Review: Mission: Impossible – Fallout
The latest Mission: Impossible film starts off a little stranger than usual. The previous Mission opened with an incredible stunt as Ethan Hunt, played by the always ballsy Tom Cruise, dangled from the side of an airplane as it jetted off above the green plains of Minsk. This one, however, quietly begins with a nightmare.
Ethan is reliving his wedding day at a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. His ex-wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), stares into his eyes in a glowing trance, with an eerily hypnotic smile that strikes the right balance of soft tenderness and a soullessness that’s painful to watch. Residing over the ceremony is Ethan’s nemesis, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris in a ghoulish turn), who is the curator of his pain as his happy life detonates around him. This nightmare has two thematic purposes. First, it serves as a recurring narrative that drives Ethan’s inner turmoil and fears, representing the lives he can physically lose if Lane wins, and second, it represents something that has already happened. His married life with Julia has already self-destructed.
The early moments of Mission: Impossible – Fallout are easily its most relaxed. Once Hunt and his team drop the curtains on a rather cheeky bait and switch, played nostalgically in the tradition of the many outrageous cons Jim Phelps and his team orchestrated in the Mission: Impossible series, the film becomes a symphony of action sequences arranged in movements. This Mission, like its predecessors, is an always “on the move” series of act long escapades that begin with grand entrances (such as a dangerous HALO jump through a storm cloud), detour into brawler fist fights and all out shootouts before leading to on foot chases that often escalate into high speed car chases, culminating in a ticking time clock of a climax staged around a show-stopping helicopter chase over the cliffs of Kashmir.
It is a testament to director Christopher McQuarrie’s skillful staging, as well as the hard work performed by the film’s editor, Eddie Hamilton, on top of the blood, sweat, and tears from the cast and crew, that this brutal assault never wears you down, never becomes tedious nor anything less than compelling, even when it’s at its most gratuitous.
McQuarrie uses a number of tricks to keep the audience invested in all this madness. Narratively, he challenges Ethan’s virtuosity by placing him in potential no win scenarios where he has to maneuver around his trigger finger, such as a scene where, while undercover as a villain by the name of John Lark, he is asked to take part in plan that will bring casualties. As established in the previous films — particularly the first film, in which he never once uses a gun — Ethan isn’t a “spray and pray” action hero, often only gunning down enemies when he has no other choice. This is effectively demonstrated in a later scene, a pure western moment, in which our hero must use brutal force to save a wounded police officer. Ethan does the right thing, but you can still feel his heart sink in this moment.
In a handful of tense moments, McQuarrie creates a sense of danger by staging scenes as if one or more of the characters are about to die. There are a number of scenes that, in a subtle way, remind us of all the times we’ve seen characters die in other films. Late in the film, a character, oblivious to the villain that’s about to strike, enters a murky cabin, a moment we’ve seen in countless thrillers. This character is staged vulnerably, unimportantly, in a way that hardly resembles the cavalier, “Here I come to save the day” entrance. Our gut tells us, he’s going to die. Is he really doomed? Does anyone actually die? I won’t say, but McQuarrie does genuinely make us worry about these characters and their mortalities, upping the stakes and the suspense.
McQuarrie’s direction is complimented by Rob Hardy’s sometimes cold, sometimes dazzling cinematography. Images such as a magic hour shot of characters meeting by the Eiffel Tower, Ethan’s face peering out of the shadows of his safe house in Belfast, and Ethan diving headfirst out of plane, a seemingly ballsy shot for a camera operator, stick with you after the credits roll. Hardy recently contributed to the trippy imagery of Alex Garland’s Annihilation and delivers easily the best looking Mission: Impossible film since Stephen H. Burum’s work on the original film.
Taking over duties as composer, Lorne Balfe delivers a serviceable score that works for the film, but doesn’t carry with you when you leave the theater. Balfe, one of Hans Zimmer’s understudies and a contributor to a number of Christopher Nolan films, brings that familiar sound to the Mission: Impossible franchise, with at least one action cue that is derivative from The Dark Knight Rises. To give it a taste of that Mission sound we’ve come to identify, Balfe sprinkles in a tiny bit of Lalo Schifrin with an effective use of “The Plot” motif during the final act. While Balfe’s work is competent, the musical signatures of past composers, such as Schifrin, Danny Elfman, Michael Giacchino, and Joe Kraemer are greatly missed. (Kraemer’s absence is puzzling given his constant partnership with McQuarrie.)
Rounding out Mission: Impossible – Fallout are handful of new characters. These personalities include Henry Cavill’s brute-fisted “hammer,” August Walker; Angela Bassett’s domineering CIA figurehead, Erika Sloane; and Vanessa Kirby’s shadow broker, The White Widow, who shares a curiously understated connection to Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible. Due to the nature of rogue agents in these films, strange as it is, the person we trust the most out of this bunch is the one we’re told is selling plutonium.
As the sixth film in the series, it’s hard telling how many more missions we’ll have with the character Ethan Hunt. At 56, Tom Cruise continues to jump out of airplanes, climb mountainous peaks, and could run laps around my slouchy, out of shape 32 year old self in a marathon. As we get farther into these films, the more Hunt’s vulnerability is becoming exposed. This is one of the reasons why Hunt is far more compelling as a character than he was, say, in John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II. But the question begs to be asked, are we soon approaching Ethan Hunt’s final Mission and if so, what gigantic feat will become the character’s final curtain call?