Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
Cinematographer: Rob Hardy
Producer: J. J. Abrams, Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, and Jake Myers
by Jon Cvack
With the exception of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I have not enjoyed any of the Mission Impossible sequels. Looking back at my Netflix ratings, two of them are rated two stars, one is three stars, and the one with Philip Seymour Hoffman is four stars, but I’m pretty sure that's only because he’s in it. What I recall is hoping for all the sequels to match the first film; which has become such a timeless action classic to the point where each of the characters feels fresh and somehow I still see Ethan Hunt as his 34 year old self, no matter how close to sixty Tom Cruise gets.
The other films all blend together in my mind in which, similar to Bond films from the last 20 years, I can’t differentiate one from the other. And yet similar to what Skyfall achieved, Mission Impossible: Fallout somehow broke the dry spell. I’m not sure what made this film any better than the others - though the extravagant practical stunts sure seem to offer the best support - but this is by far the best of the sequels and one of the most thrilling moviegoing experiences I’ve had since Deepwater Horizon (2016).
What I discovered while watching it - or I suppose accepted - is that megabrands of this sort are essentially becoming a subgenre in and of themselves. There are 26 James Bond films. I imagine there’ll be least two or three more Mission Impossible films and I’m then confident that Tom Cruise will simply hand off the torch to a new young agent. In accepting that, the point isn’t to take the film in a new direction, but to push the boundaries of practical and visuals effects, while abiding within the confines of what the story demands; namely, a good and engaging enough plot that’s close to meaningless against the massive action sequences.
I don’t remember what happened in Rogue Nation and how it carried over into this film, but part of the mastery is that for as much as I thought I was confused, it somehow was able to sprinkle in enough inference for me to piece together the story.
The film opens with Ethan Hawke next to a lake, taking his wedding vows across from his now ex-wife Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan; from Rogue Nation (2015)), all before Ethan turns to see that Rogue Nation’s Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is officiating the wedding. Ethan awakes in a run down apartment, and the film does a great job of getting straight to what his next mission is which is to retrieve some plutonium stolen by former members from The Syndicate, now called The Apostles. While in Berlin with his usual crew of both Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg). They’re to intercept the plutonium from The Apostles who’re selling them to terrorist John Lark. However, things go wrong, and in your classic warehouse district shootout scene, Ethan is forced to save Luther at the expense of letting The Apostles get away with the plutonium.
Due to the mishap, CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett; who doesn’t look to have aged a day since Contact (1997)), requires that another Special Activities Division Operative August Walker (Henry Cavill; who could very well be the next big action star) join Ethan and the IMF to ensure that no further mistakes are made; meaning that regardless of any teammate endangerment, Hawk, Walker, and the IMF will now sacrifice any and all personnel in order to achieve the mission at hand.
So begins the first action piece which kicks off the film to a brilliant start, in which Hawk and Walker jump out of a freight plane in full HALO suits. Keep in mind, at the time of this viewing, I didn’t know which stunts were real and which fake, and as much as my sense of logic wanted to fight the distinction, I suspected that this scene was entirely real to later discover it was. One Observer headline said the movie is good because the stunts are real. I won’t enter into another diatribe about CGI (which you could read about on my thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) or Ready Player One (2017)), but only say that this scene supports the premise. Ultimately, I’m not sure why I thought the scene was real, other than the slight sloppiness of the camera and clunky choreography ((in a good way), along with the simple physics of free falling and optics of natural light (they had about three minutes of available crimson purple magic hour light to shoot each day). The scene is most reminiscent of Gravity (2013) in providing a thrilling tension that takes place in live time and is all the more impressive for being practical.
