Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Film Review: Mission-Impossible Fallout

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I said in my review of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation that Ethan Hunt was the American James Bond.  After watching the latest installment in the series, I would say that modern James Bond should hope to be the British Ethan Hunt.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout is the sixth installment in a series that began 22 years ago.  And amazingly, at a time when most franchises should be on their last legs, Fallout is the best film in the series.

This is the first time this film franchise has brought back the same director twice.  Christopher McQuarrie gave us the previous series best in Rogue Nation.  Now he returns with Fallout.  This new film feels much more like a continuation of a story than any of the previous films.  While some characters and plot lines spill over from movie to movie, the plot of this film directly depends on the characters and events of Rogue Nation.  In addition, there are callbacks to people like the villainess Max that go all the way back to the first Mission: Impossible.  Rather than being a drag on the story, McQuarrie know when to use this a background texture and when to use it as a solid foundation to build the narrative.

Fallout begins two years after the events of Rogue Nation.  The villain from that film, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is in custody, but the remnants of the Syndicate (the eponymous "Rogue Nation") have become more radicalized, calling themselves "The Apostles."  These bad guys try to get ahold of three plutonium cores to build three nuclear bombs.  Ethan (Tom Cruise) is tasked with retrieving them along with assistance from series stalwarts Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg).  But things go wrong because of a choice Ethan makes.  Secretary Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) tasks Hunt to clean up his mess.  But CIA chief Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett) intervenes and forces her top assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill) to join the mission.  Along the way they encounter MI6 operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who has her own agenda.

I can understand why McQuarrie was brought back for this film.  While Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol had the best M:I sequence at the Dubai tower, the rest of that film couldn't live up to that scene.  McQuarrie knows how to space out the action sequences and ratchet them up to the proper crescendo from the beginning until the end.  When you have the added layer of knowing how most of the stunts were not CGI (like the Halo jump in the first act) and how Cruise puts his body on the line for the entertainment, each jump and fall carry with it a blood-rush of visceral thrill.  The sequences are exciting and creative.

Sometime that this movie gets right is showing how to show our heroes overcome conflict.  These are incredibly smart and skilled individuals who come up with ingenious plans and then execute them.  But what makes the movie more exciting is when in the middle of their plans, everything goes wrong.  One of the big problems with Ocean's 8 was that nothing really went wrong with their plan.  The characters were shown to be so capable that every obstacle was side-stepped.  For the heroes in Fallout, every possible obstacle comes crashing down on them to ruin their plans and they are forced to improvise an impossible (pun intended) solution on the spot.  Like a good magic show, we keep waiting for them to pull a rabbit from the hat, but only if it feels earned and not as a cheat.

There is better acting in this film than in most Oscar-nominated dramas.  Cruise has lost none of his charisma and intensity.  His chemistry with Cavill is one of my favorite things in the film as they have to become a kind of espionage "Odd Couple."  In the film Ethan is called a "scalpel" and Walker is a "hammer."  This plays out perfectly in their performances.  I loved how there was always silent conflict between the two but they didn't have to talk to be in sync on action, like taking down a bad guy or kicking out a front windshield of a truck.  Rhames is the emotional heart of the movie, where he can be the one who gives insight into the heart of the stoic Ethan.  Pegg always does his comedic best but does not detract.  Even Alec Baldwin doesn't phone in his performance but you can see flashes of his Jack Ryan from The Hunt for Red October.  Ferguson continues to do the amazing job of matching Cruise's screen presence.  Their attraction is constantly held back by the fact that Ethan is still married to Julia from Mission: Impossible III.

I do have some issues with how that marriage is treated in the movie.  But what I really liked was that the movie takes this marriage seriously.  Often sequels, especially in the Bond franchise, dismiss former love interests down the memory hole.  But Ethan and Julia got married and that is not a serious bond that cannot be brushed aside.  This is especially the case when there is no indication that these two characters ever stopped loving each other.  It makes for an painfully interesting conflict regarding how Ilsa relates to Ethan without resorting to melodrama.  This is a Mission: Impossible  movie after all.

While balancing the action, the movie does a good job of reminding us that morality cannot be reduced to a utilitarian cost/benefit analysis that we would see Jack Bauer do constantly on 24.  Ethan understands that there is a greater good, but he never forgets that each individual innocent life is important.  That isn't to say that there aren't consequences to saving the life in front of you over the many down the road.  The spectre of that destruction looms heavy over Ethan.  But the movie also shows us what happens to the soul when innocent human lives are reduced to numbers on a balance sheet.  Moving the morals of human life from the abstract to the personal is a wonderfully Catholic insight.

The only other complaint I have for the film is that in a movie with several clever twists throughout, one of the biggest ones is so clearly telegraphed that the reveal almost feels like a let down.  If the expected twist didn't occur, that would be the real twist.  I apologize for being vague but any more specific detail would be too much of a spoiler.

If you like your summer movies to be pulse-pounding roller coasters of action and spectacle, then go see Mission: Impossible - Fallout.

image by Yasir72.multan

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