How unlikely is it that a cinematic reboot of a 60’s television series, kicked off by a rare Brian de Palma major studio effort, has become the definitive action series of the 21st century? Had you told me, 20 years ago, that I would be beyond eager to see every Mission: Impossible film in theaters – that I’d even pay extra to see them on an IMAX screen – I wouldn’t have believed you. But with Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the series continues its unlikely, remarkable ascendance, delivering a phenomenal action film anchored with satisfying spy games and style to spare.
Fallout finds the M:I franchise doing a few firsts – most notably, it’s the first time that the franchise repeated a director. But it’s also the first time that the series has worried about continuity, in that Fallout is essentially a direct sequel to its predecessor, Rogue Nation, Luckily, there’s not much focus on the details and nitty-gritty, on the whole; even though this is a sequel, Fallout still works almost entirely as a stand-alone film, one whose references to earlier films are interesting but not necessary to remember every aspect of. (I can attest to this, because apparently all I remember about Rogue Nation was that Tom Cruise. Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Alec Baldwin were in it…and that’s it. But I didn’t have any problems following Fallout.)
As for the return of Christopher McQuarrie, there’s a sense here that McQuarrie wanted to show that he could top the previous films in the series, which results in sometimes feeling like what we’re seeing are sequences from earlier films redone – most notably, a lengthy motorcycle chase, this time through the traffic-filled streets of Paris – with an eye towards making them more intense. What we lose in novelty – and I think we undoubtedly lose something on that front, as the film never quite delivers something as iconic as the Langley heist from the first film, the Burj Khalifa or parking garage fight from Ghost Protocol, or the underwater heist from Rogue Nation – we gain in spectacle and dazzling impact.
In other words, Fallout doesn’t dazzle us with the new, like so many other installments in the franchise; it dazzles us with superb craft and incredible intensity. The aforementioned motorcycle chase through Paris is a nail-biter, with car accidents, narrow misses, and multiple levels above and below the streets all interweaving into one breathless chase. A prisoner extraction features a car sinking into the water as it spins, all filmed from the inside, so that the water forms a literal wall that’s slowly hanging over the prisoner in a dazzling shot. The film’s climax interweaves bomb defusing, hand-to-hand combat, and a literal helicopter fight whose choreography is incredible (especially seeing it on the IMAX, given that the sequence was filmed with IMAX film and designed to fill the entire screen). Best of all, though, is a knock-down, no-holds-barred fist fight in a starkly white bathroom, one that shows that the series is just as comfortable in one-on-one fights as it is sprawling setpieces. That Cruise does so much of his own stuntwork can’t be waved away from this, either; it speaks to the series’ commitment to tactile, practical effects where it’s possible, giving the sequences a weight and heft that CGI can rarely match.
Fallout doesn’t take away the top spot of the series from Ghost Protocol (which is, for my money, one of the three best action films of the century so far, accompanied by Mad Max: Fury Road and The Raid), but when that’s about the only real negative I have with it, well, that says something. It’s an exhilarating ride, one that delivers setpiece after setpiece, any one of which would be the standout in a lesser movie, and instead packs them all into one spectacular ride. It’s a reminder of what big budget action movies can be, and just how fun – and how satisfying – they can really be.