Few stars have so captivated audiences through sheer and unabashed audacity, have commanded such rapt attention from internet commenters awestruck with their flagrant disregard for the rational precepts of common sense, have displayed such blatant dismissal of any instinct for self-preservation as the scene-stealing icon at the heart of Mission: Impossible — Fallout. I’m talking, of course, about Henry Cavill’s Mustache, destroyer of (DC) worlds. But Tom Cruise is here, too, and for anyone keeping score, this marks his sixth outing as IMF agent Ethan Hunt in the improbably entertaining spy-thriller franchise. And while time may have faded Cruise’s boyish good looks, it certainly hasn’t diminished his capacity for masochistic self-harm or his box-office bankability.
Fallout is popcorn cinema in its purest form, action crack for stunt junkies in perpetual need of a more potent fix. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie deals out the set pieces hard and heavy, if (arguably) for way too long. Big, loud and frequently pretty dumb, this is a movie that devotes nearly 20 percent of its 2 1/2-hour running time to a single chase sequence and then tries to top itself with a helicopter duel. McQuarrie, who won a screenwriting Oscar for The Usual Suspects, crafts a labyrinthine narrative that’s engaging if occasionally impenetrable, but you almost forget there’s a plot at all between the HALO jumps and rooftop parkour. Contemplative it ain’t.
If McQuarrie had a tough act to follow as the only director to helm two M:I films, he has only himself to blame. 2015’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation took the series into the heart of Bond territory, but here he’s drawing on even older influences, something like Carol Reed’s The Third Man with touch of Hitchcock and a dose of The Italian Job (1969). McQuarrie’s commitment to practical stunts and Cruise’s commitment to supplying them serve the film well, even if they almost totally overshadow the contributions of a solid supporting cast, with Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Alec Baldwin thoroughly marginalized and Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan and Angela Bassett faring only slightly better. Only Cavill seems to have been given a fully developed role, and his turn as a CIA agent with questionable allegiances is potentially more compelling than the movie’s central nuclear-bomb-or-whatever-who-cares MacGuffin.
So what we have here is a movie with a convoluted plot, hamstrung by overblown action sequences and shallow characterization, that seems far more interested in how fast Tom Cruise can run (always with the running!) than with developing resonant emotional stakes. Is it good? Hell yeah, if you take it for what it is and have sufficient bladder capacity to sit through it. Personally, I find it hard to accept that Cruise was younger when he starred in Brian De Palma’s 1996 Mission: Impossible than I am as I write this, so if I’m a little too hard on him for his action-hero antics now that he’s in his 50s, it’s probably due to my own existential dread over aging and mortality. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what he’s really running from in all these movies — but if that’s the case, he might want to stop jumping out of so many planes. Just a thought.