Yeah, 22 years old. That is an astounding fact for a number of reasons. When you look at franchises, the biggest one of all is probably Star Wars, but the Marvel cinematic Universe is right up there too. The Star Trek movie franchise has been around since 1979, and in western cinema at least, there are few others (trilogies don’t count). James Bond has been going since the 60s, but is showing its age. Mission Impossible may only have reached 6 movies, but it has endured for 22 years, and after the global commercial and critical success of Fallout, you’d put money on at least one more. As much as I enjoyed Mission Impossible 3, I have to agree with some critics that this is the best one yet.
So why am I astounded by this? What the other franchises have in common are big casts. They’re ensemble pieces where the audience is kept entertained by the subplots revolving around the main characters, the side quests, if you want to use some gaming lingo. Sure, the main characters get most of the screen time, but even so, there are numerous main characters in these franchises, and over their lifespan main characters come and go. Luke, Han and Leia give way to Obi Wan and Anakin, who are succeeded by Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. Star Trek went from original cast to Next Gen, and are now three movies deep into a reboot of the original TV show, and the Bond franchise is nothing but a series of reboots when you think of it. While the Mission Impossible series features a cast of characters, let’s not fool ourselves here – this franchise is all Tom Cruise, all the time.
I’ll be honest, I have not been a fan of all the movies, in fact, the only ones I truly like are 3, and Fallout. There’s always been something vaguely dissatisfying about them to me, and I could put that down to the fact that I grew up on the original series, and that other than a couple of subplots spread throughout the movies, the franchise is Mission Impossible in name only. I could say that, but the truth is, it all boils down to the fact I don’t think the other four movies are that great. Ghost Protocol, the fourth in the series, mostly annoyed me, despite the critical acclaim it received. I just couldn’t get my head around that ending, where Ethan Hunt was getting beaten around by an old guy with a metal briefcase. And yeah, that’s what I’m choosing to take away from that movie. Likewise, Rogue Nation – a movie I don’t remember a lot of beyond Cruise’s insane headline-grabbing stunt in the first half of that movie.
The plot of Fallout is a lot more like the James Bond franchise than the others have been so far. Continuing on from Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt and his IMF team allow some plutonium to escape their grasp and are determined to get it back before it can be used in nuclear devices by a highly organized group of anarchists now known as The Apostles. This group has splintered off from Rogue Nation’s villains, The Syndicate, whose leader Solomon Lane (played by Sean Harris, who seems naturally creepy), remains incarcerated since the last movie. After getting some intel in the only scene that resembles a plot from the TV show, the IMF get down to business. The movie features international locales and some pretty impressive set pieces, but that’s essentially the story. There’s a dense plot holding up this relatively thin storyline, and a good part of it deals with the forced inclusion of an agent from another division, August Walker, who is there to ensure the plutonium is retrieved by any means necessary. Walker is played by Henry Cavill, who is better known as the dour and humourless version of Superman from the DC movies. Getting in the way off and on, is former MI6 and IMF agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who wants to spring Lane for her own reasons.
This is a plot driven movie all the way. None of the characters rise above it, and everyone does precisely what they’re in the movie to do. That doesn’t mean they’re not unlikable, only that the movie doesn’t have a great deal of depth. But hey, it’s an action movie, right? To me, that’s almost a cop out, though. A week ago I caught the start of Mission Impossible 3 on the telly, and it opens with a mundane middle class thirty-somethings party, where Ethan Hunt is a new husband and every bit the friendly host – I liked seeing that development, but since then, Hunt has reverted into an action movie automaton, invincible and stalwart. Again, no surprise here given the genre, but I still look for something more in these kinds of movies. There are a few character “moments” given to Hunt, but to me those are just lip service scenes designed to disguise the machinelike approach to the characters without directly influencing the story.
Cruise is typically engaging throughout and doesn’t put a wrong foot forward. I’m a a self-confessed fan of his screen persona, and he might be the only actor whose movies I will make a point of seeing in the cinema even if I know going in they might be wretched. You know, like The Mummy! And this guy with the stunts! He might be the only real movie star left, in the classic sense of the phrase, and maybe, when I look back at his career, I see him as the greatest of them. Have other actors made better movies? Sure, plenty of them. But I appreciate the fact that Cruise has crossed over into genre movies as many times as he has – and at his age, how many other actors have kept up the same relentless pace and commitment to the industry? Precious few, you’ll find. 2017’s American Made was a step away from the action movies he’s been mostly rooted in for the last decade, proving he can still play actual people when he wants to – and I’d like to see more of that from him.
But back to the movie – as I mentioned, Fallout’s story is thin, and I wasn’t convinced by some of the major plot points – the biggest being a completely half-baked subplot that focuses on efforts to discredit and frame Hunt. While this storyline develops during the course of the movie I never felt that it was going anywhere, and it doesn’t really – it mostly just serves as misdirection and it all seemed very unconvincing to me.
But I really liked this movie, previous comments notwithstanding. Henry Cavill puts in a good performance as Cruise’s foil, and I enjoyed both his character (and how it develops) and how he and Cruise interact with each other. The scene in the trailers showing Cavill squaring up in a men’s room fight scene is misleading and out of context, but that is a great scene full of the kind of brutal hand to hand combat choreography I love seeing. And in terms of the action, this movie crackles with it. Christopher McQuarrie turns in a very good follow up to his mostly dry Rogue Nation and there are few moments when the movie sags – impressive, considering the running time. Even the extended helicopter chase scene ends with a terrific capping confrontation between Hunt and the movie’s villain, and while the “human” elements seemed perfunctory, I did like the final scene between Hunt and estranged wife Julie (Michelle Monaghan, reprising her role) that closes one chapter of Hunt’s life in an emotionally satisfying moment.
Is there going to be another movie in this series? How much longer can Cruise remain perpetually 40 and deliver this kind of movie? The average gap between these movies is 3 years, so if there is another one, he’ll be pushing 60 on its release – but on the strength of this mostly terrific episode, I’m in.
© Andrew Hope, 2018
Links to other reviews mentioned here: