Director Christopher McQuarrie brings slick tension and fun to Ethan Hunt’s sixth adventure
There is running, there is jumping and there is a fantastic punch-up in the gents: Christopher McQuarrie’s thriller muzzles the quips but never skimps on thrills
The sixth Mission Impossible arrives, and with it the implausibly well-preserved and pneumatic Tom Cruise as IMF special agent Ethan Hunt – still choosing to accept missions, still on frontline duty while other action stars have long since lapsed into older roles or intermittent political careers. The Cruise is back and breaking out his signature moves: he’s doing the stiff-handed run, the face-rippling no-helmet motorbike racing, car chasing, free climbing on very high rocks – and he simply can’t see an aircraft of any sort taking off without wanting to board by swinging on it from a rope.
It has to be admitted, this MI – the second from Christopher McQuarrie – is quite as silly and convoluted as any of the others, but the genre thrills are entertaining. There are colossal action scenes in Paris, London and finally a barking mad helicopter chase sequence in Kashmir, topped off with some outrageously vertiginous hanging-by-a-thread scenes which for me pleasingly brought back memories of Roger Moore-era Bond.
And of course there is the traditional high-jinks with rubber masks, an essentially comic part of the IMF armoury entrusted to the cheeky Benji, played by Simon Pegg. It is why certain glowering people in the state department have ungraciously called Ethan’s team “a bunch of grown men in rubber masks playing trick-or-treat”.
As well as the familiar team – including the stoic Luther (Ving Rhames) – more faces from the past have been brought back. Top security honcho Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) returns to shepherd the crew’s latest adventure and sleek British agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) reappears to exchange glances of muted chemistry with our hero who is in any case uxoriously obsessed with his lost love: Julia (Michelle Monaghan).
Now the deal is that a sinister and shadowy figure called John Lark wishes to blow the world to pieces with three globes of nuclear material that he has managed to steal and in this he is in league with a creepy and bearded archcriminal from the previous film: Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), still impassively in Dr Lecter-ish custody. Ethan has to get this nuclear material back, and must work with a mysterious, glamorous criminal “broker” who has the supervillainesque name of White Widow, played by Vanessa Kirby (Princess Margaret from Netflix’s The Crown).
But the authorities, in the form of Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett) don’t trust maverick Hunt to do the job his own way so they make him work with big, smug, super-trained tough guy August Walker, in which limited role Henry Cavill is actually rather well cast. August and Ethan endure the reverse of bromance.
The approach of McQuarrie – and of course producer-star Cruise – shows how far this franchise has come from the rather cerebral and gadgety world of the 60s TV show and even, to some degree, the first couple of movies, when there was some emphasis on simply outsmarting the bad guys. There are huge amounts of plot entanglements, disentanglements and re-entanglements here, but that is not the point. This is all about action and spectacle and viewed on an IMAX screen these certainly deliver. There is also a terrific bit of close-quarter martial arts in a French men’s room where Cavill, Cruise and Chinese actor Liang Yang beat the living jeepers out of each other while shattering all the vitreous china thereabouts.
Over two-and-a-half hours, you get a lot of deafening bangs for your buck, and the tourist location stunts are impressive – but there isn’t as much humour in the dialogue as before. In fact, when Ethan Hunt’s not kicking ass he’s not joking – but rather tearing up, remembering his lost love. And Tom does a couple of very ripe waking-up-from-a-nightmare bits of acting. But crashes and petrolhead spills are what this franchise is reasonably expected to deliver. And this is what it cheerfully does.
In the 22 years since the original Mission: Impossible, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt remains the same, moral compass and handsome, suspiciously unlined face very much intact. Hunt’s slick stunts created a new template for the spy thriller’s action man hero, but what sets him apart from his grittier contemporaries is his American altruism. Bond is misanthropic, Bourne solipsistic, John Wick (though a vigilante hitman, not a hero) spurred by revenge. Hunt, on the other hand, is defined by his “pathetic morality”, a weakness parlayed in this sixth instalment into something worth celebrating.
This time, three silvery orbs of plutonium have fallen into the hands of the Apostles, an anarchist group planning to use them to blow up the Vatican, Jerusalem and Mecca. Willing to trade the explosives for Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), whom Hunt captured in Rogue Nation, Hunt’s hands are tied. He is aided by trusty accomplices Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg, on goofy, enjoyable form), and, to his annoyance, CIA errand boy Agent Walker (Henry Cavill). CIA chief Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett) describes him as a “hammer” to Hunt’s “scalpel”, though an attractively carved block of wood would be more precise. More dynamic is coquettish criminal broker White Widow (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby, who speaks with a fabulous, velvety purr).
Cleanly choreographed set pieces see the 56-year-old Cruise bungee-jumping into the eye of a lightning storm, swishing through a Parisian club, swinging through the bowels of London’s Tate Modern and rasping lines such as: “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it” with a straight face. The charismatic Cruise commands motorcycles, helicopters, ropes and rubber masks, as well as the fluttering hearts of two women from his past (Michelle Monaghan’s Julia and ’s former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust). Genre convention means it’s a foregone conclusion that this mission is not, in fact, “impossible”, but director Christopher McQuarrie cleverly controls the ticking clock quality that makes these films so much fun.
The best intentions often come back to haunt you. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan) in a race against time after a mission gone wrong. Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, and Vanessa Kirby also join the dynamic cast with filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie returning to the helm.
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Christopher McQuarrie
Written By: Christopher McQuarrie
In Theaters: Jul 27, 2018 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Dec 4, 2018
Runtime: 147 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures