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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Since it's inception with the 1996 Brian De Palma film, the Mission: Impossible cinematic franchise has been that rare blockbuster creation that has improved over time.  The latest and sixth installment, Fallout, is a reminder of what a truly satisfying, white-knuckle action film can be.  And after recent disappointments like Skyscraper or The Equalizer 2, it's all the more satisfying.  It's not just the best pure-spectacle and non-superhero related action film we've had this summer, it's also the best one we've had since Baby Driver.

One of the interesting things that writer-director Christopher McQuarrie does is that this is a direct continuation of the previous film, 2015's Rogue Nation, as all the previous entries have largely been stand alone.  If you didn't see that one, or have forgotten it over time, worry not.  The movie does a great job of getting you up to speed, while at the same time not wasting time catching up with a lot of exposition.  This is a lean action thriller that cuts right to the chase.  Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) continues his battle against the Apostles, a terrorist organization that essentially wants to create peace out of chaos.  Their philosophy is the greater the suffering, the greater the peace that comes afterward.  They have gotten their hands on some weapons-grade plutonium, and now have dirty bombs in their possession that they are ready to unleash upon the world. 

When it is revealed that the Apostles have been working with an agent on the inside of Hunt's force with the code name of John Lark in order to get the plutonium, Hunt's boss Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) sends him to Paris where the mysterious John Lark is going to make a sale with an underground arms dealer.  Ethan must take out Lark, pose as him, and make the sale so that the bombs never fall in the wrong hands.  However, before Hunt can leave for his latest mission, he is handed an unwanted sidekick by Alan's superior Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett).  Sloan does not entirely trust Hunt on such an important mission, so she sends one of her own agents, August Walker (Henry Cavill), with Ethan.   The reason for the mistrust is that during a recent mission, Ethan chose to save one of his allies rather than getting the job done, which caused a potentially crucial mistake in their battle against the Apostles.  August is cold, calculating, and mostly uncaring.  His only concern is getting the job done.

This contrast between Ethan and August makes up a majority of the tension in the film, as both men have different methods to getting the job done.  As the two embark to Paris for the mission, they are joined up by Ethan's teammates from previous movies, such as the calm and collected Luther (Ving Rhames), master of disguise Benji (Simon Pegg), and the lovely and precise Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson).  Where the plot goes from here, I'd better not say, but it involves the villain from the last film, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), and a lot of brilliantly executed action set pieces that I dare not reveal.  This is one of those movies that is constantly moving at almost a breakneck pace, but never sacrifices the plot or characters.  It's almost brilliant how the movie just flows from one sequence to the next, giving us just enough information before it goes onto the next thrill or stunt.  McQuarrie clearly understands how to balance the spectacle and a plot we can care about, which concerns a lot of issues about trust and loyalty. 

I also was surprised by how much I found myself caring about Ethan Hunt in Fallout.  He is not a super spy, he makes mistake, and he even misses his target once in a while.  Again, this is almost key to the movie, as the plot revolves around which of the two lead agents has the more effective method of performing the current mission.  At the same time, the movie knows that we have come for the thrills, and so it puts Ethan in one harrowing situation after another that is bound to have audiences gasping for breath and then laughing almost immediately afterward.  Speaking of laughs, the movie can be very funny at times as well, with British comic Simon Pegg providing some funny one-liners.  There's an easy chemistry between Cruise, Pegg and Rhames as the three main agents, and while it's easy to see why, since they've done a number of these movies together before, it comes across as strong as ever here.  They're having fun together, and it brings to the film a sense of joy that you might not be expecting.  It's just fun to watch them work together.

When you get right down to it, this is a complete cinematic experience that we so seldom get at the movies anymore.  It has an interesting story, while not getting bogged down with it, and it provides plenty of thrills and action that are not only brilliantly executed and shot, but stuff that we really have not seen done before or that often.  It also has a sense of fun without having to resort to cheap laughs or constantly reminding the audience that you're not supposed to be taking it all that seriously.  The high stakes and intensity are always present, but the movie knows how to take the time for some genuine laughs once in a while.  With so many mindless or familiar action movies out there, it takes one like this to remind you just how it's supposed to be done.  It's the kind of film you almost want to slip under the door of anyone who might be working on an action project, so that they can study and learn from it.

There have been no shortage of sequels this summer.  Heck, last weekend, all three major releases were sequels.  But Mission: Impossible - Fallout easily rises to the top accompanied only by Avengers: Infinity War and The Incredibles 2.  It might even be better than them in some ways.  It's the kind of invigorating summer entertainment that you just want to embrace.

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