IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 147 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Two years after the capture of Solomon Lane, the remains of his organisation The Syndicate have reformed into a terrorist group known as The Apostles. Ethan Hunt is asked to go to Berlin to intercept the sale of three plutonium cores to members of the group, who are acquiring them for their latest client, fundamentalist John Lark, who wants to make nuclear weapons. He’s aided by old teammates Benji Dunn and Luther Stickell, but the mission fails when Hunt makes the choice to save Luther’s life and the plutonium is taken by the Apostles. Erica Sloane, Director of the CIA, instructs Special Activities operative August Walker to shadow Hunt as he attempts to retrieve the plutonium and track down Lark in Paris…
Mission: Impossible – Fullout is the fastest paced 147 minutes you will probably ever see, a breathtaking melee of incredible stunts, speeding vehicles, bruising brawls and double crosses that just keeps on going and never loses speed while allowing you just about enough time to follow the plot – though the latter does still require some concentration, far more so I think then the [rather unfairly] criticised intricate storyline of the first Mission Impossible. One had some right to worry about the decision to retain the director of the last episode Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation for this one. One of the unique features of this franchise, aside from using very little CGI, has been that each installment has employed the services of a different director, meaning that each film has had a different feel to it. I feared that this would be lost with the retaining of Christopher McQuarrie, who of course also worked with Tom Cruise on Jack Reacher and the rather under-appreciated Valkyrie, even when the mostly very positive reviews started coming in. But the decision by Cruise, who of course is really the person in control of this franchise, to only retain one other crew member from Rogue Nation – editor Eddie Hamilton – has resulted in Fallout most certainly having an identity of its own. And it’s also allowed McQuarrie, again writing as well as directing, to improve on the flaws of his previous Mission and – I may as well say this now – craft the best Mission yet.
The plot, once you get past all the “who’s working for who” stuff, is hardly new. The bad guys in this one are again buying weapons or weapon ingredients, and have exactly the same motivation as the bad guys in Ghost Protocol – nuclear war as purgative, making way for something better – and how many times in this series has Hunt has been framed as a mole? A bit of me did hope for a screenplay as clever and superbly constructed as McQuarrie’s The Usual Suspects. But it’s certainly good enough to keep you guessing and for most of the action scenes to not come across as being totally gratuitous even when they probably are. For example we don’t get just one but two car and bike chase through Paris – but when you have a film that is almost unfashionably old school and understands that, despite all the CGI in the world, little is still as exciting as real people [and in this case the star of the movie being one of them] driving real vehicles around at breakneck speed, it’s hard to complain. And at last we have a Mission [aside from the ending of Ghost Protocol] that fully connects with previous Missions, most of them in fact. Certain things like a reference to Max [Vanessa Redgrave’s character in the first film] may only be noticed by series fans who are really concentrating, but McQuarrie still makes sure that the important stuff is explained so that series newcomers will fully understand it. You can certainly still enjoy this if you haven’t seen a single previous Mission, that’s for sure.
So Rogue Nation’s main villain is still alive though in captivity and much of his evil organisation is still around and after some plutonium cores to sell to the deadly John Lark. There’s a nice scene, comparable to a similarly early one in Mission Impossible, where Hunt and his two team members capture and interrogate a nuclear weapons expert, Nils Debruuk, who’s been working with the group to build three portable nuclear weapons, tricking him into believing attacks have occurred on religious sites in Rome, Jerusalem and Mecca to obtain information on the Apostles’ next move. Already things feel a little different from Rogue Nation. Both the look and the tone are a bit darker – Simon Pegg’s Benji is still a source of laughs but less so than before – while action is held off for a little bit longer. There’s no thrilling opening set piece and the first encounter with bad guys is a fairly subdued shootout – making Hunt and CIA man August Walker’s HALO parachute jump into Paris all the more exciting – and yes, it’s Cruise really doing it. They infiltrate a fundraiser party at the Grand Palais where Lark is set to buy the cores from the Apostles, with the arms dealer known as the White Widow acting as a broker. Hunt and Walker track Lark to a bathroom where in the subsequent fight, Lark is killed by Ilsa Faust, also returned from Rogue Nation. To complete the mission, Hunt impersonates John Lark and meets the White Widow, who will only help Hunt if he extracts Lane from an armoured convoy moving through Paris.
