Cherwell

‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ – the best action film of the year?

Tom Cruise makes me feel like such a couch potato. As I sit here, writing about the latest Mission: Impossible adventure, he’s out there flying helicopters through the Himalayas, riding motorbikes around Paris and, yes, even breaking his ankle to make a rooftop foot-chase in London, just to keep my lazy butt entertained. Thankfully, I can pretend some of the more butt-centric Oxloves are written for me, but I don’t have to pretend to be nice for the next few hundred words because this sixth entry in the Mission: Impossible series is the best Mission yet.

This time around, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is still trying to nullify The Syndicate, the baddies from the last film, with the help of his buddies Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames). But when the CIA decides the IMF need some oversight, Angela Badass – sorry, Angela Bassett – sends in Superman – sorry, Superstache – sorry, Agent Walker (Henry Cavill), to make sure that Hunt stays in line. 

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the Mission series for film fans has been watching a new director oversee each entry, and seeing what distinctive touches they bring to the project, but Fallout marks the first time in the franchise a director has been carried over from a previous film. Christopher McQuarrie, director of 2015’s Rogue Nation, returns to helm this project in his seventh collaboration with Cruise, and it’s a partnership that just keeps on giving.

See, McQuarrie has figured out two key things to help keep the franchise feeling fresh: Cruise’s enthusiasm towards practical stuntwork is as limitless as it is watchable, and constructing a plot around the action set-pieces you want to include is a surprisingly effective approach to filmmaking if those set-pieces are spectacular enough.

And spectacular they most certainly are. As he did in the (quietly impressive) car chase in Jack Reacher, McQuarrie works hard to place the camera so that we’re aware that it really is Cruise riding that motorbike, driving that car, or piloting that helicopter, and there’s visceral thrills to be had in that approach. But McQuarrie’s filmmaking techniques are far more nutritious here than in Rogue Nation, which too often required tricky editing to obscure some of the more implausible stunt moments. Here, the action is beautifully framed and composed. From the choreography of the hand-to-hand fights to the jaw-dropping helicopter-based daredevilry of the final showdown, McQuarrie never hits the dizzy heights of, say, Brad Bird’s action-poetry in Ghost Protocol, but the spatial geography is always clear and the sound design ensures you feel each punch and duck from every stray bullet.

But despite the story’s blatant function of stringing together a series of increasingly improbable action sequences, McQuarrie juggles the ensemble cast pretty well. Pegg is given a little less to do than usual, so the film is less funny than prior entries in the series, but Rebecca Ferguson and Michelle Monaghan make welcome returns and help the film to pack a surprising emotional punch for long-time fans of the series.

The film certainly isn’t faultless. The main antagonist is facially disfigured by the end of the film, which is an unwelcome and, sadly, not uncommon trope to rear its head. There’s also no questioning which stunts were done for real, as some of the more (pardon the pun) impossible feats are visualised through some pretty ugly CGI. And while McQuarrie’s filmmaking instincts have tightened up considerably, the 148 minute runtime is almost certainly too long to be comfortable for a good chunk of the audience, as is the film’s assumption of your encyclopaedic knowledge of at least the last three films, especially Rogue Nation.

But based on the filmmakers’ ability to keep upping the ante with each instalment, it seems the series is destined to keep running for as long as Cruise himself can.