Film review | Mission Impossible: Fallout

The sixth edition of the Mission Impossible film franchise is a triumph of action cinema

In today’s world of hyper-expensive and intricately interconnected cinematic universes – where Marvel Studios and their ilk rush to catch up with the power of episodic storytelling fomented with such great force and popularity by the rise of quality television – the Mission Impossible film franchise stands as something of an anomaly.

An update of what was in fact a vintage TV series, the franchise grew from the late-90s by keeping a more or less consistent cast in tow – with Tom Cruise as head agent of the ‘IMF’, Ethan Hunt – but inviting a rotating roster of directors to oversee each entry.

Like that other – and it must be said, even more enduring – popular spy movie franchise, James Bond, the Mission Impossible world allows for variation because its core concept is so solidly simple that it is unlikely to be affected by any external varnish. A team of effective espionage operatives – led by Hunt and now made up of Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Benji Dunn (Sean Pegg) and, somewhat unofficially, the compromised MI-6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) – are given world-saving missions by the extra-governmental IMF agency, and are expected to execute them in full secrecy.

This time, the target is an anarchist extremist collective known as ‘The Apostles’, whose aim is to destabilise the world order by strategically deploying nuclear bombs made of plutonium. The mission will require Hunt to once again come face to face with Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) – whom we’ve encountered in the previous film in the series (2015’s Rogue Nation) and whose machinations inadvertently led to Hunt being separated from his wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan) for her own safety. A botched attempt at securing the plutonium puts the IMF in the crosshairs of the CIA, led by Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett), who orders that agency’s special assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill) to monitor the IMF’s mission – for which Hunt now has to assume the role of the mysterious John Lark, supposed leader of the ‘The Apostles’.

Mission Impossible: Fallout, the sixth entry in the franchise, breaks franchise tradition in that it marks a return for writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, who handled Rogue Nation and whose collaboration with Tom Cruise extends to the (not entirely successful) Jack Reacher franchise, adapted from the popular Lee Child thriller novels. But far from being an example of a director resting on their laurels, ‘Fallout’ is a triumph of action cinema, building on an established mythos to create a muscular, kinetic and thoroughly entertaining exercise in the genre.

The variety of action scenes on display is truly impressive – from ‘intimate’ melees in nightclub bathrooms to bravura helicopter chases, McQuarrie successfully marshals an exciting pageantry of set-pieces which remind us of what this genre should be all about. It is less about pummelling the viewer into attention, and more about surprise, suspense and payoff: those moments where you can’t help but draw breath as the hero takes a potentially fatal hit, or an unfortunate tumble over a dangerous precipice. McQuarrie proves that he understands these dynamics very well. Though one also suspects that the Hollywood action ecology was given a healthier uplift over the past few years by the Keanu Reeves-starring John Wick franchise, which thankfully – and to great critical and box office success – did away with the annoying, cost-cutting tendency towards confusing ‘shaky-cam’ manoeuvres in favour of crisply choreographed action where each bone-crunching moment is made clear for the viewer.

In all of this, McQuarrie still manages to throw in some intriguing – though equally, mercifully, clear-eyed enough – espionage intrigue. All in all, it comes across as yet another blow to the aforementioned James Bond franchise – flailing as it is for relevance in a changing world, with a grumpy star (Daniel Craig) who seems tired of it all. Instead of the depressing individualism and misogyny of that Ian Fleming creation, here we’ve got a plucky set of gung-ho heroes who value teamwork, while we get the same mileage out of pretty and exotic locales that the earlier franchise is known for (Paris and London get a good look-in, while either Norway or New Zealand stand in for Kashmir). And in Rebecca Ferguson’s reluctant MI-6 agent, we may actually found that much-coveted female James Bond.

The verdict

Composed almost entirely of action set-pieces made with kinetic verve and shot with crystal-clear precision, this instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise confirms writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and star Tom Cruise’s collaboration to be an inspired move – a fact that all action film fans will be glad to hear, as more such morsels are bound to be in the offing. With clearly defined characters that are ripe for exploration in future sequels – Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilysa emerges as an beguiling presence with a much fuller arc, in particular – and some bona fide spy vs spy intrigue thrown in amidst the bone-crunching, aircraft-exploding madness, here’s a film that guarantees a well-rounded couple of hours of pure entertainment.