Choose to Accept It - Why Mission: Impossible - Fallout is the Best Film of the Series.
People often compare a great movie franchise to comfort food. There's just that special feeling you get when you reconnect with your favorite characters and worlds onscreen that’s similar to the satisfaction of getting to eat your favorite plate of spaghetti or nachos or ice cream. With the Mission: Impossible movie series though, the experience is more appropriately likened to the spicy ghost pepper dish you like to try once every couple of years that brings you to the edge of a heart attack, but is so thrilling and tasty you can’t help but go back and try it again. With each new entry, this series inexplicably keeps trying to top itself, with its stunts and set-pieces becoming more mind-blowing each time star Tom Cruise hits the screen, making this the tastiest meal that blockbuster cinema has to offer.
But is the newest Mission: Impossible the best yet? Diminishing returns were the standard for decades when it came to sequels, but in recent times that trend has turned around, with franchises such as The Fast and the Furious and the Marvel Cinematic Universe able to somehow top themselves almost every time they release a new feature. In fact, with F&F you could argue the series didn't even get good until its fifth (!) film, and while I would state that as a whole Mission: Impossibles as a film series has always been good (yes even M:I 2), Fallout somehow manages to reign supreme and here’s why.
It’s Clobberin’ Time…
REASON #1: IT HAS THE SERIES' MOST BREATHTAKING STUNTS
First, I'd like to admit upfront that Fallout was the first Mission: Impossible that I managed to catch in it's IMAX presentation, and each time the screen would open up into the giant format you knew you were in for something truly special. The movie is like hitting a nonstop wall of pure excitement and thrills going from its opening shootout to its instantly classic action finale. This is a movie that does not allow you a bathroom break, as one showstopper after another keeps hitting you in the face, highlighted by the film’s signature moments; Tom Cruise performing an actual HALO jump and the sheer recklessness of the actor boarding and piloting his own helicopter during the film’s climax.
If only one of these sequences took place in the movie, then perhaps I’d still give the edge to 2011’s Ghost Protocol which featured Cruise’s Ethan Hunt conquering gravity while scaling the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, but the combination of both exhilarating sequences on top of the film's stellar chases and hand to hand combat is too much for almost any blockbuster to overcome. The HALO jump alone, in which Cruise performed 106 skydives to capture the footage needed for the stunt, is the type of thing you used to see from Roger Moore’s era of Bond pictures, like in the death defying acrobatics of The Spy who Loved Me or Moonraker. On the other hand though, those stunts weren’t ever performed by Moore himself, whereas Tom Cruise always goes that extra step to make sure to add an extra layer of danger and excitement to his performances as Ethan Hunt by not letting a stuntman take his place.
This goes double for the film’s final 20 minutes, where Tom Cruise learned to pilot a helicopter and performs stunts that border on complete insanity. Fallout’s helicopter battle is the sort of thing that action fans dream of, blurring the line of fantasy and reality as yes, Ethan Hunt is most certainly in mortal danger, but you can’t help but feel the same level of tension for Cruise himself. As he falls from various air craft, buildings and cliffsides, Cruise puts himself in the sort of rare company reserved for the likes of Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan, which as high a praise I can give to an action star.
REASON #2: THE SERIES’ BEST FISTICUFFS
Ever since Mission: Impossible II established Ethan Hunt as a world class fighter with a predilection for face-smashing spin kicks and throat-crushing elbow strikes, there’s been a certain joy in watching the man destroy all manner of villainy with his bare hands. Where Fallout excels again is in showing our favorite IMF agent still quite formidable but bringing him back down to Earth a bit.
The movie has fights galore throughout, but the real standout is an early bathroom fight featuring Cruise’s Hunt, teaming up with series newcomer Henry Cavill as Agent Walker against a hard-hitting assassin played by Liang Yang. Director Christopher McQuarrie stages the showdown with the same energy and brutality he brought to Jack Reacher, with each performer getting to shine with different forms of athleticism as they throw each other through toilet stalls and porcelain sinks. Also, like the best scenes of this type, we even get insights into the characters and who they are, in addition to the sequence being an outstanding knockdown, drag out slugfest. Character work through action is a tricky thing to pull off, but McQuarrie and his cast pull it off with aplomb.
REASON #3: ROAD RAGE
While I’ve long maintained that the best chases in this series still belong to action maestro John Woo and his motorcycle mayhem showcase in Mission: Impossible II, Fallout comes the closest and perhaps even matches the thrill of Cruise’s early 2000s vehicular stunt show. With sequences that manage make one recall everything from The Dark Knight to The French Connection, director Christopher McQuarrie pulls out all the stops when it comes to complete pandemonium on the motorways.
To be honest, it’s tough to even a pick a favorite here, but if I had to I’d probably go with the film’s Parisian Arc de Triomphe motorcycle chase. Featuring Ethan Hunt chasing down villains while also being chased by police, the sequence has the IMF Agent driving against traffic in what looks to be an incredibly dangerous feat that was all orchestrated in about 2 hours of setup and filming. Whether it comes to watching Tom Cruise do his mandatory motorcycle acrobatics, his best Popeye Doyle-like wheelman or even on foot racing across the rooftops of London, both William Friedkin and John Frankenheimer would be more than proud.
REASON #4: CONTINUITY
Since J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions took over the series with Mission: Impossible III a lot more care has been taken with the series as far as continuity is concerned. No longer does this series feel like a mini-reboot with each new adventure like the first two films (and other series like classic 007 films) did, but instead feel like part of a whole, which I believe adds to the emotional resonance of Fallout like none of its predecessors have been able to achieve before. Examples such as Hunt’s relationships with Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust (the first of the series’ female leads to appear in back to back movies) as well as to returning villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) bring weight to Cruise’s character and his issues, as well add a terrific amount of immediacy to the film’s plot. Even bringing back Alec Baldwin as IMF director as well as giving Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg adequate screen time to do character work really make this film standout on a emotional level that’s always felt a bit superficial in the past.
REASON #5: GRADE A TOM CRUISE
I know Cruise gets a lot of flak for being more of a pure movie star than a great actor, despite Oscar nominated performances in Magnolia and Born on the Fourth of July, as well as memorable turns in Rain Man, Jerry Maguire, Eyes Wide Shut, and Minority Report, but Fallout once again showcases just how solid a leading man he is in front of a camera, even when he’s not dangling from a cliff or punching a bad guy in the face. While Cruise’ Jackie Chan side is (rightfully) always celebrated by the movie-going public, his Cary Grant-level charisma often gets taken for granted, and once again he brings the goods to Ethan Hunt. Better yet, and going hand in hand with the film’s stronger reliance on continuity, is the fact that Hunt has a weariness to him that’s never been as apparent onscreen before.
I’d liken Cruise’s performance to Daniel Craig’s in Skyfall, with both Hunt and James Bond having to deal with the weight of their previous adventures finally starting to catch up to them, taking the stakes which they are fighting to a much loftier position. The joy in watching Cruise as his most iconic pop character is how he doesn’t make his heroics look easy, but the difference this time out is how in the aftermath Ethan Hunt doesn’t come out of every situation unscathed.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout is so good, I'd almost be favor of ending the series here because my mind boggles as to how they would ever top it. This is the pinnacle of this series so far, raising the level of the entire franchise to perhaps the best example of action movie making of the modern era. I'm all for watching Tom Cruise fall of cliffs of insanity, but I'd hate to see Mission: Impossible finally make an entry I'd consider a stumble.