Okay, I’m not sure that I completely understand it, but I think Mission: Impossible – Fallout is about the Impossible Mission Force, led by Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, hunting down terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) so they can trade him to an elegant arms dealer and get three nuclear warheads before they fall into the hands of a Swedish guy who hates religion. Also, there’s a bunch of freelance terrorists called The Apostles? And someone’s trying to frame Hunt? And Rebecca Ferguson’s British intelligence agent might be trying to kill Hunt? Also, something about the CIA clashing with IMF?
You know what? It doesn’t matter. Mission: Impossible movies are about two things — people ripping off masks and Cruise executing ridiculous stunts — and Fallout expertly delivers both.
In this movie, Hunt dangles from a helicopter, tumbles from a motorcycle, and plummets from a plane, and it is breathtaking every time. But the real hero here is Christopher McQuarrie, not because the returning director (the first for the series, with previous entries from Brian DePalma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird) has crafted a direct sequel to his last Mission: Impossible movie. Although the plots to these movies does not matter, the stunts require an audience buy-in, and that means that we need to understand what the heroes want to do and what gets in their way. McQuarrie elegantly sets up the stakes and then gets out of the way to let us marvel at the action.
Take the aforementioned plane plummet. Before jumping out of the aircraft, Hunt notices the mist forming on the mask of new recruit Walker (Henry Cavill) and reminds him to turn on his oxygen because they’ll pass out at this altitude, an instruction that annoys the competitive Walker. With a single line of exposition, McQuarrie tells us the goal (get to land), the challenge (keep oxygen running), and the relationship between the characters. So when things go wrong and we see Walker’s cloudy mask, we don’t need to be told that his oxygen’s not working. We can sit back and enjoy the sequence without exposition cluttering things up.
Deft storytelling like this marks every big set piece in M:I-Fallout, and they’re all spectacular. They’re further helped by the movie’s pleasing supporting cast, including Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and a fantastically steely Angela Bassett. None of these characters get much to do besides comment on Hunt’s crazy antics, but they do it in a fun way that heightens the action.
Less successful, however, are the few times the movie tries to add depth to Hunt by ruminating on his marriage to Julia (Michelle Monaghan). Not only do these bits give shading that doesn’t work and isn’t needed, but it also sets up a troubling “save girls” quality to Hunt, something that plays out in his interactions with women throughout the movie, including Ferguson’s extremely competent agent.
But as annoying as these moments are, they fall away from the film like everything else that isn’t a stunt. Mission: Impossible – Fallout may only do one thing well, but it does it impossibly well.