It probably sounds complex and convoluted, and I guess it is, though complex and convoluted plots are so rare in today’s big movies that only the most impatient viewer ought to find this a problem. There are a few slightly silly moments where various factions suddenly converge on each other, and also some rather wonderful ones where old friends return, perhaps foremost among those being Hunt’s wife Julia [she appears at the beginning so I hardly think that counts as a spoiler], whom you may recall lives a separate life to him for safety. Slightly disappointing is the return of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa. As with before, you’re not sure what side she’s on, which is always fun, though there’s far less of the sexual tension she had with Hunt before. That’s reserved for Hunt and Vanessa Kirby’s White Widow. On the other hand, the ‘personal’ side of the story wraps up very nicely while still bravely suggesting more than stating, another rarity in today’s cinema. But in the end, what counts more than anything else is how well the film works as a thrill machine. The last episode did well as one for around three-fifths of its running time, but then seemed to run out of steam even if it still managed to keep its story line going, and gave us a less than impressive climax – but that’s certainly not the case here. On the Blu-ray and DVD audio commentary for Rogue Nation, McQuarrie and Cruise talked about always wanting to do a foot chase through London streets. Perhaps realising that what they came up with there wasn’t too great, here they treat us to [catch up a deep breath]: Hunt running up the inside of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, running across its roof, jumping across a series of alleys [and yes, you see the stunt where Cruise injured his ankle], running through offices, jumping on to the roof of Blackfriars Bridge, running across it, then into the Tate Modern, where he hangs on to the bottom off a lift that goes up to the very top of the chimney. There are a few cuts that suggest certain jumps pieced together in the editing room, but the 56 year old Cruise is obviously doing as much as he can, and we’re treated to some fantastic aerial shots framing him against his surroundings.
McQuarrie may not be much of a visual stylist, but he sure knows how do action. For a start he allows us to actually see it properly instead of seemingly wanting viewers to feel sick or have sore eyes from shakycam or tiny edits, and I loved certain devices, like the way the camera operator obviously jumps out of the plane backwards just before Cruise. McQuarrie still keeps things fairly grounded and believable, limiting special effects until they’re completely necessary – but then here Cruise is really the main special effect. He might be a bit mad what with all the things he does in this movie, but when so much of this kind of thing is usually done with green screen it’s really refreshing. His performance is probably his best in the series too, though Sean Harris’s Lane is also impressive despite not being a major threat for much of the time- his voice alone is very chilling. Most of the prominent cast members get to join in the action, some of which is undoubtedly reminiscent of scenes in The Living Daylights, Cliffhanger and others – but frankly when it’s all so well presented that’s hardly a problem in an age where it’s increasingly hard to think up new situations. And the fights are gratifyingly brutal [I’d have personally given the film a ‘15’ rating rather than a ‘12A’ because of their ferocity] and excellently staged. Henry Cavill [Walker] really shines in a couple of them too, though elsewhere he’s as wooden as usual and the only weak link in the casting.
Sadly, in a series that’s given us five fine musical scores [even Hans Zimmer’s effort for Mission: Impossible: 2 is certainly fun and appropriate for the film], the scoring for this one was given to one of Zimmer’s least talented cronies Lorna Balfe, meaning that for much of the time you’re basically listening to slight variations on parts of The Dark Knight soundtrack yet again. The endless chugga-chugga string ostinatos do initially help to propel the film forward but quickly become tedious. Supposedly Balfe employed 300 musicians, but one wanders what the point of doing so was when much of the music has been processed so it all sounds like it comes from one synthesiser, or rather one person with access to Zimmer’s sample library. But this really isn’t the place to complain about such things too much. Much like Mad Max: Fury Road and to a slightly lesser extent the John Wick films,, Mission: Impossible – Fallout proves that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, action cinema is alive and well, and is still able to be intelligent while providing as much seat-clutching excitement as anybody could want. 007, you still have my undying love, but I think you need to up your game.