The unstoppable Tom Cruise, Movie StarTM is back in 2018’s best action movie bar none. “Fallout” completes a “Fast & Furious”-style transformation of the franchise and leaves its famously diminutive leading man head and shoulders above the rest of the action competition.
When a mission to recover three stolen uranium cores is interrupted by the radicalised remnants of The Syndicate, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team are forced to partner up with CIA agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) to root out the devoted acolytes of former Syndicate head Solomon Kane (Sean Harris). But there are plans within plans at work and Ethan must be careful who to trust as he navigates the overlapping and intertwining schemes of the IMF, CIA, The Syndicate and MI6.
Writer/ Director Christopher McQuarrie, the only director to date to helm more than one entry in the series, has said one of the reasons he signed on again was that he knew the director of “Rogue Nation” could have done better and he decided he wanted to show him how. In that ambition, he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Bigger, bolder, tauter than before, “Fallout” takes every aspect, every story thread, every iconic, aesthetic flourish of “Rogue Nation” and takes it to the next level or, in many cases, the level after that.
Yes, it still relies on the same mix of occasionally baffling incompetence and convenient dumb luck from Hunt and the IMF (there’s an eyeroll-worthy moment of breathtakingly obvious stupidity very early in the pre-credits sequence) to fuel the story but its done with such style, renewed verve and confidence that it hardly seems like it matters. Indeed, McQuarrie’s script takes that incongruous moment and spins it in an unexpectedly insightful take on Hunt’s fundamental character and what sets him apart from his rivals. Engrossingly complex, McQuarrie keeps things from getting convoluted and although most of the big twist reveals are easily guessable miles in advance, it never once detracts from the entertainment value of what’s unfolding on screen. Visually, it’s a huge leap up from the already impressive “Rogue Nation”, with cinematographer Rob Hardy ensuring London and, especially, Paris photograph beautifully (you may think Paris is a simple point-and-shoot city for stunning cinematography but it’s not, as “Bastille Day” amply demonstrated). It’s not just the picture-postcard settings that really pop-out on screen, there’s a visceral, kinetic clarity to the action and fight scenes that rivals anything yet brought to the screen and I even had to stifle the urge to clap at some of the exquisitely realised transitions.
Although still very much Cruise-centric in its storytelling, the supporting cast is better balanced and handled here, with the essential return of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) – absolutely deserving her own spin-off adventure by the way – seemingly crowding Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt out of the picture (having now been conspicuous by his absence in two of 2018’s best action adventure movies, Jeremy Renner’s agent may have the real mission: impossible in keeping his job) bringing an ambiguous loyalty to the team alongside trustworthy stalwarts Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames) and IMF Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin). Angela Bassett brings a steely, coldly logical pragmatism to the role of CIA Director Erica Sloane, a woman who prefers to use a hammer instead of a scalpel, that hammer being embodied in the brooding hulk of Henry Cavill.
There’s a palpable sense of energy and commitment here and Cruise particularly delivers his best work, certainly of the franchise and possibly of his career. At 56, Cruise is the same age as Roger Moore was when “Octopussy” was released, and the Bond comparison is a particularly apposite one as, over the course of, now, six movies, the character of Ethan Hunt has very much become the modern-day equivalent of James Bond. Rewatching “Rogue Nation” in advance of this latest instalment, the comparison was irresistible and undeniably favourable for Hunt. Both this movie and the previous Mission: Impossible instalment have set out to tell a similar kind of story about its lead character as the venerable Bond franchise did with “Skyfall” and then “SPECTRE”. The problem is, by every criterion, and with apologies to Carly Simon, M:I does it better.
In years past, the Bond series was the gold standard for action movies. They innovated in terms of gadgets, stunts, action, adventure and excitement. Where they boldly led, other studios and franchises scrambled to follow. That’s no longer the case and recent Bond movies have, with an increasing lack of confidence and coherence, found themselves trailing after the genre. Bourne sucker-punched them at the turn of the century and they responded admirably but since then, the series has seemed sluggish and unresponsive to the rise of a new generation of high-concept spy action, from the transformed “Fast & Furious” franchise to an increasingly bold and ambitious M:I series. The real impossible mission is for any other action franchise to follow “Fallout”.