Film critic Scott Wilson’s mission, if he chooses to accept it, is to pick his jaw up off the floor after watching Tom Cruise cheat death for two and a half hours
Mission: Impossible – Fallout – ★★★★☆
In an age of disposability, Tom Cruise is an enigma from the old guard. The last movie star left standing, his name comes with a variety of connotations, but when you’re paying your hard-earned money at the cinema, the only one that matters is the guaranteed, timeless spectacle.
Since the low point of Mission: Impossible 2, the series has been on an upswing, with 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation filled to the brim with over the top set pieces, scenic locations, and menacing villains. In time, proper comparisons to James Bond will come. The two characters of Bond and Ethan Hunt may be miles apart, but their missions (should they choose to accept them) hit familiar beats and stakes, revelling in a classic idea of what cinema can be: big, glamourous, and maybe just a little dangerous.
The latter is certainly true of Mission: Impossible – Fallout. In an already infamous stunt involving jumping from one building to another, Cruise broke his ankle (the particularly gnarly footage of which was shown in slow-mo on Graham Norton, for the strong-stomached). In true Tom Cruise fashion, his expected recovery time of nine weeks was self-shortened to seven, because that’s what Tom Cruise does. It’s hard not to think while watching Fallout that he might actually die for our entertainment, and that we would all love it.
CGI may work wonders in big-budget summer blockbusters, but it will never act as a shot of adrenaline like seeing a person legitimately put their life on the line for the sake of selling tickets. That’s what Tom Cruise does.
Not since Mad Max: Fury Road have tangible stunts and choreography felt so exhilarating. Cruise really jumping out of a plane is one thing; Cruise getting his pilot’s license just so he can partake in a helicopter pursuit is another. As he dangles from cliff-edges and motorcycles through packed Parisian streets, realisation strikes that there’s nothing like the real thing. CGI may work wonders in big-budget summer blockbusters, but it will never act as a shot of adrenaline like seeing a person legitimately put their life on the line for the sake of selling tickets. That’s what Tom Cruise does.
It’s not that Fallout is just a vehicle for the star, because it isn’t. This is a great action film, one that newcomers are welcome to even if it does harken back to Rogue Nation. A terrorist group known as The Apostles are about to acquire plutonium for a new figurehead, a mysterious John Lark. Led by a manifesto that begins “the greater the pain, the greater the peace,” the terrorists intend on burning the world’s established order as we know it to the ground and starting over. It’s Hunt’s job, along with Simon Pegg’s Benji and Ving Rhames’s Luther, to find the plutonium, find Lark, and smooth things over.
With Henry Cavill’s Walker assigned to watch over him by the CIA, moral tussles threaten to derail progress. Trust is an issue too. Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa returns with her own motivations, while Vanessa Kirby’s White Widow would sooner follow the best deal than the high road. Kirby is underused but scene-stealing, with a femme fatale air of seductive power, a character type from the Golden Age of Hollywood comfortable in modern cinema’s most consistent franchise.
At two and a half hours, it’s a film clearly defined by different dilemmas. First, Hunt and his gang need to acquire information. Then comes the paranoia and the realisations, of how everything is set to fail. Finally, it moves into its most obvious yet finessed act involving explosives, bad guys, and a timer. It’s the classic action film climax, yet because Fallout has everything turned up to 11 it sets the new standard for this type of storytelling. Comparisons with Mad Max: Fury Road don’t hold up when it comes to structure – that film is all-action all the time – because Fallout never treads new ground, never revolutionises storytelling, but commits to doing it better than everyone else. And it does.
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Cruise is the eye of the storm. The plot will fade from memory – something about a timer and nuclear weapons – but the shot of him hanging from the legs of an airborne helicopter never will. He can go in a scrap too, the film’s fights shot in such a way each blow feels like a genuine wound. Cavill’s imposing bare-knuckle battery in a bathroom is so fierce, it’s a reminder that sometimes complexity is overrated if you have an actor committed to his character being referred to as a hammer.
While the narrative might be ultimately disposable, at its heart is Hunt’s refusal to let one person die in exchange for saving many. By giving it his all for the individual, it follows that he is a guardian angel for the thousands who unwillingly come close to death time and again. Fallout doesn’t labour the point, but compared to the hyper-masculine action heroes out there, Hunt is an empathetic and caring protagonist, capable of crazy feats of action but in service of his emotional devotion to people – all people.
Cruise spends so much of Fallout running. He sprints with a heart-pounding urgency that has the same effect as his terrifying stunts. This is the biggest film in the series so far, but it never loses its sense of reality, which is why a chase on foot is as exciting as anything else here. The last movie star earns his crown.