‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ is a Thrilling Spectacle From Start to Finish

Mission Impossible Fallout poster

This is never supposed to be the case. Movie franchises are not supposed to improve with each sequel. We all expect them to get worse and worse to where you wonder why the filmmakers even bother making them anymore. But with the “Mission: Impossible” movie franchise, actor and producer Tom Cruise continues to work closely with gifted filmmakers to create motion pictures which defy expectations as he is intent on topping what came before. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is the sixth film in a series which began back in 1996, and it proves to be the most thrilling installment yet. I cannot wait to see it again, and I am determined to see it in a IMAX theater as this sequel demands to be seen on the biggest screen in town.

The plot of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is a bit convoluted, but I will give you the gist of it. The terrorist group from “Rogue Nation” known as The Syndicate has since reformed into The Apostles, and Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is tasked with intercepting the sale of three plutonium cores to them. But despite the presence of team members Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benjamin “Benji” Dunn (Simon Pegg), the mission is thwarted and the plutonium is stolen right out from under them. From there, they are determined to get the cores back, and their latest impossible mission has them meeting up with characters old and new to where alliances and methods are questioned endlessly. It all reminded me of what Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio told Willem Dafoe in “White Sands:”

“You’re honest, even when you’re lying.”

Does everything we see here make perfect sense? No, but I really didn’t care. Even at 147 minutes, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” never drags, and it is a movie I am happy to describe as exhaustively thrilling as it kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Just when you think it’s over, we are pulled back into another astonishing action set piece which leaves us out of breath.

Let’s talk about the stunts, shall we? Among the first is the HALO (high altitude, low opening) jump which is a skydive from a seriously insane height. We all know how Cruise is a stickler for doing his own stunts, and while the average skydive is done from 7,000 to 9,000 feet, a HALO jump is often done from 15,000 feet and with the aid of oxygen. Taking this all into account makes this particular sequence all the more thrilling as it is done in what seems like an unbroken shot which would make even Alejandro Inarritu stare at the screen in awe.

There’s also a motorcycle chase through the streets of Paris, and I kept waiting for the characters to get seriously injured or killed as no one can navigate traffic like that in real life. And yes, it is indeed Cruise jumping from one building to another. Everything culminates in a thrilling helicopter chase which outdoes the ones I loved watching in “Blue Thunder,” and it is in this sequence where Cruise and company attempt to complete the most impossible mission of all as what they are tasked with doing has a higher probability of failure than success.

Cruise is now 56 years old, and he shows no signs of slowing down. While many be telling him to act his age, a term which has now lost all its meaning to me, he continues to defy the odds and show just how far he is willing to go to make an action movie which is anything but average. The scenes of him “grinning like an idiot every 15 minutes” are few and far between this time around as we instead see him playing mind games with actors who are playing characters not entirely trustworhty. And yes, there is the obligatory scene of him sprinting at warp speed, and I hope I am able to run like he does when I reach his age.

“Fallout” almost marks the return of writer and director Christopher McQuarrie, making him the first filmmaker to direct more than one “Mission: Impossible” movie. “Rogue Nation” was terrific entertainment, but he really outdoes himself this time out. His screenplay is full of endless plot twists and enigmatic characters to where I was quickly reminded of he was the same man who wrote the screenplay for “The Usual Suspects.” Seeing him balance various plot threads makes me admire him as a director even more as he brings everything together for a furious climax which is just staggering.

Simon Pegg has been great fun in the “Mission: Impossible” movies, but in “Fallout” we see his character of Benji Dunn evolve a bit. Granted, Benji has always served as the comic relief, but we see him become a better field agent to where, even when he whines about the things he doesn’t want to do, he can hold his own with Ethan to where he doesn’t have to perform a HALO jump to make this clear. Pegg has always been a great comedic talent, but he’s also a better actor than people give him credit for.

Ving Rhames continues to make Luther Stickell the uber cool IMF agent, and Luther has evolved to where he is not as concerned about his expensive taste in clothes anymore. Rebecca Ferguson, who all but stole “Rogue Nation” as Ilsa Faust, once again makes her character wonderfully enigmatic to where I was desperate to get at the secrets inside Ilsa’s brain. Alec Baldwin has more fun this time around as Alan Hunley, Sean Harris makes “Rogue Nation” baddie Solomon Lake even more sadistic than ever before, and Michelle Monaghan once again provides this franchise with a warm human presence as Ethan’s ex-wife, Julia.

We also get introduced to some new characters including Erica Sloane, the new CIA director played by Angela Bassett. Although we don’t get to see much of Bassett here, she reminds us of how badass she remains after all these years. It has been 25 years since she broke through as Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” and she hasn’t let us down since.

Acclaimed stage actress Vanessa Kirby makes her American film debut as White Widow, a black-market arms dealer. Kirby makes this character such an alluring presence as she keeps her cool even as her life is constantly being threatened and as she dangles a plutonium core right in front of Ethan’s eyes, knowing full well just how much he wants it.

And, of course, we have Henry Cavill who gets to take some time off from his day job playing Superman to portray CIA assassin August Walker. Cavill is a bit stiff in some early scenes to where he threatens to get upstaged by his mustache, the same one he was unable to shave off for “Justice League” reshoots. For a time, I kept waiting for him to say, “It’s just you, me, and my mustache” as such a big deal was made about it having to be digitally removed. But as “Fallout” goes on, Cavill makes August into an especially dangerous character who is never to be trifled with. And while he may not be playing the Man of Steel here, he throws punches which had me thinking his arms were made of steel.

