Respect for What It Is
A Film Review of Mission: Impossible – Fallout
There’s something to be said of a film production that knows exactly what it is without trying to shoehorn half measures of nuanced complexity that only succeed in distracting from the good rather than building upon it. The professional collaboration among Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie continues to yield exceptional cinematic fruit for maintaining Mission: Impossible as a franchise that is unashamed, unapologetic and completely focused on delivering the best pure action one can witness on the silver screen. With Fallout being the sixth film in the series and Tom Cruise currently in his mid 50s, one could easily forecast a dip in production quality, performance and general interest because no IP is ageless without rebirth by the dreaded reboot. This, however, is not the case for this film.
I continue to be amazed and impressed by the Cruise/Abrams/McQuarrie tribunal in not only delivering new death defying stunts, immense set pieces and in your face action authenticity, but in their genuine desire to keep pushing the envelope in terms of the creativity within the action. Sure, you may have seen a car chase in a film before, but here’s something new that will grab you by the throat to deny any possibility of your eyes glazing over in disinterest. The fact that the majority of the action/stunt work is done practically while putting Tom Cruise himself into the meat grinder as much as humanly possible is evidence of a dedication to the craft that hasn’t seemed to be the benchmark in Hollywood for decades with few exceptions. The man broke his ankle jumping a building for crying out loud and still found a way to finish the scene which is a total aberration in the stereotypical conduct of stars traditionally known for absurd requests/codling while on set with historically short tempers, not to be trifled with by anyone.
Of course, having such laser focus on all things action leaves little time and energy for anything else in the way of character development and plot for this film. Recycling several characters introduced in earlier films and presenting the adventures of Ethan Hunt as a serial of self contained, world-ending threat preventions allows these films to quickly establish the conflict and immediately launch into action. This formula is a proven success for these films. However, as the legend of Ethan Hunt as the infallible super agent conquering all challenges grows with every subsequent film, the mythology of the fiction he inhabits is exposed as feeble. After six films of stopping annihilation single handedly audiences are sure to wonder what keeps this character going, what made this character this way and what could be done to “fix” this world so prone to apocalyptic conflicts? A saga intent on addressing these questions would not require an isolated, momentum breaking timeout in the third act to throw the audience a bone.
In what I consider the lowest point to Fallout, the effort made to reconnect Ethan to his past so as to explain his present and future was jarring, ineffectual and patronizing. For any other screenplay, working this type of subplot into the dialogue is something vital to a more traditional character development, but since this has never been a priority in any Mission: Impossible film, right off the bat, this works against its own formulaic success. Making matters worse is this effort boiling down to 2 scenes commenting about Ethan by other characters without his participation that combine to about 5 minutes of screen time. The final nail in the coffin is the conclusion derided from these scenes: shallow romanticism also known as #reasons.
Car/motorcycle chases challenging Ronin as the best on film for all time, plus lots of gunfire and occasional explosions, plus well choreographed close quarters combat combined with an insane scope and volume of stunt work makes Fallout THE choice action variety for the year.
Kudos to Rob Hardy who gets really creative for camera placement in every action sequence that emphasizes non-traditional angles and movement yielding an unprecedented intimacy with the moment to moment action.
Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt thanks to a dedication to actually performing the jaw dropping stunts as often as possible so as to suggest that Ethan Hunt is Tom Cruise. He delivers the necessary charisma and control for dialogue and dials up the intensity and physical exertion for action. He maintains his status as the gold standard for “running for the camera.” I’m not sure how much longer his desire will override the limitations of his body to keep up this effort.
Every other character in this cast is a paper thin, cutout that has singular functionality. I appreciated Simon Pegg’s time at the gym to shape up Benji for increased physicality in this film as much as I scoffed at Ving Rhames’ lack thereof in a mailed-in effort for Luther. Neither elevate beyond funny man and voice of reason respectively. Henry Cavil’s role is to do his best to “not be Superman” in every scene which he accomplishes without taking any risks to be a compelling character. Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa is the love interest and Sean Harris is the creepy mastermind. It’s not that anyone’s performance was particularly bad, it’s that there’s no time in this film for any of them to matter.
