Tom Cruise is back. Mission: Impossible Fallout—the sixth movie in the 22-year-old franchise—opened Friday, and if the news can be believed, it scored the highest opening weekend gross of the whole series (a cool $61.5 million domestic plus another $91.5 million worldwide). Given the somewhat cool reception to M:I 5 (aka Rogue Nation), the uptick in popularity for this entry has to please all involved, especially Paramount.
You can count me among those who disliked the previous entry. Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust upstaged Cruise’s Ethan Hunt at nearly every turn, proving herself to be the bigger badass and better secret agent. Combine that with her acerbic personality, and you had a cookie cutter masculinized modern action chick, a stereotype that has begun to pall. The previous movie’s action was only okay, the plot so-so (in some places verging on ludicrous), and the movie as a whole unmemorable.
That could have been a problem for the new flick, as it’s a direct sequel to M:I 5, a first for the series. Little Miss Cookie Cutter returns, as does the bad guy from Rogue Nation, plus Alec Baldwin (now head of the IMF), and the usual suspects among the supporting cast, like Ving Rhames from the very first M:I and Simon Pegg from M:I 3 (the very best of the series, unfortunately overlooked due to the star’s then-news-making public breakdown).
The past hangs heavy over Fallout. Remnants of the Syndicate are still hanging around, and still causing trouble. There’s a plot afoot to fulfill their purpose by building and placing three nukes, with the intent of upending the current world order by destroying a large part of it, and the maniacal leader of the Syndicate (played by Sean Harris), captured by Hunt in the last movie, also comes into the plot. Moreover, a key character from Hunt’s past comes into the movie very near its climax. (It’s unfortunate this was spoiled by the trailer, because had it been a true surprise, it would have been quite a dramatic reveal.)
The past, and how it affects the present, is intended to be a major theme of the movie. Hunt is in trouble with the CIA for mistakes he’s made, and so is being babysat by a CIA minder (played by Henry Cavill, the new Superman). Cavill waxes long and loud to his boss about how many times Hunt’s been betrayed by the US government (nearly every movie, if I recall correctly), and Harris’ returning villain waxes rhapsodic about Hunt’s past:
“‘Your mission, should you choose to accept it.‘ I wonder, did you ever choose not to? The end you always feared is coming, and the blood will be on your hands – the fallout of all your good intentions.”
Moreover, many moments in the movie are intended to mirror past moments in the franchise. There’s a callback to the rock climbing in the opening scene of Mission: Impossible 2, the daughter of Max (the female arms dealer in the first Mission: Impossible) figures heavily in the second act, there’s an interrogation scene much like one in M:I 2, and (of course) the rubber masks and voice mimickers make an appearance, but as they show up in every M:I film, so I’m not sure that qualifies as an actual callback. It’s more like a series signature at this point, akin to “Bond. James Bond.”
I’m unsure as to the purpose all these callbacks to prior films serve. Some are undoubtedly fan service for people who saw, and remember, an action movie from 1996, but Cavill’s speech and Harris’ cryptic threat both seem to establish the underlying theme of past actions having present consequences, but the theme goes nowhere. There’s no payoff for all this, no culmination of the ruminations, so the audience is left kind of puzzled as to what it’s supposed to mean.
That, however, is a very small niggle. The movie is, overall, quite good. Granting the undeniable fact that M:I III is the very best of the series, and M:I 2 a stylistically singular entry (thanks to director John Woo), Fallout nevertheless belongs among the series’ stronger entries. Clearly superior to Rogue Nation, and even besting Ghost Protocol (an excellent entry I’ve tended to underrate in the past), Fallout isn’t quite as good as the first M:I, but it has superior action and cinematography, and is overall more thrilling.
Despite having the same director/writer as the previous film (Christopher McQuarrie, who also directed Cruise’s Jack Reacher), the movie manages to avoid its problems. Cookie Cutter Action Chick does make a return, but here she’s a team-mate, not the lead of the movie. The action is better, the plot less ludicrous, and the whole movie moves at a satisfying clip. True, I did figure out a major plot point early on (in effect dropping a self-spoiler), but the eventual reveal was followed by a double-cross I didn’t see coming, then a triple cross, then an honest-to-gosh quadruple cross (making four unexpected-but-inevitable betrayals in a row). All of this happened in quick succession and was very satisfying. So, despite me having twigged to something important fairly early, the movie redeemed itself.
I’m a fan of action movies, and Fallout is an excellent summer action movie and if it lacks some of the heart of previous entries (which it absolutely does), it’s still a great entry to a great series, and well worth your time.
NOTE: Exactly 18 months ago today I dropped my first post here on the CH blog. Time flies!