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Tom Cruise is back as the super-spy Ethan Hunt for the sixth time in the most thrilling and action packed Mission: Impossible film yet.
In a direct sequel to Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), Ethan Hunt and his all-star team of IMF operatives are once again trying to save the world from nuclear armageddon in returning writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s action opus of paranoid intelligence agencies, high-wire stunts and of course rubber masks. Famed for his daredevil streak, Tom Cruise without a doubt proves he is still Hollywood’s leading action man in a gripping spy thriller that explores dark and gritty territory, but one that doesn’t mind having a bit of fun along the way. Mission: Impossible Fallout the sixth entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise is a simply dizzyingly brilliant action masterpiece.
The first Mission: Impossible (1996) hit cinemas twenty-two years ago. Tom Cruise was thirty-four years old, and very much the embodiment of the Hollywood A-lister. Young, talented, and his star-power alone could open a film to record breaking box office numbers. Yes, any film during the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s. In 2018 the era of the superhero-assisted leading men (Robert Downey Jr, and really any actor that dons a cape and cowl), it’s admirable that Cruise now fifty-six years old is still doing it the old fashion way, no CGI armor or rabid army of internet-based fandom to bolster him. He’s a man alone. Older, wiser, but he’s lost done of his trademark intensity.
We open on a lakeside wedding, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, like you didn’t know) and Julia Meade-Hunt (Michelle Monaghan, in more than just a cameo role) beam at each other with matrimonial bliss… until the ice cold presence of baddie Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) interjects with an ominous warning “You should of killed me, Ethan”. But it’s only a dream, Lane’s behind bars, The Syndicate disbanded. The world is safe, yeah right. Late at night, Ethan receives some light bedtime reading, Homer’s Odyssey (hinting at Ethan’s own struggles at returning home) and between its pages is a prerecorded info-dump that warns of a new global threat. The Apostles, ex-members of The Syndicate, who are hell-bent on buying three plutonium cores to nuke the world and end the tyranny of super-powered governments. So, pretty much the standard spy thriller mcguffin.
Things always go wrong, very wrong for Ethan and his trusty team of IMF agents, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and this time is no different. In the underbelly of Berlin, Ethan is forced to make an impossible choice, the plutonium cores or the life of his best-friend Luther. The life of one person against the deaths of countless billions. Surely, the many outweigh the needs of the few… But not for Ethan, he’s tortured by his pathological need to save every life, no matter the professional or personal cost to himself, and this compelling moral dilemma anchors the film, and one that may finally break the once invincible super-spy.
In the aftermath, IMF Chief Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin, in serious actor mode) has no choice but to bring in CIA agent August Walker (Henry Cavill, he’s a crap Superman because he’s an excellent heel, who knew?) to help Ethan retrieve the stolen plutonium. It’s a prickly team-up, the hulking Walker is utterly dismissive of his new teammates quipping – “The IMF is grown men in Halloween masks”. It’s a clever jab and a telling one, Cruise and McQuarrie must be all too aware of the hokeyness of masked spies in a world dominated by the gritty realism of the Jason Bourne films. And the writer-director and star just knowingly shrug back – yeah, realism is all well and good. But why not have some fun too?
The Mission: Impossible films are known for their real world stunts and having watched twenty-two plus years of Tom Cruise pushing his on-screen limits – dangling from a Eurostar train, racing Triumph motorcycles to destruction, scaling the Burj Khalifa the world’s tallest building, and really what’s left…? Well, a whole lot more. I can’t say this strongly enough, find the biggest and loudest cinema screen you can. Imax, preferably. The halo jump action sequence is incredible, it’s a pure white knuckle ride that will leave your head spinning on the floor. Oh, you think that’s it? No, this film is stacked with thrilling action set-pieces – a brutal bathroom beatdown between Ethan, August and a rogue scientist with crazy MMA fighting skills. Oh, and there is Ethan’s rooftop run and jump across London, which famously got a little too real as Tom broke his ankle landing the final rooftop jump, and there’s still more…
The globetrotting spectacle of Berlin’s city streets, Parisian rivers, and Kashmir mountain tops, shot by the assured hand of cinematographer Rob Hardy, channeling Kubrickian wide and centre framed setups that sweep effortlessly over the iconic landmarks (M:I hasn’t looked this stylish since Brian De Palma). But it’s the close-ups of Ethan’s weathered face, unsure of his place in the world, still struggling to cope with the failure of his marriage that are often the most visually arresting. As he’s pushed and pulled, and shot at by Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), tangled up in the plutonium bomb plot and fighting for her own freedom. They mirror each other, both yearning for a truthful human connection in a dark world full of opportunists, lairs and killers. Ethan never mopes, unlike his depressed British spy counterpart James Bond, and I’m sorry to say, none of the billion dollar grossing James Bond films have ever felt this emotionally grounded.
Mission: Impossible Fallout’s fatalist mantra – “There cannot be peace without, first, a great suffering and the greater the suffering, the greater the peace”, snakes its way through the clandestine corridors of power as Solomon Lane reappears to torment Ethan and his IMF team. The unrelenting tension and ever increasing stakes are deftly balanced with witty office banter and physical humour; Benji and Luther clash over who is going to wear the rubber mask in an odd couple-like way, and even Ethan gets a few laughs as he lands wearily onto a moving speedboat, his age finally catching up with him (Tom Cruise is still an incredible physical specimen, just saying).
“I won’t let you down” Ethan states earnestly to his team in the final moments of the rip-roaring mountain top climax faced with impossible odds. It almost feels like Tom Cruise is talking directly to the audience, he like Ethan Hunt has a pathological need, but his need is to entertain billions of people across the world. Cruise and McQuarrie have proven they’re master craftsmen, second to none – the action is bone snappingly real and operatic in a story that skilfully wrestles with the emotional fallout of lives spent fighting in the shadows for the greater good.
Tom Cruise is Mission: Impossible. We should all enjoy it while it lasts and with this latest and greatest entry in the M:I franchise I’d say there’s still a few more left in him yet. Lucky us!
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