Another decent remix of the Mission: Impossible theme. Good variety of beats, rhythms and genres chosen for action appropriate sequences.
Solid overall with some exceptions, specifically for physical combat. The sounds chosen to emphasize strikes have an odd muffled sound with every impact drawing a sharp contrast with punches and kicks you’ve heard in other action films. These sounds work best in scenes when other sound effects like explosions, breaking glass or set destruction are featured. When it’s just punching, it sounds like MMA at a library. Inconsistently exceptional overall.
“Moving” = 26/33
While not providing the lion’s share of visual effects, the CGI we are subjected to blends well into the authenticity of the live action while generating moments of increased tension and intimidation for the scale of danger Ethan is constantly facing.
The practical effects used in all the stunt work between jumps, falls and vehicles gives this category a perfect score. Everything else is butter. Now perhaps if J.J. could incorporate more of this practical intensity with Star Wars …
Functionality meets style with well conceived nuance for every character, defining them well. For instance Henry Cavil’s “Walker” is regularly decked out in a brown suit and tie. Is there any surprise his character is no more than “guy who punches things?” I really liked Vanessa Kirby’s attire as the “White Widow.”
Hair & Makeup
Keeps nigh perfect pace with the costume department, with the exception of one character’s melted face during the climax. Otherwise, this is solid throughout.
Oh yes! Excellent cityscapes contrast with vast nature/mountain-scapes combine to present an appropriately epic backdrop to all the exceptional action.
While not as visually dynamic as exterior shots, the interiors are well conceived and dressed for functional minimalism. We actually don’t spend a lot of time indoors.
“Picture” = 27/33
Terrorists have nuclear material for bombs and Ethan must stop them. Yawn. Been there done that. Old hat for Ethan Hunt.
The true draw of this film’s conflict is the context of the action: as in, what kind of crazy stunt is Tom Cruise going to be subjected to and casually survive as we soil ourselves in the audience in response? This works wonders for growing suspense and tension, but doesn’t speak highly of the by-the-numbers plot of the fiction.
One of these days, I would love to see something other than a totally expected, traditional, heroic ending completely free from consequences.
Enough information is relayed among characters to get the idea across with minimal confusion, but there are very few moments of banter that build or tear down relationships. There’s very little fun or intrigue to the dialogue throughout. Dialogue should be more than an expository tool to move plot.
We know the back story because we know the legend of Tom Cruise, er … Ethan Hunt thanks to previous films. Understanding the dangers and goals presented to him in Fallout is clear and delivered in an efficient way. I just wish there was more creativity than simply going from point A to B with no detours or side quests.
If you think about it, Ethan Hunt has the depth and invulnerability of an action hero from the 80s. The fact that he’s contained within the non-Herculean vessel of Tom Cruise is Hunt’s one and only uniqueness. Otherwise, he’s just another James Bond rip-off: consistently overcoming all odds relatively unscathed each and every time.
The problem with a character like Ethan Hunt is that is that he’s essentially Superman without having the sci-fi/fantasy justifications for actually being a super-man. That character has never been easy to relate to because he has no weakness with minimal vulnerabilities. I’m sure many, if not most human beings desire to be such a flawless person, but man is not God and heroes that close the gap reveal more about ourselves which generates inspiration through relation.
“Story” = 14/34
Overall MPS Rating: 67/100
Action junkies will love Mission: Impossible – Fallout and put it on their short list for Best Picture. Only, a film like this will never be considered for such prestige because it is a blockbuster with acute machinations. Once again, there is nothing wrong with an action film being an action film. I applaud it for being exactly what it is. Few films in related genres come close to the masterful proficiency of cinematic action displayed in this franchise. However, as a cinematic adventure, taking such an incredible journey ought to be more than glorified VR; otherwise we simply experience the action with no content, context, character, purpose or plot. As these Mission: Impossible films continue to specialize more and more into pure action, I warn the creators that the time for innovation through balance is upon you now. Your lead is past his physical prime and the rest of the market share surrounding you has been evolving while you stick to the one tried and true formula. If there is an end game in sight, if Ethan Hunt is to ride off into the sunset, you would do right to do so before he hits his 60s and in an adventure that’s more than just another day in the life.">