Seriously, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is the best movie yet in this franchise, and it may very well be the best action movie of summer 2018. Just when I thought nothing could top the sight of Cruise climbing the Burj Khalifa tower in “Ghost Protocol,” we are given some of the most amazing stunts, and they are coupled with characters busy playing mental chess games with one another as what the eyes reveal can be even more threatening than a bullet to the head. “Fallout” is a thrilling spectacle, and it makes me wonder if Cruise and company can possibly top what they have accomplished here.

Cruise had a tough time in 2017 as “The Mummy” reboot proved to be a critical and commercial bomb, and the biographical crime film “American Made” underperformed at the box office. It’s a good thing he still has “Mission: Impossible” to fall back on as he always pushes himself to outdo what he did previously as an actor and producer. Just when I thought his career would self-destruct in 5 seconds, he manages to come back with a vengeance.

* * * * out of * * * *

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Jack Reacher

jack-reacher-poster

I haven’t read “One Shot” or any of the other books written by Lee Child which feature the character Jack Reacher. At this point, however, I almost don’t need to as the casting of Tom Cruise as Reacher has brought to everyone’s attention how the character is 6’ 5” tall and weighs over 200 pounds. This description makes the role seem far more appropriate for Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Dwayne Johnson or any other athlete turned actor who looks like they live at the gym. So, of course, everyone is snickering at Cruise the same way they did when he was cast as Lestat in “Interview with the Vampire,” but we all know how that turned out.

You know what? I don’t care if Cruise resembles the character or not because he proves to be the best thing “Jack Reacher” has to offer. While he is much smaller and nowhere as muscular as Child’s literary character, he still comes across as an intimidating force to everyone he comes in contact with. His charisma onscreen ends up giving you a reason to check out this movie even though it is surprisingly ho-hum and feels like a business as usual action picture.

Directing “Jack Reacher” is Christopher McQuarrie who won an Oscar for writing “The Usual Suspects” and previously worked with Cruise on “Valkyrie.” He gets things off to a suspenseful and tense start as we watch a sniper looking through his scope at random targets. It’s an unsettling way to start this movie off, and McQuarrie keeps us waiting with anxiety for the first bullet to be fired, and you know it will be fired. The sniper takes out five people and is later caught and interrogated by Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo), but instead of him giving the detective a confession he writes the following message down on a legal pad, “GET JACK REACHER”

Mr. Reacher arrives in town soon after, but not to help his sniper friend but instead bury him. Still, as in many action thrillers, things are not quite what they seem. Reacher has to contend with the sniper’s defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), her dad who also happens to be District Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins), a hired killer and a Russian named Zec Chelovek (Werner Herzog) who everyone refers to as “the Zec.”

Now I know it has been popular to hate Cruise these past few years with his off-camera antics getting more press than his movies, and part of me expected that I wouldn’t take him very seriously in this role. But he really does deliver here and gives a believable performance as a man you really don’t want to mess with. Even in those obligatory scenes where he’s about to beat up a bunch of guys at once, he’s riveting because his eyes tell us and his opponents they don’t stand much of a chance. It’s fun to see Cruise give Reacher an undeniably dangerous vibe, and even at his age he never feels out of place in this role.

It’s a kick to see Werner Herzog show up as “the Zec,” and he makes this villainous character especially depraved as he recounts the unthinkable of what he once had to do in order to survive. Herzog makes the almost unbelievable story he tells sound terrifyingly believable, and his voice continues to serve him well whether he’s narrating one of his documentaries or reading from the book “Go The F—k To Sleep.” It’s a shame he’s not in the movie more than he is.

I also liked seeing Robert Duvall, who starred opposite Cruise in “Days of Thunder,” show up as shooting range owner Martin Cash. These two share a great chemistry together no matter what movie they’re in, and it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve seen Duvall in anything. Like Herzog, I wish he had a bigger part here, but Duvall does make the scenes he’s in count for a lot. This is an actor who can take any throwaway role given to him and make it seem like it’s so much more than what’s on the page.

McQuarrie is a great writer, and not just for creating the screenplay to “The Usual Suspects.” I like how he gives us characters like Reacher and Helen Rodin whose descriptions cannot easily be boiled down into one sentence. And yes, the movie has some great dialogue in it just as it should.

Having said that, “Jack Reacher” comes up a little short for me because there’s not much to distinguish it from other movies of its ilk. Furthermore, it goes on for much longer than it should to where it drags in spots which had me getting a little restless. McQuarrie and Cruise are also unable to escape the clichés of the genre which would easily do in a weaker movie. Maybe it’s because the tone of this film is a little more downbeat than it should be. Both clearly had some fun with this character, but you come out of it wishing they had more fun with the story.

If you can get past the unspectacular aspects of “Jack Reacher,” you might still enjoy the movie for what it is. At the very least we have Cruise’s performance to enjoy as he makes every lethal blow he gives the bad guys hurt like hell. When the movie is finished, you do come out of it wanting to see Cruise take on this role again in the future. But if and when that does happen, let’s hope that potential sequel has a little more edge to it than this one.

* * ½ out of * * * *