“Mission Impossible: Fallout”

“Mission Impossible: Fallout”
Christopher McQuarrie

See the picture above? Hmm…I wonder if he makes it.

Now…I don’t write that to be snarky…no, I write that to show just how great this franchise has become. You KNOW what the outcomes are and yet, you don’t mind. What we love about the MI series is that we dare them to out-crazy and outdo our expectations – and they always seem to succeed. In short, the MI films are simply the best spy/action films made. What about Bond, you say? Well, I suggested after the last MI film, 2015’s “Rogue Nation,” that they had completely overtaken the Bond films of the last couple decades in almost every way…action, locales, glamour – and in the all important “holy crap!” category. I will say that the Bond films have become far more morose…so there’s that.

MV5BNjUxMTYwOTA4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTc5Nzc1NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1279,1000_AL_So how did they surpass what was once a sure thing for breathtaking adventure? It’s in the script – here penned by the film’s director and Oscar-winning scribe of “The Usual Suspects,” Christopher McQuarrie. Where the Bond films have focused so much on a single man’s past, and his relation to that history, MI has stolen the original Bond formula. Simply put, to achieve that positive outcome we need to overcome this…then this…and then this…in as insane a way as possible (without completely straining the supports of that suspension bridge dangling over disbelief) – and then go further! The MI series  consistently includes THREE three-act mini-adventures (capers) in each film…with each of those leading in to the next act of the overall picture. It doesn’t leave any room for you to get bored during a long stretch…in fact we’ve barely stopped breathing from the previous craziness before we’re on to the next.

Now, this could obviously lead to massive holes in the script or a general feeling of inanity. For instance, Jackie Chan flicks do the same thing, but no one is going to refer to them as “films”. And while “Fallout” doesn’t possess as complex a story-line as “Rogue Nation”, it is, nonetheless, compelling enough to keep us invested. But reverting to a simpler plot in no way detracts from the film’s success. In fact, by stepping away from tech-based solutions (although there is plenty, of that), it allows for more stakes in the lives of the team. Letting gravity do the work is always more fun/terrifying than depending on gadgets in an action flick. It’s why we watch a tight rope walker with more attentiveness than anyone else in the circus.

And, perhaps, more importantly, the MI series stays far away from scenes where the team devises their strategies. Most caper films are at least 25% “let’s assemble the team” followed by another 25% “let’s do the leg work before we hit the bank”. MI very rarely does this, so we’re as surprised as the team’s mark when they work the task. It’s a neat trick that keeps the stakes sky high. And speeding motorcycles through the streets of Paris doesn’t hurt, either (how the hell did they shoot that sequence?!).

But the success or failure of the story falls squarely on the shoulders of our hero, Ethan Hunt. Or more to the point, our agreement with that anti-bobblehead sprinter, Tom Cruise (how does he run that fast without moving his head?!), that, in spite of the impossibility of a task or stunt, he’ll make us believe he’s improvised a way to succeed. I’ve never been a fan of Mr. Cruise. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been terrific in a lot of films, but his personal life, which I don’t usually take in to account, has been so filled with Scientologist creepiness, I tend to root against him. But here he’s good, maybe even REALLY good, and he’s charming, and he (along with Mr. Clooney) are the closest thing we have to old school Hollywood royalty…so I’m willing to go along for whatever ride he’s going to take me on. More importantly, he is so comfortable in Ethan Hunt’s clothes, you occasionally forget it’s Tom Cruise. No, really.

Of course, when working opposite Henry “Cadaver” Cavill, any actor with a SAG-AFTRA card would come across as a genius. The wood table upon which I’m writing this post gives a less “wooden” performance than Cavill. He’s gorgeous. Sure. He’s chiseled. Yup. But, oh boy, is he duuuuullllllllllllllllllllllll………zzzzzzzzzzz. Every time he’s on screen at least HALF the energy of the film dissipates. If the Bond series wants to plunge even further behind MI, make him your next Bond, as has been suggested. I feel bad for Angela Bassett. I kept thinking, she sure is pushing…and then I realized most of her scenes are with the Cadaver, so she probably felt she had to do SOMETHING to inject energy in to her limited minutes in front of the camera.

Luckily pretty much everyone else in the film is terrific…yes, even Alec Baldwin. But it’s the always amazing Sean Harris that brings the crazy yin to Cruise’s righteous yang. I’ve never seen him do bad work. From guilty pleasure, “The Borgias”, to his own show, “Southecliffe”, to being the best thing in the most recent film version of “Macbeth”, Harris is impossible to keep your eyes off. His voice is as instantly recognizable as Christopher Walken, as is his steely stare. I don’t know why we don’t see more of him. I’d cast him in a second for pretty much anything. Also, kudos to “The Crown’s” Vanessa Kirby, who is terrific here.

But the acting, imperative as it is to make us understand why the action occurs, is not the reason we feel so satisfied having spent our money as we walk out of the the theater. It’s the stunts, the look, and the imagination of the world we’re invested in. And McQuarrie has gathered a cadre of multi-award winning/nominated technicians and artists for this film…and it shows. Editor, Eddie Hamilton, production designer, Peter Wenham, special effects coordinator, Neil Corbould, sound editor Chris Munro, and costumer Jeffrey Kurland are the craftsmen that make it all as believable as it is glamorous. They are all going to be nominated for multiple awards – and win more than a couple. Even composer Lorne Balfe, who’s mostly known for his television scores (“The Crown”, “Genius”) takes the iconic music of Lalo Schifrin, and makes it all feel fresh. It’s a restrained score…allowing the crazy to be crazy enough on its own.

Okay…this is not the best Mission Impossible film, but it’s much closer to the best than to the worst (looking right at you “MI2”). And it’s easily the best action film of the summer. I feel pretty confident that if you leave the news of the day behind for a couple hours and go on the ride that is “Fallout”, you’ll feel rewarded for the effort.

Written on 7/28/2018

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