Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, Sean Harris, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan
It’s been twenty-two years since Mission: Impossible first began as a movie franchise, but Tom Cruise shows no signs of slowing down in this sixth instalment. Yes, sixth. Cruise, director Christopher McQuarrie and all involved must be doing something right if they’ve continued to choose to accept their mission. With Fallout featuring some familiar faces in front of the camera and behind, something is most definitely going right. Or is it? Is Fallout just as exciting (or more so) than J.J. Abrams’ M:I III or McQuarrie’s own Rogue Nation, or is it more in line with the likes of John Woo’s disappointing M:I II? Is it time Ethan Hunt turned his back on the Impossible Mission Force?
Two years after the events of the previous film, the IMF have once again been called upon, this time to locate and acquire three stolen plutonium cores. They have been taken by a terrorist organisation known as The Apostles, who in turn are a break-off of the Syndicate, the organisation created to take down the IMF previously. Their initial mission to take back the plutonium fails, at great cost to the world. Along with his cohorts, Benji (Pegg) and Luther (Rhames), and a new CIA-enforced tag-a-long in the form of August Walker (Cavill), Ethan Hunt (Cruise) must find a way to obtain the plutonium and prevent yet another world-wide catastrophe whilst staying true to himself and his team.
It’s unusual for a previous director of an M:I movie to return for another, and yet here we are with McQuarrie behind the wheel again after 2015’s Rogue Nation. Originally hired to the write the movie, McQuarrie was then asked to direct again. It’s a risk: part of the series thrives on having a fresh take in each movie, for better or worse. However McQuarrie, rather than resting on old laurels and repeating himself, absolutely nails it in his evolution for the franchise. The story is slick and not overly difficult to follow, mostly thanks to some well-injected exposition tactics, and the stunts (which, let’s face it, everyone comes to see) are out of this world, quite literally in the case of the HALO (high altitude military parachuting) jump into Paris conducted by Walker and Hunt. Also back for another go is J.J. Abrams, who has been on-board as a producer, along with his production company Bad Robot, since Ghost Protocol, after his turn as director for the excellent M:I III. Bringing back stalwarts like McQuarrie and Abrams has done nothing but good things for the franchise. It’s unknown yet as to whether this will continue: the likelihood of McQuarrie staying on is slim, but Abrams’ continued involvement is a potential likelihood.
What really makes Fallout standout from its predecessors is, well, everything. While it continues to pay homage to its parent television show (we’ve still got the montage during the opening theme and an ensemble to root for rather than just Ethan Hunt), Fallout is really the point where Mission: Impossible has truly become its own entity. As previously mentioned, the story is slick: we’ve still the got the high stakes and political/genocidal motivations of the antagonists, Hunt is continually plagued by his morals and inability to let innocent people get caught in the crossfire – his ultimate goal is to protect people, which is both his gift and his curse – and the return of a familiar villain (another first for the M:I franchise, a returning villain) brings a new dimension to what was previously a more episodic series. We’ve still got the twists and turns that we have also come to expect, and yet some will still come as pleasantly unexpected. McQuarrie reemploys some familiar tropes, such as the classic disguise using a mask, and when masks become unusable, hoping the antagonist they’re meeting with has never met the person the IMF member is to be disguised as, or at least doesn’t know what they look like. It’s a welcome familiarity; it makes Fallout a Mission: Impossible movie. The tension is still there, though it is racked up to a level that will honestly leave you on the edge of your seat; you will need to remind yourself to breathe. The same goes for the stunts: it wouldn’t be the same without them, and with the inclusion of motorbikes, helicopters, cliff faces and running over rooftops, it’s got everything we’d expect but to a much higher degree. Cruise really pushes his limits in this movie (even breaking his ankle at one point, resulting in an eight-week hiatus from filming) and it really does give each M:I movie something extra when he performs his own stunts, Fallout being no exception.
Tom Cruise has always been an exceptional actor, there’s no arguing that, but his commitment to his projects gives everything he does that extra something. Hunt’s character evolution would not be what it is without Cruise’s input: Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt. He has grown more likeable and, in some ways, relatable, albeit on an exaggerated level. Pegg is back as the wonderfully comic and down-to-earth Benji, and Rhames as Luther once again provides the calm to Hunt’s storm. Both Rhames and Cruise are the only two actors to have appeared in all M:I films, which gives their characters’ relationship extra weight, as will become apparent in one particular moment near the beginning of the film. Rebecca Ferguson returns as Ilsa Faust, the MI6 agent whom Ethan holds in high regard, and Alec Baldwin’s Hunley is once again the protector of the IMF. Henry Cavill’s August Walker is a new player, not the strongest of characters when up against Cruise’s Hunt, but he pulls his weight well enough. The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby gets to show off her acting chops to great effect in a rather villainous role, and Michelle Monaghan’s Julia, Ethan’s ex-wife, provides the heart to everything Ethan does.
In spite of all this praise, is it actually time Cruise/Hunt put down the gun and put up the feet? Possibly. As with everything, age will eventually get the better of him. Unlike Julia’s sentiment, Ethan will not always be there. So what next? Ending the franchise (after one more outing, preferably) is a possibility, but not necessarily a welcome one. So how about a young protégé? Jeremy Renner’s Agent Brandt from Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation was initially slated to take over, though he is noticeably absent from Fallout (thanks to some little-known project currently temporarily titled as Avengers 4). That’s not to say he couldn’t return in the future, perhaps in some kind of hand-over with Hunt. It would have to be an actual hand-over though, not a younger sidekick. We wouldn’t want a repeat of something like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It wouldn’t even have to be a character similar to Ethan: they could have their own agenda, their own shortcomings, and their own reasons for joining the IMF. Hunt could be an unspoken mentor. Perhaps Ferguson’s Ilsa could leave MI6 and join the IMF, if visas would allow, or a whole new female lead could take over. This wouldn’t be entirely unimaginable, with the way the movie tides are currently turning towards more female-led pictures. Whatever happens, it will be undoubtedly tough to top this one, though. Wherever the franchise goes next, we’ll be watching and waiting with great anticipation, as the franchise is slowing down about as much as Tom Cruise on a motorbike: not at all.