'Mission: Impossible – Fallout' is pure action with gasp-worthy stunts
Is it even summer without a "Mission: Impossible" movie? Hardly. Thankfully, another installment of the Tom Cruise-starring action franchise, "Mission: Impossible — Fallout," drops this weekend, as sturdy and reliable as ever. Under the swift and efficient supervision of writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, this is the kind of action filmmaking that proves to be an effective antidote for superhero fatigue, with a sense of realism baked into every shot. There's no messy digital CGI here as our heroes try to stop explosions from happening with their fists and bodies. But there comes a point where we must ask: What does it all mean?
Of all the "Mission: Impossible" installments, "Fallout" may be the sparest and most efficient — not counting the truly wild and gasp-worthy stunts. It's taut and unadorned; there's very little flash or distraction in the form of eye-popping costumes or exotic locations or gadgetry. There is no cinematic sleight of hand performed as a digression. It's pure action wrapped around a twisty tale of terrorism, covert ops and the one man who stands between the world and nuclear destruction, Ethan Hunt (Cruise).
The films have become less about espionage and intrigue and more about Cruise and his death-defying acts of cinematic physicality, so McQuarrie strips away everything that might stand between Cruise and his stunt. He shoots in long shots with minimal cuts, and he keeps Cruise in and out of close-up to prove to the audience that it's him.
It's an action movie that embodies the ethos of "pics or it didn't happen." There's no quick editing, stunt doubles or face-swapping. That's Cruise, glancing over his shoulder on a motorcycle before he T-bones a car in Paris traffic. That's Cruise, dashing across a rooftop and taking a flying leap, scrabbling to cling to the edge of a London office building. And yes, that's most definitely Cruise, wrestling himself onto the undercarriage of a helicopter over the snowy Kashmir mountains in a sequence that will leave audiences laughing, gasping and cheering in disbelief.
The film's theme is choice, drawing from the well-known instruction: "Your mission, should you choose to accept it ..." That choice has never been drawn out before, but the question is posed as Hunt and his team secure Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a former British intelligence agent-turned-terrorist. Has Ethan ever not chosen a mission? For whom is he choosing to act? But the question is always "how?" rather than "why?"
"Fallout" quickly drops the existential crisis for the fun and thrills of action, twists and identity swaps, for the added excitement of lethal CIA agent Henry Cavill and his biceps and mustache. But for a film ostensibly about politically motivated violence, it's strangely apolitical, and it doesn't have much to say on that topic at all. Ethan is motivated to extreme acts of adrenaline-pumping bodily peril simply because he loves his loved ones and wants to save them. But frankly, the lack of any sort of social or cultural relevancy is obvious. At a certain point you yearn for the film to say something — anything.
Nevertheless, here's hoping they never stop making "Mission: Impossible" movies. For as long as Cruise can defy death, age and the normal laws of physics, they should keep making them. For as long as McQuarrie or Brad Bird is available to direct his insane stunts, they should keep making them. Tom Cruise is a heck of a movie star who never stops pushing his own limits, and that is always worth the watch.
'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — FALLOUT'
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, Sean Harris.
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie.
Running time: 2 hours, 27 minutes.
Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language.