Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the height of the franchise's spectacle, for better and worse

By Leigh Monson
  Mission: Impossible is a series I would generally characterize as good films with excellent action scenes, because conceptually that's what this series has evolved to provide over the course of its twenty-two year history as a film series.
   This is largely based on how the films have been handed off to a new director with every successive installment, leading a different vision and style to every film that lends them unique flavors but not a strong connecting thread between them other than Tom Cruise's recurring lead role as Ethan Hunt. And that's fine, though that means that the plots of these films are largely disposable in favor of seeing whatever crazy stuntwork the director of the day has in mind. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the sixth installment in the franchise, yet it's the first to feature a returning director, Christopher McQuarrie, and the influence of a stylistic redux is strongly felt this time around, for better and worse.
   There's something strange in watching a Mission: Impossible film that wholly expects you to remember and care about plot points from the previous film, but McQuarrie builds Fallout off the finale of Rogue Nation, though that isn't to say the plot is of much more consequence this time around. After refusing to kill the head of the Syndicate (Sean Harris), Ethan Hunt is tasked with cleaning up the aftermath of the Syndicate's regime, namely preventing a group of rogue assassins from acquiring a trio of nuclear bombs. When that operation goes haywire, Hunt is paired up with a CIA assassin (Henry Cavill) to recover the bombs, but Ethan's past keeps intruding on the operations in the form of old enemies and lovers.
   The emphasis on remembering the minutiae of character dynamics from a series that has never before emphasized them is strange, but even if one takes Fallout as its own entity divorced from the series, there isn't much of an emotional core to latch onto in this story or these characters. Ethan Hunt remains a cipherous approximation of Tom Cruise pretending he's still thirty-something, and the addition of Henry Cavill only demonstrates that, no, this guy isn't just bad when playing Superman, but in fact has only as much emotional range as his mustache. Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Rebecca Ferguson all reprise previous supporting roles with enough gusto to offer a suitable illusion of dimension and depth, but Fallout's character work rests on a storied foundation that was never adequately or purposely built, leaving those moments to fall flat for everyone but the most hardcore fans of the franchise.
   It is a very good thing, then, that McQuarrie is such a gifted action director. There's a reason he's the first director to return to the franchise, and his dedication to practical stuntwork and on-location spectacle make Fallout a raw joy when the action ramps up to its heights. From a brutal fistfight that decimates a bathroom, to a HALO jump that Cruise and Cavill actually performed for the stunt, to a helicopter chase that refuses to stop escalating, Fallout is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to its action spectacle, which alone is worth the price of admission. To say that they don't make movies like this anymore is a bit of an overstatement, but the dedication with which Cruise is willing to put his life on the line for the sake of that next intense shot – and McQuarrie's skill and willingness to facilitate it – are going to be all that some people need.
   As impressive as the action beats of Mission: Impossible – Fallout are, though, I still find it hard to remain invested in a story that portends to be part of this ongoing legacy when the component pieces of that legacy have never claimed to be part of a greater whole. Even the giant plot twists Fallout offers are more tedious than thrilling, given the franchise's previous reliance on audience turnabout and this installment's overreliance on trickery to the point where you're conditioned against investment in any emotional beat for fear it might not turn out to be true within the narrative. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a feat of action direction and spectacle, but it doesn't live up to the task of making one care beyond the visceral thrill. That'll surely be enough for some folks to seek the film out on the biggest screen possible, but others will likely prefer to fast forward to the stunts when the film hits streaming. I wouldn't blame them.
3.5/5 stars


Leigh Monson is technically a licensed attorney but somehow thinks being a film critic is a lot more fun. Leigh loves both award darlings and hilariously bad films, does not believe in superhero movie fatigue, and calls it like he sees it.