For over 20 years since the first big-screen adaptation made its debut in 1996, the Mission: Impossible formula is always more or less the same formula. It’s all about betrayal, double-crosses, a mission goes wrong, getting too personal and most of all — Ethan Hunt and his IMF team (or the entire agency itself) often find themselves disavowed over the course of five movies.
And yet, the Mission: Impossible movies remain one of the most enduring action franchises in Hollywood which still going strong even until today. It’s easy to see why and here are the three reasons: Tom Cruise’s magnetic star power alongside his ever-committed performance and jaw-dropping practical stunts that never fail to impress the audiences at each successive entries.
In this sixth Mission: Impossible entry subtitled Fallout, it marks the first time ever in the 22-year-old franchise that we got ourselves a direct sequel (to 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) and also featured the same director (Christopher McQuarrie) helming two movies in a row.
This time, the plot follows Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his team (including the returning Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) as they race against the time to save the world from a nuclear threat. The movie also sees the return of Sean Harris as Solomon Lane, the main antagonist who was previously captured by Hunt and his team at the end of Rogue Nation.
Clocking at 147 minutes, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is no doubt the longest movie to date in the franchise so far. Such length often bothers me since it tends to fall victim either on too many expositions or becomes heavy-handed if the director gets sloppy. This movie is thankfully neither of them.
Instead, Christopher McQuarrie’s direction is confidently paced over the course of its running time, ensuring a majority of the scenes are staged with enough verve and dramatic tension.
He is also solely in charge of the screenwriting duty, navigating the labyrinthine storyline that instantly reminds me of the first Mission: Impossible movie. In fact, you will even find a few subtle references where McQuarrie successfully emulates Brian De Palma’s sleight-of-hand filmmaking trick. There’s even a callback to McQuarrie’s own deceptive storytelling method that echoes a shade of The Usual Suspects. This is particularly evident during an elaborate scene which made a clever use of the franchise’s signature latex mask.
Then, there are the action sequences and McQuarrie doesn’t disappoint. He has once again shows he’s a true action stylist, who believes that no amount of CGI can beat the good old-school practical stunts. Every action sequence in this movie is thrillingly staged with visceral perfection. Even the bathroom fight which pits Cruise and Henry Cavill against a Chinese opponent (played by stuntman-turned-actor Liang Yang) is cleanly choreographed and edited with visual clarity. It’s like almost watching an action scene from a gritty, old-school Hong Kong movie.
The extended Paris-set chase sequences are equally praiseworthy while the climactic helicopter pursuit does give me a sense of vertigo, thanks to some of Rob Hardy’s tension-inducing camerawork shot from the interior point-of-view as well as its overall acrobatic aerial stunts. It’s even better when Tom Cruise himself performed his own helicopter stunt. It’s the kind of commitment that continues to show us why Cruise remains an enduring star power since he made his big break in Top Gun over 30 years ago. Best of all, it’s nice to see him back in top form after temporarily stumbled in last year’s ill-fated Mummy reboot.
Lorne Balfe, who replaced Rogue Nation‘s Joe Kraemer, does a good job in the scoring department. He even takes up a notch by blending a mix of Lalo Schifrin’s original Mission: Impossible theme music and a foreboding score that echoes a bit of Elliot Goldenthal’s Heat, Hans Zimmer’s The Dark Knight and even the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Sicario.
Apart from Tom Cruise’s energetic performance, the recurring supporting cast — including Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg as well as Rebecca Ferguson and Alec Baldwin from Rogue Nation — all provide solid supports. As for the newcomers to the franchise, Henry Cavill appears as a perfect yet no-nonsense foil to Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. Angela Bassett makes the best use of her limited screentime as the new CIA director, Erica Sloan while Vanessa Kirby is fetching as a Bond girl-like femme fatale simply known as White Widow.
If there are any weaknesses in this movie, the first hour does take time to pick up the pace. Finally, McQuarrie’s decision to cut the otherwise exhilarating helicopter pursuit back and forth to two separate scenes involving Hunt’s fellow IMF team members tends to rob some of the momentums.
Despite some of the movie’s shortcomings, Mission: Impossible – Fallout still ranks as one of the best sequels in the franchise. And of all the summer blockbusters that I’ve ever seen so far, this movie definitely trumps it all.