I’ll admit, I was very late to the Mission: Impossible train. It was just one of those franchises growing up that I never got around to seeing. With the release of Mission: Impossible – Fallout this year, it seemed as good a time as any to dive into the Tom Cruise-led franchise. So, in the weeks leading up to its wide-release, I resolved to watch all five films and, after washing the awful taste in my mouth left by Mission: Impossible 2, I can say I genuinely enjoyed the series and was excited for Fallout. I don’t know how this is possible (haha, get it?) but somehow, Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie outdo themselves yet again with the best installment in the whole series.
With Fallout, Cruise returns as daring IMF agent Ethan Hunt. Following the events of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Ethan faces off against the Apostles, a splinter group of the Syndicate, a rogue terrorist organization from the previous film. When a routine mission goes horribly wrong, Ethan, Luther Stickle (Ving Rhames), and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) must race to find and prevent the Apostles’ nuclear weapons from going off – under the watchful eye of Agent August Walker (Henry Cavill). In doing so, Ethan crosses paths with British Intelligence Agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), and rogue extremist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).
Fallout marks the first time a director has returned to the series, with McQuarrie having helmed Rogue Nation. While McQuarrie’s style is still felt here, this film takes on a more emotional, mature tone than its predecessors. That darkness is even felt in the film’s score, which composer Lorne Balfe infuses with bass cleft undertones, resulting in a feeling of foreboding.
But let’s get to your real question, which is undoubtedly, “How is the action?!” The action is incredible. After previously scaling buildings and hanging from the side of an airplane, it’s hard to imagine how Cruise could possibly top that, but with Fallout, he does. In a breathtaking long-take, Cruise’s Ethan and Cavill’s Walker HALO dive out of an airplane – with a focus-puller jumping after them to actually film the scene. If that doesn’t satisfy you, Cruise also learned to fly a helicopter for a chase sequence later in the film. Whatever your thoughts on Cruise are, there’s no denying how dedicated he is to his craft. Hell, he infamously broke his ankle while jumping from rooftop to rooftop for this film. He’s one of the world’s best action stars, through and through.
Pegg and Rhames balance out the team with brilliant comedic timing in addition to some tense, action-packed scenes of their own. However, it’s really Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust that steals the show. After her introduction in Rogue Nation, Ilsa rapidly became one of my favorite characters in the franchise. She’s one of the few female characters who isn’t a throwaway character, often serving as both an ally and an antagonist to Ethan and his team, depending on her personal goals. I find that dynamic absolutely fascinating – further complicated by the underlying romantic tension between the pair.
This also leads me to my only real criticism – which is more of a comment on the franchise as a whole, but still applies here. Despite having strong female characters in Ilsa Faust, Angela Bassett’s Agent Sloane, and Michelle Monaghan’s Julia Meade, Fallout fails the Bechdel Test. It’s not a factor that overtly detracts from the film, but it just feels like a missed opportunity for these women to interact with one another in some capacity. Fallout does feature more prominent female characters than previous Mission: Impossible films, so if nothing else, at least we’re getting there.
If I’m nitpicking, I’d also say that some of the twists and turns are predictable, so in that sense, the story is fairly conventional. Agent Walker could have been fleshed out a bit more as well. I enjoyed Cavill’s performance, but the script does the bare-minimum to set up his character.
That aside, Fallout is still one of the best films of the year, and certainly the best the franchise has ever presented. I love this movie for the same reason I love Mission: Impossible 3 – despite the larger-than-life stunts, the stakes feel more personal for Ethan – especially where ex-wife Julia Meade is concerned – grounding our protagonist in a way that few other franchises have done. We may buy our tickets to see Cruise jump out of a plane, but we stay because the characters are compelling and the story matters. To that, I say “Mission: Accomplished.”