3 ½ (out of 4)
How is Cruise still grasping at blockbuster greatness 22 years after he began producing his own movies? How much of his determination to deliver authentic spectacle is driven by the eagerness to give an audience a rush and how much is dictated by his ego needing a good scratch?
Regardless of any explanation, I defy you to point out a major movie star more willing to lay his body on the line for your moviegoing satisfaction. The Mission: Impossible series has legitimized itself many times over as the action spy brand of the current decade, especially after Brad Bird scraped the genre's highest highs in 2011 with Ghost Protocol. 2015's Rogue Nation proved an admirable follow-up and director Christopher McQuarrie, the first filmmaker to return as commander of another Mission, amplifies all of his respectable accomplishments in that fifth film.
The first act of Fallout is literally everything you could want from Cruise, action movies and mainstream entertainment. First, the opening sting is a helluva twist, deliberately teasing the darkest film yet before neatly pulling the rug out as if to say, "Had ya fooled, didn't we? You know we got your summer escapism covered." The stunt work in the halo jump is gripping. The following segment outdoes Bourne at hand-to-hand combat with a series-best fight sequence just before officially outclassing Bond in an atmospheric speakeasy set-piece featuring Vanessa Kirby as the White Widow, the lovely offspring of arms dealer Max from the original 1996 film.
The second act is all plot, chases and twists. There may be one gotcha moment too many but the tension in the extensive midsection becomes delectably palpable at multiple moments, oddly earned by the tasteful use of dream sequences. And while Mission: Impossible flicks usually peter out by act three, the helicopter-based climax condenses the usual convoluted plot down to a basic ticking clock scenario, coalescing in the most impressive finale the franchise has known. In terms of pure action pageantry, Fallout is copiously stuffed with brand-defining highlight moments. Even though it's the truest sequel to date, this movie could easily be enjoyed without any previous M:I knowledge despite bearing connections to each of its five predecessors in story and homage.
McQuarrie shakes things up as much as possible for those expecting the customary shift in auteurs – which has included Brian De Palma, John Woo and J. J. Abrams – while embellishing classic tropes of both the franchise and spy fare by pushing them to their extremes. Lorne Balfe, right hand man to Hans Zimmer, would make his mentor blush with his stormy, thunderous score and Rob Hardy's muted, supple cinematography is a sensible tonal deviation from Robert Elswit's clean precision. It's all a tireless effort to keep the series aging like the finest wine or like Cruise himself, who at 56 still sells Ethan Hunt's unequivocal gravity. McQuarrie implements serious stakes and an epic runtime and still is able to savor the fun, thrills and gadgetry Mission is known for.
Cruise might have two more movies in him if he's up to it but his supporting cast will likely never be stronger. Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin and Sean Harris all develop the parts they played so well in Rogue Nation while newbies Kirby, Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett keep things energized whenever present. The schtick of Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames is wearing thin – you don't need two computer guys – but the former's comic relief is always integral while the latter should have been permanently seated on the sidelines two installments ago.
As a fan of Cruise and the Mission: Impossible films in general, I could sing the praises of Fallout all day. Every one of these films is very stupid when you break them down by logic but that joyless exercise is left to sheltered YouTube snobs. These films (even II in its own parodic way) are lavishly, emphatically entertaining. Maybe it's just my male adolescence talking, but what summer crowds crave from this genre is practical exhibitionism through substantial, awe-inspiring action, all based in espionage, mystery and a relatively plausible reality. Fallout is that and the whole damn kitchen.
Such overwhelming grandiosity may leave you nostalgic for the noir-soaked prudence of the original film but Fallout at the very least rivals, if not surpasses, the best of this set-piece laden spy franchise.
To keep it brief...
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