Towards the end of the rip-roaring new Mission: Impossible film, Julia (Michelle Monaghan) asks how her husband (from whom she has long been separated) is getting on. “Same old Ethan,” comes the reply. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), she learns, is still as busy as ever saving the world. On his latest assignment, with three nuclear weapons potentially set to explode within 72 hours, he doesn’t have much time to spare for his loved ones. In a hostage situation, Ethan will always try to protect the life of the individual captive even if that means putting the rest of humanity at risk. On occasion, he can appear very sentimental indeed but the women in his life have long ago realised that, no, he is not going to bring them breakfast in bed.
Tom Cruise doesn’t wear a top hat or look like Fred Astaire, but the pleasure in the Mission: Impossible franchise is very similar to that given by the best Astaire musicals. “Either the camera dances or I do,” Astaire famously proclaimed. He refused to rely on clever editing to drive his routines. Cruise’s Ethan has a similar down and dirty approach. The Mission: Impossible films don’t skimp on the special effects but one of their defining and most exhilarating traits is that they seem rooted in realism. If Cruise jumps off a plane, we will see him doing so in full frame and the sequence will be filmed in a single shot. If he is wrestling his main antagonist on top of a cliff, the camera will pull back so we can see for ourselves that there isn’t any scaffolding or soft landing area, just a vertiginous drop below him.
Almost all the stunts and action sequences here are superbly choreographed. They need to be because the storyline is even flimsier here than in writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s previous feature, Rogue Nation. Under scrutiny, the plot structure is just as likely to collapse as the make-believe chamber here in which Ethan and his IMF (Impossible Missions Force) colleagues conduct an interrogation of a rogue scientist, somehow convincing him that he is in a real army hospital.
Ethan can’t stay put in one country for long. For no discernible reason, he is in Belfast when he receives a hollowed-out copy of Homer’s The Odyssey containing a secret recording offering his next mission… should he care to take it. Terrorist group The Apostles have been busy spreading smallpox in Kashmir and now its demented anarchist members have an even more fiendish plan involving stolen plutonium. Inspired by their imprisoned leader, Solomon Lane (the still sneering and gimlet-eyed Sean Harris), they work on the basis that global peace can only be achieved through “great suffering”. By blowing up large tracts of the globe or exposing it to pestilence, they hope to bring humanity together in its wretchedness and to put in place a new world order (or something like that).
Henry Cavill is used to being the leading man. He has played Clark Kent several times and generally takes top billing. Here, however, he is strictly second fiddle to Cruise. In this double act, he is the straight man. Cruise gets the best lines, while Cavill is left to scowl and plot mischief in the passenger seat or to lurk in the background. He plays an American assassin who works for CIA boss Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett). She has instructed him to take over Ethan’s mission. Ethan’s own boss Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is in a power struggle with Sloane.
This is one of those films in which heroes and villains are continually blurred. We are never sure who is trying to kill Ethan, who is trying to help him and who is simply there for the money. The only two people he can completely trust are his faithful sidekicks Luther (Ving Rhames, who has been in the series since the start) and the hypochondriacal Brit, Benji (Simon Pegg, who again gets many of the film’s best comic scenes). Rebecca Ferguson reappears as secret agent Ilsa Faust. It’s not clear at first whether she is there as his love interest or as his nemesis, or whether she is on a completely different mission of her own. New to the cast is the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), a very glamorous and untrustworthy socialite who combines hosting charity dinners with arms dealing. She is the dishonest broker between the security forces, the scientists and the terrorists.
The plotting is a bit of an afterthought. What matters is the action. Highlights here include a stand-off in an underground car park, a brutal fight sequence in the gents, a riveting car and motorbike chase through the maze-like streets of Paris that puts old Steve McQueen movies to shame, a harum-scarum foot chase that takes Cruise across rooftops and bridges from St Paul’s Cathedral to Tate Modern (and reportedly resulted in him breaking his ankle), the obligatory parachute and skydiving scenes, a helicopter battle and a clifftop climax.
Cruise, Hollywood’s most durable star, has had a couple of recent screen disappointments, among them the half-baked horror movie The Mummy and the surprisingly dour Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. However, Mission: Impossible – Fallout reinforces his credentials as the Peter Pan-like action man who never seems to age or to stay still. He tackles his role with such relish that he leaves everyone else trailing in his wake. As soon as that familiar music is heard on the soundtrack, he is off like a whirling dervish set loose. From the film’s opening to its end credits, he hardly stops moving for an instant. The film takes its breakneck tempo from him. That is why it makes such invigorating but exhausting viewing.
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