Just saw MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT:
When the first film of this former TV franchise was launched, the poster tagline was: “Expect the Impossible.”
Six movies in that tagline still rings true. And not just about things that are physically impossible (though there is quite a lot of that), there’s also a lot of things that seem to only be possible with ESP, mind-reading lightning reflexes, superhuman strength, or just dumb luck. All of which contribute to your inability to figure out exactly what happens next or to follow exactly what is happening.
But yes, it thrills even as it spills.
Each one of the five films previously has been a “Formula Plus” endeavor. Taking the masks, gadgets, elaborate schemes-in-schemes, Tom Cruise’s down-to-earth yet larger-than-life persona as IMF pointman Ethan Hunt, and then adding its own little bit extra.
This time, the new flavor is a focus on the rivalry of the IMF and the CIA, something which was brewing in the fifth film, ROGUE NATION, of which this film is a direct sequel. The CIA are represented in this film by their own version of Ethan Hunt, August Walker, an imposing giant of a man played by Superman actor Henry Cavill sporting a moustache so exquisite, it had to be photoshopped out during reshoots of JUSTICE LEAGUE rather than get trimmed off.
Walker is a wrench thrown into the machinery. A result of growing distrust from the CIA over IMF’s continued use of unorthodox methods, which this time does bring the world on the brink of disaster that leaves even Ethan Hunt dumbstruck with doubt and guilt about his judgment.
As Walker, Cavill cuts a dominant figure, seemingly occupying more screen space physically than even Hunt’s entire team combined. Understandably, due to the close proximity of Cavill playing this role and that of Superman, August Walker barrels across the film with what appears like a protective barrier made up of mild-mannered but menacing invulnerability. Maybe the moustache is meant to try and distract the audience from thinking the CIA have hired an expat from Krypton.
The addition of August Walker to this film, and the forced involvement of two rivaling agencies in the form of two rivaling, but supposedly allied, super agents gives the first one-third of the film a vibe that resembles a buddy film from the post-2000’s. You can be forgiven for wishing it may become a new element of the series going forward. But this isn’t MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. This is MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, a series with staples of its own.
Many of those staples are reworked in this picture. Elements from the fourth and fifth films, such as: Ethan Hunt getting disavowed. Deadly games involving lack of oxygen. Situational comedy (usually at Tom Cruise’s expense). The IMF being threatened with disbanding and so on all get fair re-use but with just enough tweaks to make it “a little different this time”. In some ways the change is a case of “More, more, more”. For example, rather than chasing one doomsday device, FALLOUT features three of them. “Impossible!” you say? Exactly, did you read the film’s title?
Sean Harris’ softly spoken ROGUE NATION villain, Solomon Lane, is also back for more. This time showing the effect of hard times since being captured in a glass box by Hunt’s team. He’s there mostly to add that little bit of uncertainty. He always looks like he has something up his sleeve, even as he spends most of the film in a straitjacket. He gives Ethan Hunt more reasons to keep looking over his shoulder this time.
Two other stalwarts of the series: Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benjie (Simon Pegg) return in their usual roles, providing comic relief, drama, action, tension, and exposition as is necessary.
Another notable new entrant to the franchise is Vanessa Kirby who plays the luxuriously seductive femme fatale known only as the White Widow, the leader of a clandestine trading house for anything from dangerous weapons to dangerous persons. Her appearance in this film is mostly introductory, but it is clear that her organization is part of the secret underbelly that houses all the alphabet agencies as well as groups using unique and catchy monikers like “The Syndicate”, or in this film “The Apostles”, not that any of these groups seem able to differentiate themselves. At some point Ethan Hunt quips: “Syndicate, CIA, Apostles? What’s the difference?”. Indeed. But at least one of them now has a leader who looks good when you take her out for a night in Paris. Ethan Hunt and the White Widow have surprising chemistry together. You know she will be back.
Also back is Ilsa Faust, played by the steely, yet glamorous Rebecca Ferguson, but with the added complexity that she has to confront her role as the Fifth Wheel in the Ethan Hunt Family Drama that has been one of the series’ cornerstones since the third film. That drama gets a pretty hefty shake up which stamps FALLOUT as a significant entry to that story.
As par for the course for Ilsa Faust’s increasing significance to this franchise she also seems to have acquired impossible abilities of her own. In combination with Cavill’s Walker and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, you begin to wonder what kinds of supplements intelligence agencies must be giving their agents to shrug off things like being bumped by a car head on. Which is exactly what happens to Ilsa in one of the film’s tense action sequences. She simply walks it off, later uttering to her attacker: “I’m sure you had your reasons.”
And it’s not just cars the stars have to contend with. There’s trucks, armored cars, motorcycles, boats, lorries rolling down the streets of Paris, aircraft rolling down jagged mountains, a skydiving sequence that happens with people who are unconscious, and a thrilling attempt at a demolition derby - with helicopters.
“That last one sounds impossible…” you might think. But… remember the title.