What it's about: Ethan Hunt is a super spy, the lead agent of the shadowy government agency the Impossible Mission Force. He chooses to accept his next mission: secure three cores of radioactive plutonium on the black market, keeping it out of the hands of a terrorist organization The Apostles, who are working with a physicist who is known to have the ability of making nuclear weapons. Of course, it doesn't go down so well. Hunt is forced to team with C.I.A. enforcer August Walker to track down the plutonium in a complicated transaction that involves old friends, old enemies, and new dangers.
The Mission: Impossible franchise has established itself as the summer blockbuster for people who actually care about the craft of filmmaking. As the tipping point for sequels and reboots has already been passed, Mission: Impossible has become the exception -- even The Avengers are affected the tiniest bit by superhero fatigue. Like many, I was incredibly excited for Mission: Impossible – Fallout. From a "I can't wait to see what happens" stance, it had no rival this summer.
And even with these crazy expectations, boy does it deliver. I wouldn't say that it is the best of the series but in some ways it feels like the most full, the best blend of drama, insane action, spy thriller elements, and character progression.
As it has become the bread-and-butter of the franchise, I'll start with the action. Mission: Impossible has put itself into a tough corner in creating a precedent of upping the stakes each time out. I still don't know if any setpiece can stand up to Ghost Protocol's amazing Burj Khalifa sequence, but there are no less than 4 beyond amazing action scenes all of an incredibly diverse nature. The bathroom fight scene is probably the best combat of the series, a ferocious and brutally draining scrap. The finale, a helicopter chase through the mountains of Kashmir, is certainly the headliner and unique in saving the best for last.
The added stakes of its billion dollar star Tom Cruise performing his own death-defying stunts in highly publicized and as potent as ever in Fallout. Even relatively mediocre sequences like the second act motorcycle chase through Paris become more exceptional because of the clarity of filming -- it makes damn sure you realize Cruise is really actually speeding through the streets. The helicopter chase doesn't need this extra layer of realism to be insane but it highlights the stakes in its shooting style. Action films have generally become more muddy and difficult to parse. If Mission: Impossible didn't have as capable and willing [crazy?] a star, the scope of its setpieces wouldn't have the same effect.
For its plot, Fallout is a movie in the art of misdirection. It's not surprise that there are always more layers to the plot than it is letting on. But Fallout knows you know that. To use a tired metaphor, the spy plot is a game of chess, except every piece on the board is working independently. At one point a character screams "Why did you have to make this so fucking complicated?" and some people in the audience are going to feel that, too.
Fallout is unquestionably at its best as a pure action film, though. There is enough intrigue to keep the film interesting and the characters are especially fun, but yeah, it is a mess if you think about it. The plutonium is a classic McGuffin but its place on the chess board is never really clear. The chase for the thing is less interesting than how the characters relate to each other at any given point.
Once all the particulars of the mission are finally and clearly on the table, the final act is somewhat freed to be just be a crazy big action scene. The film probably wouldn't work without the political intrigue -- they work hand-in-hand.
I want to like Henry Cavill more. He's definitely a presence -- the meme of him cocking his arms before engaging in fistacuffs is awesome for a reason. But his character lacks all plausible credibility because Cavill can't sell the more complicated aspects. The character turns aren't surprising but once they happen they aren't satisfying, either.
Wolf Blitzer showing up in a prominent role [granted in one of the more clever non-action scenes] is bad. I understand Fallout wants to blur the line of realism with the news presenter playing himself but blurring the line between real news and entertainment in this political era is messy and potentially harmful.
The finale's 15-minute countdown lasts for more like 20 minutes of screen time and it certainly would have taken much longer in real time -- when the action scenes come off so realistically, you have to find the nitpicks somewhere.