The fifth instalment of the M:I franchise was always going to be a tough act to follow. The series has consistently delivered high quality action thrills, but ROGUE NATION seemed to finally perfect the formula – lean and unpretentious, with just the right balance of outrageous spy antics and genuinely inventive, thrilling action; it knew exactly what it was, and what it was supposed to be. Somehow though, returning writer director Christopher McQuarrie and main man Tom Cruise (star, stuntman, and very much producer) have managed - more or less (which will be very much a matter of taste) to match it with this direct sequel.
You see as it turns out, despite his incarceration wily villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) still has a few tricks up his straight jacket sleeve, and before we or Ethan Hunt (Cruise) knows it, the ‘apostles’ of Lane’s ‘Syndicate’ have stolen three lumps of plutonium from under Ethan's team’s nose, which they plan to put to very naughty use unless the IMF can quickly save the day, propelling us headlong into another globe-spanning, dizzying maelstrom of skydiving, brutal nightclub bathroom brawls (special shout out to Liang Yang here), blinding car/motorbike/helicopter/foot chases and literal cliffhangers.
Most of this was achieved – astonishingly – in camera, and it’s in this regard that FALLOUT truly excels. We’ve reached an age in movies where as long as we steer clear of faces (up to and including moustaches *cough*JUSTICE LEAGUE*cough*), audiences now consciously understand that while still impressive to look at, neither a star nor their massive insurance policy is ever truly anywhere near actual peril. With Cruise, it’s different, and with this series he and Paramount have made a very cleverly marketed this as the M:I franchise’s point of difference: that is him hurtling on two wheels over the wet cobblestone streets of Paris without a helmet. That is the star piloting the helicopter. It’s not digitally placing his head over a stuntman. It shows, it makes a difference, and it certainly deserves acknowledgement and breathless applause. (Side note: the Academy don’t need to start rewarding Best Popular Film – they need to start recognising feats like this, and things like Andy Serkis’ entire body of work. But that’s a different blog post).
Meanwhile, there’s the usual distrust, bureaucratic obstruction, double-crossing and mask-revealing, and if FALLOUT has any weakness, its here. Whether it’s a plot twist too many leading to a slightly puffy middle act, or the inclusion of either a returning Alec Baldwin as IMF director Alan Hunly, or newcomers Angela Bassett as the new CIA director purple nurpling the team by the inclusion of her own enforcer August Walker (Henry Cavill), or even the mysterious White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) – a character who, for those eagle-eared and paying strict attention to the series as a whole, teases a tantalising morsel for the inevitable further instalments – something in there feels like one egg too many.
Fortunately the rest of the film is so damned entertaining that, on first viewing at least, any minor shortcomings are very difficult to notice and even harder to dwell on. McQuarrie & Cruise have steered their cast & crew to another barnstorming episode in a series that despite celebrating its 22nd(!) cinematic birthday, is still firing very much on all cylinders, and shows no signs of slowing.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT is released July 25 in the UK, July 27 in the US, and August 2 in Australia and NZ.