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‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ Takes Itself a Little Too Seriously, But it’s Impressive Nonetheless

I think it is often overlooked just how impressive the “Mission: Impossible” film series is. Not just the stunt and action work, but the fact that they have made six films over 22 years without a reboot or recasting and have (mostly) put out consistently good products.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is the sixth installment of the Tom Cruise spy franchise and features Cruise reprising his role as special agent Ethan Hunt. When stolen plutonium goes missing, Hunt and his team (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson) are tasked with tracking it down while being monitored by a CIA agent (Henry Cavill). Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett and Vanessa Kirby also star while Christopher McQuarrie writes and directs, becoming the first person to helm multiple films in the franchise.

I actually rather enjoy the “Mission: Impossible” films. While the third film is more remembered for featuring the late-great Philip Seymour Hoffman in a blockbuster film, I liked 2015’s “Rogue Nation” and actually loved 2011’s “Ghost Protocol.” “Fallout” was never high on my radar for 2018’s must-see cinema, mostly because at this point we know what to expect from a film like this in a series like this, but Cruise and McQuarrie are to be commended; they have not taken their foot off the gas one bit.

Say what you want about Tom Cruise and his perceived large ego (especially around the time of the second film of this series in 2000) but it is impossible (aye) to knock this man’s hustle. If you ever watch interviews with him it is clear he has a true passion for cinema and he of course famously does his own stunts, something that cost him while making this film. Midway through production, Cruise broke his leg which halted filming for seven weeks, resulting in an $80 million insurance claim by the studio. Cruise also filmed a dozen halo jumps (skydiving out of an airplane) and flew/nearly crashed his own helicopter, so it is clear “Fallout” is a labor of his 56-year-old love. His stunt work and choreograph moves feel real and all-too-often you sit in awe that anyone is crazy enough to do the things he does, much less a Hollywood movie star.

Trying to hold his own alongside Cruise is Superman himself, Henry Cavill, and he does a pretty admirable job. Queen Angela Bassett (who plays the head of the CIA) has a line in the film that while Cruise’s agency “uses a scalpel, she prefers a hammer” and that title suits Cavill well. Clearly a physical presence, Cavill is able to crack a joke or give a facial expression here or there too that makes you hope he gets more roles that play to his (both literal and figurative) strengths. The film does do something with his character that I think could have been handled better, but at the end of the day it doesn’t bother me as much in hindsight as much as it did in the moment.

As with Cruise’s stunts, the action is all visceral and cleanly shot. The infamous bathroom fight sequence where Cavill reloads his fists (YouTube it if you somehow don’t know to what I refer) is so brutal and perfectly staged that I would almost argue the film tops itself there, but there are plenty of foot chases, motorcycle escapes and helicopter battles left to enjoy, too.

The biggest problem with “Fallout” is what I think plagues all the “Mission: Impossible” films and that is that its opening is so grand and it has so much going on in the first act that it eventually runs out of steam but still has 50 minutes of movie left. This film’s climax has some great shots and moments but the plot is never as do-or-die as the characters make it out to me; for me, at least.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is about as good as “Rogue Nation” but I would argue has better action sequences. All too often we toss out the “leave your brain at the door and you’ll have a good time” line for blockbuster films but I would argue that this is a thinking man’s action film. Not that it has multiple layers or is a complex character study (because it’s not) but the action and stunts here aren’t just mindless Michael Bay explosions; they’re meticulously crafted punches and crashes that earn your enjoyment and respect.

Critic’s Grade: B

Paramount Pictures

‘Rogue Nation’ a Mission Worth Accepting

Mission_Impossible_Rogue_Nation_posterMuch like the Fast and Furious films or a fine wine, the Mission: Impossible movies only seem to be getting better as time goes on.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is the fifth film of the franchise, which is now 19(!) years old. Tom Cruise returns to possibly his most famous (and certainly his most bankable) role of secret agent Ethan Hunt, who this time around must prove that a secret organization known as the Syndicate is real. Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames all reprise their roles from the previous films while Rebecca Ferguson and Alec Baldwin join the cast. Christopher McQuarrie writes and directs.

At this point, you know what you’re getting with a Mission: Impossible film and “Rogue Nation” quite literally follows the checklist from the other films on how to be a summer tentpole action film (well, except “Ghost Protocol,” which was a Christmas tentpole). The film features gorgeous set pieces, well-choreographed action sequences and one of the biggest movie stars of all-time in Tommy Boy, and while the film still suffers from similar narrative flaws of its predecessors, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun time.

I think because we see him so often on screen we take it for granted, but Tom Cruise is in incredibly good shape. It’s not an industry secret that he does his own stunts, like getting hitched to the side of a plane and actually holding onto it as it takes off like he did for this film, but, like, he’s 53 and looks better than most 20-year-olds. Cruise again sells every action scene he is in, and it seems we will continue to see Ethan Hunt fighting terrorists until Cruise is in his 70’s.

Like “Ghost Protocol,” “Rogue Nation” features more scenes in beautiful locations, including Vienna and London. Director McQuarrie and cinematographer Robert Elswit make sure to showcase the cities, but never sacrifice the action for the sake of it like some other filmmakers do. One of the best sequences in the film is a motorcycle chase along a Moroccan highway, and the aforementioned Cruise-on-a-plane stunt, which has been the centerpiece of every commercial and poster for the film, is used as the film’s opening. I appreciated the filmmakers using that as the appetizer, as all too often film’s put their climatic stunts in the trailers, ruining the surprise or build-up to them.

That being said, the biggest positives of “Rogue Nation”, its action sequences, may also play into its biggest flaws. After the impressive plane opening, and then a highly entertaining and well shot action sequence in a Vienna opera house, the film’s stunts and action pieces lose a little bit of flare and energy as each one comes and goes. That’s not to say they’re not impressive or entertaining nonetheless, but the first few set the bar so high that it just wasn’t possible or reasonable to ask the second half of the film to compete.

With the exception of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the third installment, the Mission: Impossible films have never had a strong villain or overly-engaging plot, and here is no exception. Sean Harris comes across as chilling as the main bad guy, but his motivations are not fully explained and he is never as threatening as the movie wants us to think he is.

The first half of “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is fantastic, and while the second half loses steam and at times drags, it still has its bits of entertainment. The climax of the film was a little underwhelming, but seeing Tom Cruise at his Tom Cruise-iest is always welcome, Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg provide some comedic relief, and the film looks beautiful. It isn’t quite on “Jurassic World’s” level of summer blockbuster entertainment, but “Rogue Nation” subscribes to the notion that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and five films in, this franchise shows little signs of breaking.

Critics Rating: 7/10