Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Although some certainly hold up better than others, all of the Mission: Impossible movies have been above-average action thrillers, and several of them are downright fantastic. For me, the low point was 2000’s Mission: Impossible 2, directed by John Woo, whose brief Hollywood welcome quickly waned and he’s now gone back to making Hong Kong action movies. It was a huge hit but narrowed the focus down to Tom Cruise’s lead agent Ethan Hunt, after his entire IMF team (including, ultimately, team leader Jim Phelps, surprisingly – but effectively – repositioned as the villain) was killed off in the franchise’s first film in 1996. That first one is, to this day, a giddily fun movie to watch, but like M:I-2 it had little to do with the late ‘60s/early ‘70s TV show that inspired it.

But beginning with 2006’s Mission: Impossible III, the series has steadily gotten back on track, outdoing the prior entries’ tension and action sequences and, more significantly, bringing the emphasis back to the team. The TV show was never about one agent, it was about a team of agents – each member with his or her unique skills and attributes – working together, undetected, to pull off high stakes, seemingly impossible missions. Now, mind you, Cruise is still the star and centerpiece, and rightfully so. You can love him, you can hate him (I’m in the former camp), but you’d be hard pressed to name a more consistent action movie star of the past 25 years, one that puts so much dedication into it, is so exciting to behold onscreen, and effectively conveys such levels of confidence, bravado, courage, thinking on his feet, even humor.

By 2015’s Rogue Nation, the elements had coalesced tremendously, the Mission: Impossible series having emphatically established itself as the most thrilling and reliable secret agent/action franchise currently running, and that includes the Bourne and Bond films. The new Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a direct continuation of Rogue Nation, with nearly all of the same team (Simon Pegg as IMF tech whiz Benji Dunn, Ving Rhames as computer guy Luther Stickell, Alec Baldwin as newly installed IMF Secretary Alan Hunley and Rebecca Ferguson as MI6 agent Ilsa Faust, who has her own agenda) lining up against the remnants of the Syndicate – reformed into a terrorist organization called the Apostles – and their leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, reprising his role from Rogue Nation), who’s intent on detonating a pair of nuclear bombs loaded with stolen plutonium (and taking out Hunt’s ex-wife with them). Joining the fun is Henry Cavill as a dick CIA agent, but then, Henry Cavill has a knack for playing dicks. Even his Superman is kind of a dick. Superman shouldn’t be a dick.

Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, The Way of the Gun) returns to write and direct, and without giving away anything of significance, this sixth entry is unquestionably the cream of them all (so far). Yeah, the basics of the action sequences and high-speed pursuits are typical (breakneck auto/motorcycle chases through narrow European streets and alleyways, desperate on-foot sprints and leaps across rooftops, helicopters careening and diving through a harsh mountain range), but the pacing and cinematography are mind-blowing. And every time there’s a pause, enough to at least mutter “holy shit” and take a breath, something else quickly breaks it and you’re like, “HOLY SHIT!!” There’s also a perfect “rubber mask” moment that – intentionally or not – plays right into CNN’s well-earned “fake news” reputation!

They’re probably going to make another one (they always do) (and considering the bank they pull in, why wouldn’t they?), so all I can do is hope McQuarrie and the core cast stick around. They’ve honed Mission: Impossible to a sweet spot that even the best of the rest never reached.