The run-up for Mission Impossible: Fallout put the film in a very interesting position and not just because of the moustache fiasco – for the first time in the franchise’s history there was a direct sequel with the same director returning. Given the success of the franchise so far it’s unsurprising that they would try something different to keep things fresh and while I don’t agree that this is the best Mission to date, Fallout does prove that long-form storytelling might be in the series future.
Set two years after Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is suffering from nightmares, worried for his estranged wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) and doubting his decision not to kill Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). With Lane’s syndicate still in action now under the name of The Apostles, Hunt is tasked with securing three stolen plutonium cores that The Apostles were hired to collect by an anonymous anarchist known only as ‘John Larkin’. However when the deal goes bad, Hunt is forced to save his team and loses the cores in the process.
The cores are tracked to a black market dealer known as The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) who plans to sell them to Larkin during a charity event. The simple plan is for Hunt to locate Larkin, assume his identity and meet the Widow himself. But that gets complicated when a number of problems arise. CIA agent August Walker (Henry Cavil) is sent along on the mission to ensure Hunt doesn’t fail again, while Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) suddenly returns with her own reasons for chasing down the cores. The Widow turns out not to have the cores but rather acts as a broker for who does – the seller claiming the only price to pay is for Solomon Lane to be broken out of prison.
While things do get a little convoluted with a double agent, double-crossing and several different agencies each with several different end-goals the plot actually has a lot going for it. There’s the typical ‘End of the world’ scenario during the third act but it’s presented in a much smaller and much more personal manner. Ethan is thrust into a dark and personal place for this film, the most personal it’s been since M.I.3 and you can definitely feel that coursing through the film with Hunt being forced to go against every fibre in his body, doing bad for a greater good. By the time the finale comes into play it feels more about Ethan saving everyone he loves more than saving the world.
Character work is strong but I feel some of the supporting cast could’ve been given more to do. Luther and Benji being the biggest offenders, that’s nothing on either character with Rhames voice of reason still being a great counterpoint and confidant to Ethan and Pegg’s comic relief, providing some levity while still matching the film’s dramatic moments. However both definitely felt relegated to the sidelines to make room for Hunt and Walker. Monaghan’s return as Julia also feels underutilized, though her late-game reveal actually makes sense in context of the story and Monaghan does enough to remind us why we were so endeared to her in the third film.
Returning from the last film, Ferguson and Harris as Isla and Solomon both factor into the story in their own way, Solomon less so but Harris is still chilling in the role and his personal vendetta against Hunt is interesting to watch considering it’s Hunt that breaks him out of prison. There’s a more hands-on approach to the character this time and he’s given the chance to take on a couple of the heroes himself and gives them a good run for their money. Ferguson turned out to be one of the most intriguing additions to the franchise in Rouge Nation and I’m happy to see her return here, once against keeping her cards close to her chest but the respect and admiration she has for Hunt has carried over and she lets her guard down enough to connect with him while still being careful not to let everything slip out. There’s a professionalism about her that keeps allows her to fight against Ethan without letting their personal relationship dictate her feelings but you can tell with everything they’ve been through together, Isla is looking at Ethan as an escape, not just from M.I.6 (the agency not this film) but also from the loneliness that comes with being an agent.
Joining the series this time round is Super-Stache himself, August Walker, an agent/babysitter sent to keep an eye on Hunt and the team. Walker is a difficult man to like, he’s got this sneer to him and to be honest it’s not totally unwarranted, Walker does get results but he often leaves the team worse off as a result – at one point he knocks out a target but breaks a vital piece of equipment as a result. He makes a great comparison to Hunt, where Hunt will take the longer path to save everyone, Walker takes the direct route and to hell with the consequences. This is a great anti-hero role for Cavil; he’s such an absolute dick throughout the film that you just can’t help but want to see just how much more of a dick he can get. I liked his inclusion here.
This is still Cruise’s franchise and this is absolutely his film, obviously you have to take the franchise with a grain of salt and the fact that Ethan Hunt has been disavowed in almost every other film but it feels here that they’ve caught onto their own cliché as Hunt isn’t just accused of being a bad agent, he’s accused of being his own enemy, of being John Larkin himself. As fantastical as that sounds the film does a good enough job of explaining how that conclusion comes about but it signifies just how distressing this is for Ethan, this is Hunt as his most morally ambiguous, still on the side of good but far more chaotic than he usually is. It goes hand-in-hand with the personal nature of the film, as sidelined as the supporting cast is in terms of their own arcs the film actually does a decent job of showing this as absolutely a team-game with Hunt making a lot more mistakes than he usually does, appearing slower and older which makes sense after 20 years in the field, he needs his team and that’s exactly what makes the fear of losing them in the third act all the more tangible.
Christopher McQuarrie returns for his third team-up with Cruise and the two of them have made a great action pair together, what makes McQuarrie work so well as an action director is that he understands escalation, an early HALO jump – already a terrifying prospect – is rendered even more so by having it done through a storm with lightning. The much touted bathroom fight seems simple enough until both Hunt and Walker get their asses handed to them by one guy, Solomon’s escape starts as a two-pronged attack, Hunt attracts the police while Luther and Benji take Solomon, so we get Hunt in an extended chase sequence first in a van, then on a motorcycle and even after he’s lost the police Isla keeps the chase going trying to get to Lane herself. EVEN THEN, while we get a slight breather as Lane’s taken to London it’s not long afterwards before Hunt finds himself in a foot-chase across London’s rooftops.
While you don’t get the ankle break footage from the trailer he’s definitely limping afterwards.
The whole finale takes place in the mountain ranges of Kashmir allowing for a smaller but more scenically pleasing setting with Hunt getting into a helicopter chase which leads to a helicopter crash, which leads to a final and brutal showdown on a Cliffside, all the while his team disarm bombs and fight on the ground with Isla and Benji getting into another ‘Two vs One’ struggle that flirts with darkness and you genuinely believe they could go that far. You can’t fault McQuarrie’s ability to keep tensions high and there’s always something new that’s ready to throw a spanner in the works.
If I have to criticize the film, and I do because I like to pretend I’m a proper reviewer, I’d say the film is lacking a proper set-piece moment, be in The CIA Infiltration, The Bridge Attack, Dubai – most of the previous films have had an extended scene that stands out and ties into the rest of the film, I never got that here. Funnily enough I didn’t think Rogue Nation had one either – the three part Casablanca scene of underwater break in to car chase to bike chase came close – but that film is anchored by the inclusion of Isla and her multiple hidden layers and double-crosses. There isn’t really and Isla to this movie either and the story does essentially boil down to ‘Find the X’ when you realize that Hunt’s personal investment is lifted straight from M.I.3.
I feel like that might be a little too harsh, all the praise I’ve given this film so far has been genuine and I’d put this on par with M.I.3 for quality with Protocol and Nation taking the number 2 and 1 spots respectively. But there’s still something missing from this film that made the others stick out, what it does include with Hunt going off-grid and the inclusion of Agent Walker is enough to make the film great on its own terms, but as part of the franchise it’s far from a Gold medal.
I’m hoping that Fallout does allow the Mission: Impossible franchise to try bigger and better things going forward, a direct sequel was a bold new option and they’ve definitely pulled it off with Hunt and Solomon’s personally vendetta’s fueling an inner conflict more than the nukes. Cruise is still a likable and determined as ever with his supporting cast carrying the extra weight of the franchise, particularly Ferguson, Cavil, and McQuarrie’s welcome return to the series provides enough thrills and tension to remind us why this series has survived the past 22 years.
I am giving Mission: Impossible Fallout a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!