After six movies, the “Mission: Impossible” series keeps finding ways to be spectacular.
True to its name, the Tom Cruise action franchise has enjoyed an unbelievable level of consistency since the first film arrived back in 1996 (only 2000’s second installment directed by John Woo stands out as a dud).
The newest installment, “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” delivers at least three incredible setpieces that rival the most memorable moments of the entire series. “Fallout” also better explores the character of Ethan Hunt and establishes a dramatic arc that resonates beyond single-minded setpieces.
Let’s get the superlatives out of the way: “Fallout” is the best in a very good series, and it deserves to contend alongside “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Skyfall” in the battle of Best Action Movies of the Decade. It’s just that good.
While “Fallout” can be enjoyed as a stand-alone adventure, the film operates as a sequel to the previous installment, 2015’s “Rogue Nation,” which introduced an international network of terrorists called the Syndicate, led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Hunt’s IMF superteam captured Lane in “Rogue Nation,” but his absence has made the Syndicate a nasty mess of dysfunction and death.
At the start of “Fallout,” a botched job leads to the loss of plutonium and new oversight from the CIA director (Angela Bassett). She assigns her own superagent, August Walker (Henry “Superman” Cavill, in a career-best role) to monitor Hunt’s attempt to collect the plutonium. From there, expect double crosses, face mask trickery and an extended sequence where Hunt must impersonate a super-terrorist in order to prevent a mass killing.
“Fallout” recollects most of the franchise’s MVPs, including Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames as the mission’s primary support team, as well as “Rogue Nation” standout Rebecca Ferguson as Hunt’s British intelligence counterpart, Ilsa Faust. She continues to emit considerable screen presence as both a foil and ally for Hunt while carrying some of the film’s trickier plot elements.
“Fallout” marks the first in the series to bring back a previous director — “Rogue Nation” writer/director Christopher McQuarrie returns to bridge many aspects of the series together, including some of the lingering aspects of the Ethan Hunt character that hasn’t been explored since part three. McQuarrie delivers a clean, coherent style to the numerous action scenes, and his economic sense of storytelling helps to settle the 2.5 hours of various twists, MacGuffins and Tom Cruise running scenes.
The action is nothing short of incredible, anchored by the kind of practical stunt work unseen in modern action movies. Cruise continues to risk his life for the work too — he jumps out of an airplane, rides a motorcycle against speeding traffic and jumps across building-tops with ease (except for the jump where Cruise actually broke his ankle during production).
“Fallout” goes out with a bang too, as the helicopter chase serving as the film’s climax manages to top everything that comes before. Previous installments showed no real logic to the order of setpieces — Ghost Protocol” goes building-dangling at the midpoint, and “Rogue Nation” opens with its craziest moment. “Fallout,” on the other hand, manages to build dramatic stakes into its most jaw-dropping visual sequence.
Cruise, McQuarrie and “Mission: Impossible” operate at their best in “Fallout,” topping themselves in ways that seemed unimaginable. Topping it again with another installment might be the real impossible task, but someone might as well give them all the money in the world and let ’em try.
Tyler Wilson can be reached at email@example.com