now call themselves “The Apostles”), chooses in a moment of conscience to save a friend over driving away with the plutonium. With that, Hunt is sent off by Alan Hunley (Played by Alec Baldwin), former CIA agent who took over IMF at the end of Rogue Nation, to retrieve the plutonium. This time, however, the CIA gets involved, with it’s new director Erica Sloane (Played with icy fierceness by Angela Bassett) demanding that her CIA assassin August Walker (Played by Henry Cavill), accompany Hunt and his team to get it. One aspect of this film is questioning Hunt’s motives as a spy, which is meant to have two sides. Why he keeps doing the job and what it costs him.
Now in recent years, it’s become somewhat of a fab to deal with the cost of spycraft. The recent James Bond films have worked to portray Bond as a broken and damaged man who almost carries self-hatred. In previous installments, they were willing to show Bond enjoying his profession as an escape from his past. Now it’s a duty that seems to have Bond on autopilot. But that’s not the only place we’ve seen it. In Red Sparrow, which came out earlier this year, the lead spy is also a forced-against-her-will seductress who is really good at her job and yet somehow the film continuously decided that nudity and torture were the real trades of the craft. I mean…a lot…like the torture scenes and excessive nudity felt like they were substitutions for any plot points that the book the film is based on might have had to offer.
The point is, that the genre has continuously sought to take away the adventure and good nature of a spy. The “No reward for a good deed” idea seems almost impossible to consider these days. Every spy, like most mainstream characters, must be a selfish, damaged, and borderline vicious creature that you’re suppose to either feel sorry for or feel…well sad for. Now I grant you, spy films take on many forms, but part of any of them is perception and while both Spectre and Red Sparrow simplify and poorly try to deconstruct the very existence of a spy, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is so well-done it actually defends the classic nature of the genre. The tricks and gadgets and disguises. Why spies exist and why you don’t just go in blasting. Spies are meant to slither through the cracks to accomplish tasks without upsetting the larger global infrastructure of governments and societies.
While Tom Cruise’s magnificent stunts reach new heights here (No really…he HALO jumps from a plane at a very high altitude), director/writer Christopher McQuarrie, who returns after previously directing Rogue Nation, brings the same kind of double motivations, doubles and triple crosses, and complex narrative that he brought the first time around. In fact, he improves upon it, incorporating Cavill’s CIA assassin with precision and intention to tell an international tale of the larger spy game of the world. It’s really a massive game of “Who can one-up the other” which sounds very much like the real world doesn’t it?
Along the way, Rebecca Ferguson returns as Ilsa Faust to explore a larger scope as she maneuvers against Hunt for her own country. But then again, everyone is back including Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg as computer experts Luther Stickell and Benji Dunn along with newcomer Vanessa Kirby unexpectedly playing White Widow, a character related to someone from the very first film. Sadly, due to his commitment to the Avengers film, Jeremy Renner doesn’t return but the film sets it up where we probably will see him in the next film.And yes, Michelle Monaghan does return as Ethan’s former wife Julia, who he married in Mission: Impossible III and went into hiding for his sake in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Along with Sean Harris as Rogue Nation villain Solomon Lane whose character’s part in the film is both obvious and not what you expect.
Still, the real shining stars are of course Cruise giving the most conflicted take on his legendary character Ethan Hunt along with Henry Cavill surprising as Walker. These two play off each other brilliantly, a “scalpel” and a “hammer” as Bassett’s character points out in one of the trailers. Although Cavill ends up bringing his best role ever, offering what seems like a brute at first and then somehow pulling back the layers to reveal both what a talent Cavill can be and what a jigsaw puzzle Walker can be.
But despite McQuarrie’s precision behind-the-camera and on the script, cinematographer Rob Hardy and editor Eddie Hamilton deserve massive praise for how the film is shot and paced. There are A LOT of climactic scenes in this film, but they are so effectively layered one-on-top of the other that you get a building tension to the awe-inspiring final moments. Not to mention composer Lorne Balfe makes sure the score creeps and adds operatic flair to every scene’s progression.
A good M:I film is both fun and intriguing. Some scenes I didn’t know what would happen next, but even when I did I felt like I was in on a good con. That’s what makes these films continuously pleasant. They are never afraid to actually let you enjoy them even as the atmosphere builds and dark moments blanket the exhilaration. McQuarrie should be very proud of himself. Not just for a great film, but for a commitment to great cinema. He doesn’t do what you expect, and when he does he puts a spin on it.
I feel I can parallel how the Russo Brothers took what people loved in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and built a bigger and better beast with Captain America: Civil War. McQuarrie took everything you loved from Rogue Nation and just improved on it further. Fallout may be considered a bad thing in the context of the story, but the film itself is the accumulation of a continuously reliable piece of summer blockbuster entertainment with just enough brains, character, and, of course, spycraft to keep you guessing. If McQuarrie is expecting to return again for Mission: Impossible 7, like the Russos, I predict he’ll pull an Avengers: Infinity War and leave us breathless. For now, this newest film is all you could ever want…and more
Good: Performances (Especially Cruise and Cavill), editing, score, pacing, direction, writing, themes, and story. And, of course, the action scenes.
Bad: Honestly…you’d have to try really hard to find a flaw in this film. It’s going to be hard. But you know…goofs maybe?
Why the Extra Point?: Because most franchises change to fit new context. M:I has stuck with what made it great and it pays off. They deserve extra credit!