SPOILER ALERT: Some spoilers about one of the stunts, most of which can be seen in the trailer (which also shows a lot of shit that's not in the movie, but hey that's marketing for you).
Tom Cruise puts his life on the line for the umpteenth time in the breathtaking 6th film in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Anchored by yet another gravity-defying performance by Hollywood's greatest asset, and the sure-handed direction by Christopher McQuarrie, MI: Fallout lands like a gigaton nuclear blast that vaporizes the competition and swiftly raises the bar for action cinema for years to come.
It's been over three years since I was truly blown away by an action film. Since May of 2015, I've been wallowing in this depressing post-Fury-Road cinema landscape, trying to dodge the constant barrage of cinematic universes, sequels, remakes and demakes, waiting for something to come around that isn't a boring, uninspired, obviously-fake pile of digital garbage shat out of a boardroom.
And then comes Tom Cruise, truly one of Hollywood's treasures, to end this dry spell of spectacle with the kind of professionalism that he and his team of cineastes are revered for. He and his new best friend Christopher McQuarrie return to the Mission: Impossible franchise with aplomb, giving audiences some of the most exciting setpieces ever put on film, all executed by an often unprotected leading man who constantly shows us that he isn't afraid to die for his art.
While I still think the Burj Khalifa sequence of Ghost Protocol is the high point of the series, Cruise does some truly unbelievable things in Fallout. In one exceptionally insane sequence, Cruise climbs up a rope attached to a helicopter, falls off it, catches himself on the payload, and then climbs back up. No safety net, no harness. Then he FLIES THE THING HIMSELF in a crazy helicopter chase sequence that involves him nearly crashing the damn thing.
Sure, he could have probably sat in a disembodied cockpit surrounded by green paint and most audience members would be none the wiser. But the fact that he doesn't makes a universe of difference when watching the film. With Cruise doing all of the stunts himself, and the filmmakers capturing it practically as it happens, it puts the audience member in a state of pure suspense and excitement that few action films want to do these days. Buster Keaton didn't stand in a green void and let a gaggle of underpaid outsourced CG artists create a digital house facade to fall down around him, he stood there and put his life at risk for his art. Tom Cruise is cut from the same cloth, and one of the few true movie stars left in the game. His work will endure because it is *always* more exciting to see a real person in real danger than it is to see a cartoon person leisurely float through an entirely-fake world created on a render farm.
Huge props have to go to director Christopher McQuarrie for bringing everything together with impeccable skill. While he's the first director to take the helm of an MI film twice, he manages to make Fallout feel different from Rogue Nation in a lot of ways. Tonally, the film definitely feels heavier than the others. While the IMF still faces the same kind of world-ending threats from previous films, the stakes have never felt more personal than they do here. Much of the film's drama has to do with Ethan Hunt's knack for putting his teammates' lives before the lives of innocent civilians, who he may be endangering as a result. These kind of thematic stakes are a welcome addition to the series, which is usually light on this stuff (though not necessarily to its detriment).
If there's one thing I missed, it was the presence of Jeremy Renner. His character provided a nice counterpoint to Ethan in the last two films, and as a fan of his in general, I was bummed to not see him in this one. I do like the amorphous nature of the cast, bringing people in and out of the films as needed, but considering how directly Fallout follows Rogue Nation, I was mildly disappointed he wasn't there. It's a very minor quibble all things considered, and really, the cast as a whole is wonderful even without him. Henry Cavill is the biggest and best addition, and he has plenty of moments to shine throughout.
As a series, Mission: Impossible has endured and thrived like few others. Like Tom Cruise himself, these films don't seem to be affected by the ravages of age, and have consistently provided audiences with exciting, big budget extravagance, expertly crafted by professionals who take their time and do things the hard way for our benefit. These are the type of films that we need more of, and Fallout in particular stands as a case study for why more new films should be made the old fashioned way. While Ghost Protocol still holds the series crown for me, Fallout is the closest any film has come to replicating its formula for success, and the best action film I've seen in years. Don't sleep on it!