Mission: Impossible - Fallout
“Off the hinges” is usually a phrase best utilized to describe CGI-powered physics-defying monstrosities, not stunt-filled practical action movies where gravity actually exists. Yet, here we are.
The Mission: Impossible franchise deserves credit for doing something that no other major movie franchise has yet to accomplish; finding success with consistent inconsistency. Each film is a new opportunity for a different filmmaker to leave their mark on the series. Each one brings a new approach, a unique solution to making Ethan Hunt entertaining to watch on screen. It’s a franchise that thrives on variety rather than shies away from it. Unlike Star Wars or the MCU, there is no overarching plan or continuing major plotlines to connect everything together. Each film of the Mission: Impossible franchise is contained within itself. They aren’t concerned with what will happen next, because frankly each film could have ended up being the last one. It’s like every Mission: Impossible movie is a surprise gift, and so far, despite different wrappings, different ideas, different contents, none of those gifts have disappointed.
I’m happy to report that Mission: Impossible - Fallout is no exception to the trend of not disappointing the audience, but it is an exception to the direction of the series so far. You see, unlike the previous films in the series, this is the first one with a returning director. It’s the first one with a significant return of key cast members, and the first one that was planned before the release of the previous film. Fallout is the first film in the series that carries over a story from the previous movie directly into the sequel. It is the Quantum of Solace of the Mission: Impossible movies. It manages to be different than the rest of the Mission: Impossible films by being the same. More importantly, that ‘sameness’ doesn’t hold it back. In fact, that’s what makes it excel.
Sure, the previous films made mentions and nods to what had happened in earlier films, but each one acted more or less like a standalone story. Not here. Rogue Nation is the prequel to Fallout. It tees up the ball for Fallout to slug it out of the park. While continuity is something that traditionally defines a sequel, it is a new trick for Mission: Impossible. Christopher McQuarrie is back as writer and director, and he takes his experience with the series and runs with it. He manages to find everything that had made the previous Mission: Impossible films entertaining, and packs them all into one unrelenting freight train of a movie. That brings a familiarity in approach and makes it easier for audiences to jump right in.
At the end of the previous film, Ethan Hunt had completed his mission of capturing Solomon Lane, the rogue who had become the founder of the underground terrorist organization known as The Syndicate. But as we’ve learned in previous Mission: Impossible movies, you take out one big bad guy, and another fills his place. In this case, it’s a mysterious figure who leads a group of ex-Syndicate operatives who call themselves The Apostles. They’re trying to get their hands on some Plutonium in order to make a statement. When Hunt’s efforts to obtain that Plutonium fails, he is forced to work with a black market broker who wants one thing: Solomon Lane. Hunt must therefore figure out a way to release his former nemesis and get the Plutonium without letting Lane actually get away.
In true Mission: Impossible fashion, nothing ever goes exactly as planned. The series’ entertainment comes from the way that Hunt and his team often have to improvise when things go wrong. Improvisation often takes the form of practical action sequences, which have become the Mission: Impossible hallmark. In Fallout they are on display first and foremost, The film’s action sequences are grittier and longer than what has come before, focusing more on impact and intensity then spectacle or uniqueness. Indeed, the majority of the film is adrenaline-pumping action, giving audiences exactly what they want from the series. But of course we come to a Mission: Impossible movie to see Tom Cruise do his own stunts. The man continues to be an impressive action star. If insane stunt work were all that Fallout had to offer, it wouldn’t necessarily be a step forward for the franchise. What makes Fallout succeed is what it accomplishes in addition to the action.
For one, Fallout is very nearly the definition of unrelenting. It starts calm and then continuously picks up pace all the way to a crazy and breathtaking ending. The film hardly gives you a moment to catch your breath, and unlike the previous installments there isn’t really a lull between big action set pieces. The narrative is mostly told along with the action, rather than in the scenes leading up to it. The plot is structured such that the intent is established early on, and much of the runtime is Ethan Hunt and team dealing with the consequences of their mistakes and the films’ twists along the way. This makes for a very thrilling and adrenaline pumping viewing experience where suspension of disbelief isn’t a requirement.
Fallout also sets itself apart by essentially tying together all of the loose strings from the previous films. We’re not yet sure if this will be the last Mission: Impossible film, but it certainly would be a fitting ending. There’s an elevated sense of emotional turmoil which heightens the effect of the gritty action in a way that hasn’t really present in any of the previous films except perhaps the ending of M:I 3. Towards this purpose, Fallout manages to finally give us a glimpse of who Ethan Hunt really is. Previous installments were content to just let him be the foil through which the action unfolded. There’s an important moment early in the film when Hunt’s superior describes his biggest flaw as “hesitation to choose between saving one life and millions.” It’s a perfect statement that puts into words why we continue to have interest in Ethan Hunt. He is more relatable than James Bond or Jason Bourne. Fallout finally gives Hunt the purpose the character was previously missing, and in a way it provides additional perspective to everything that has come before.
Speaking of what has come before, Fallout makes major nods to the other films in the series. Each of the major action sequences is a homage to what has come before. There’s another infamous bathroom scene, a claustrophobic car and motorcycle chase, a necessity to free climb up a sheer rock wall, and a desperate jump onto an airborne vehicle taking off. The film’s cinematography is dark and high contrast, with plenty of lense flares to echo JJ Abrams' famous approach. But Fallout doesn't just borrow ideas we've seen before. It makes them its own. In this manner, there is familiarity to what we are seeing, but it remains new and exciting. This is especially true when you consider the added emotional element that is afforded by having two films to develop the overarching story instead of just one. It is so sucessful that my biggest disappointments are but two. First, the film doesn’t have a good place to blare the classic theme song. And second, the fact that this film’s competence as an unexpected sequel doesn’t come as much of a surprise, unlike the last three films. Granted, that last complaint isn’t much of one; it’s like being tired of constantly winning. I think that sentiment missums up Mission: Impossible - Fallout best of all.
What's Bad: Not as adventurous as previous installments, cinematography is a bit too dark at times, some recycling of previous ideas makes it a bit predictable.