Alex Reid, Arts & Entertainments Co-Editor.
Mission Impossible is never a franchise that I’ve felt particularly attached to. In my eyes, it seems to flit in and out of the public consciousness, never staying long enough for it to make any considerable impact. I think that may have changed with the sixth entry in the franchise, Mission Impossible: Fallout.
The Mission Impossible films may have once a pale imitation of its closest cinematic relative James Bond, but they now have come into their own entirely. Every scene in Fallout constantly reinforces what this franchise is all about: bombastic spontaneous action and plot twists upon plot twists. A breakneck pace that careens the film from action set piece to action set piece with little time to breathe between. Returning writer and director Christopher McQuarrie fires on both barrels in the action department, making sure that each set piece upstages the next with increasingly jaw dropping ideas that make you wonder how they’ll possibly upstage themselves again.
The first returning director in the franchise also adds an unexpected benefit of Fallout becoming a meaningful sequel to its predecessor Rogue Nation. Returning characters such as the devious villain Lane (Sean Harris) and the magnificent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) lend the film not only a sense of tangible progression, but real emotional stakes. Emotional is not a word I thought I’d ever ascribe to the Mission Impossible franchise, but McQuarrie rewards long-time fans of the series with a story that seems to comment upon itself (but I won’t say more to avoid spoilers). The Mission Impossible franchise has come to be just as much about the growing supporting cast as it is about Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. The entire cast form a diverse and entertaining smorgasbord of characters that McQuarrie deftly manoeuvres into conflicts and conversations that truly invest us in them, which is not something that anyone would have expected of a franchise that many considered disposable not so long ago.
Although the Mission Impossible franchise has finally emerged from the shadow of the James Bond films, it has taken some inspiration from both it and Paul Greengrass’s Bourne films. Action scenes are gritty and forceful, with each punch feeling like it could be lethal, especially with the addition of Henry Cavill’s August Walker, a CIA agent who is written as a neat counterpoint, or perhaps even parody of James Bond. Many action scenes go without Lorne Balfe’s score, instead letting the sound effect artists conjure up an impactful soundscapes of gunshots, scratches, punches and ever-increasing fatigue. Set pieces can exceed well over 20 minutes, each paced with deft precision, with the editing becoming barely noticeable, just as good editing should be.
I’d be amiss to not mention the star of the show: Tom Cruise himself. Although the Mission Impossible franchise has often felt like a weak excuse for Cruise to insert himself into pop culture consciousness every few years, for once his character of Ethan Hunt actually felt like… a character. There was genuine progression in his character, a redemption, dare I say it, self-reflection too. The film seems to actively take stabs at Cruise’s insane dedication to authenticity in the stunts with Simon Pegg’s Benji voicing the thoughts of the audience. But, say what you will about the necessity of performing the stunts for real, many of them feel just as tangible as the fight scenes themselves. They have a real sense of danger that really bring you into the scene. In isolation any given scene would seem utterly ridiculous, but the pace is so fast, the performances so convincing and the action so engaging that you barely have time to reflect on anything until the film is over.
Despite the fact the plot may get so complex in the middle that it becomes entirely redundant, I’m not certain that the film needed something better than what it had. When it comes to the action and the characters, McQuarrie seems to simply understand the fundamentals of revitalising the struggling genre of the action summer blockbuster. It’s not often you can say that the sixth in a franchise may be the best entry of them all.