Walker and Hunt head into a lavish dance club where they’re to kidnap John Lark, scan his face to make another infamous mask, and then double as the guy to retrieve the plutonium. Here Ethan meets the femme fatale of the movie Alanna Mitsopoulos, aka the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), who’s operating broker in the transaction between John Lark and Solomon Lane, with her Apostle brigade comprised of a dapper and attractive all male unit. Following John Lark to the bathroom, so begins another brilliant practical scene, as it’s clear that the majority of the fight is real; that is, except for when Faust (Rebecca Ferguson; also from Rogue Nation and Ethan’s former lover) kills John Lark when it looks as though Lark is going to kill Hunt, he shoots Lark in the head, deforming his face; rendering a mask impossible. Assuming that Alanna doesn’t know what John Lark looks like, Ethan decides to simply present himself; the gamble pays off and after a kind of tame fight scene in which Ethan saves her life, she invites him back to discuss how he can acquire the plutonium.
The plan is that Ethan and his team attack and retrieve Solomon Lane from his police transport; complete with the simple map showing that the truck will drive down one side of the river, cross a bridge, and then drive down the other. Immediately I got tastes of both Sicarios - Sicario (2015) or Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018) - and their incredible transport scenes. However, the film then cuts back to Ethan’s fantasy, in which they mow down countless police officers until Ethan is forced to kill one begging for his life. For a second, I thought it was real; as though they shot an action scene that just didn’t play well and sped it up with some editing. Then the scene cuts out, we realize it’s a fantasy, and so begins one of the 21st century’s greatest urban chase sequences; where now I was certain it was all CGI of Tom Cruise speeding down Parisian streets on a motorcycle, swerving through cars, to discover that, with the exception of a few shots, Tom Cruise actually drove 100 mph through the streets and between the cars.
Walker ends up escaping, ending up in a non profit medical camp in rural India where they’ve been funded to treat locals for smallpox and where Ethan’s former wife Julia works (who has been living off the grid since splitting from Ethan). Walker and Solomon have set up numerous nuclear weapons in the camp, which they hope will contaminate the nearby waters of Pakistan, India, and China and destroy a third of the world’s population. Solomon’s philosophy is such an event that would trigger a worldwide peace; in which the world might finally come together and eradicate both their nuclear weapons and potentially bring world peace. Taking cue from the Uaabomber, there’s a degree of terrifying logic in his reasoning; except when you consider how long it could possibly last, given all of 20th century’s horrific events which failed to achieve the same goal. While it could have benefited from even a short debate, somehow it played better than most villainous plots.
The movie culminates in what I was positive was an all computer generated helicopter chase sequence in Kashmir mountains, but have discovered - yet again - was often Tom Cruise flying the helicopter after getting his license only a few weeks before production. Many of the close calls that seemed too extreme to be possible did in fact happen. Even thinking it was GGI, I was left in awe, as the entire sequence felt incredibly vivid and lifelike; moving from Tom Cruise climbing up the rope of a payload of medical supplies, to ceasing the helicopter, attempting to crash Walker out of the stage to get the detonator device require to defuse the nuclear bombs. Soon they collide, crashing through the mountains in an amazing Jurassic Park (1993) tree-jeep sequence, all while fighting inside.
Films like Mission Impossible, James Bond, and the Marvel films require honoring a particular set of plot points and action sequences, which if properly developed and balanced, can create a brilliant film which essentially does nothing different than its predecessors. It just does them better. For the first time, I saw the series as a genre in itself with narrow confines. What the story demands is big practical action scenes, beautiful and talented actors, engaging characters, and a couple good reversals. So long as those are achieved, the plot doesn’t matter. It’s a McGuffin that allows us to bounce from one cinematic action piece to the next. With the exception of a few moments, if it wasn’t for the charismatic actors, my mind would have shut off trying to understand the web of betrayal. Instead, all of the elements add up into providing what’s been missing from recent popular action cinema.
Having recently published my thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989; recently as of writing on this movie in August 2018), I mention that what makes that film spectacular is its commitment to practical stunts and effects. The thing that CGI gets wrong is that the process demands perfection. Jon Favreau said he had to tell the Jungle Book (2016) FX designers to make the world less beautiful. It’s the sloppiness of filming practical stunts that makes them work, and perhaps when CGI learns to moderate itself and implement these imperfections it could be better integrated. With Tom Cruise nearing 60, it makes you wonder how many of these films are left, as no one else seems to have the megastar muscle to demand the budget it’d require, or the star that’s willing to risk his life each time.
BELOW: This is real
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