Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong. (from IMDB)
It's unlikely that, back when the first Mission: Impossible film released in 1996, anyone could have predicted the franchise would still be going strong 22 years later. The popular 1960's television-show-turned-modern-movie-franchise hasn't had a perfect run, but it's one that has actually improved with almost every entry... except for that first sequel, that is. 1996's Mission: Impossible was the quintessential 90's action spy flick, but it mixed in a twisty-turny plot that ended up frustrating the average moviegoer. It wasn't till 2000 that a sequel followed, and that one used the overly stylized touches of director John Woo to catapult the franchise full-on into La La Land. It was entertaining at the time, but it hasn't aged well (at all), and fits absolutely nowhere in the grand scheme of the franchise. The only constant between Mission: Impossible II and the rest of the series is that it stars Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt (but barely acting like Ethan Hunt) and Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell. Otherwise, it does nothing for the series.
But that all changed in 2006 when J.J. Abrams resuscitated the Mission: Impossible brand, centering the story around Ethan Hunt's humanity and his attempts to find a normal life amidst his day-to-day as an IMF agent (who apparently wasn't even in the field anymore). The movie is still a gripping action thriller that seems to be the start of something truly special. Five years later, we finally got the fourth film, Ghost Protocol (they decided to drop the numbering), and this time, The Incredibles director Brad Bird took over directorial duties. This is the movie that really started to highlight Tom Cruise's death-defying stunt performing. It's this fourth Mission where Tom actually climbed outside and onto the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai... and it's a truly incredible sequence.
We didn't get a follow-up for another four years, however, when Rogue Nation released in 2015. And just when naysayers were ready to write off "yet another Mission: Impossible" movie, it turned out to be one of the best yet (if not the best). Ethan finally went up against The Syndicate and once again was on the run against one of his greatest foes. It did well at the box office, too, so much so that a follow-up was announced shortly thereafter and we now have the sixth installment -- Mission: Impossible: Fallout. It creates a bit of a trilogy with a narrative that flows between Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, and Fallout, but it also develops a major plot point from Mission: Impossible III, giving us a satisfying film that is the pay-off of 12 years of great story-building.
Fallout is set up to be what Spectre was supposed to be for the newest James Bond franchise. For Spectre, it was the second film in a row to use the same director, and it was coming off of the surprise success (critically and financially) of Skyfall. Spectre set out to do exactly what Fallout accomplishes -- take the consequences of the central hero's actions and threads started from previous films, and bring them all together (and to a rolling boil). Spectre tried to do this, but it never felt natural. It felt forced. It tried to unite things from previous films that were never meant to be united and couldn't possibly have been related to each other, all while hanging it on a new villain who supposedly had a personal history with Bond. It was a mess. An entertaining mess, yes, but a mess no less.
Fallout is a big, emotional crescendo for the character of Ethan Hunt. He's proven time and again throughout the series to be the hero. A hero you want on your side, and a hero you can look up to. He gets beaten up - to the point of near death - and comes back for more. We've seen him risk everything to save a friend and it always has some kind of consequence. In Fallout, we see just what those consequences are (and could be), and Ethan is pushed to the brink where the viewer wonders if he's actually going to have to violate his core values to get the job done. It becomes a nail-biter in the process.
There are actually moments where, strangely, Fallout feels like Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight -- in a good way. One action sequence occurs entirely silently with only Lorne Balfe's intense score playing, and it feels like one of those gritty Nolan moments where he steps back to let Hans Zimmer feed the emotion to the viewer with the film's score. In fact, Balfe mimics The Dark Knight theme at points in the film ("Change of Plan" on the film's score is a good example, while "The Exchange" has a Dark Knight Rises vibe), which only reinforces this feeling. (To be fair, he's actually collaborated with Zimmer over the years, so that could explain this.) But Balfe's score is overall darker and more intense and epic than the scores from the previous films (which I've often totally loved. Danny Elfman did the first film, Zimmer the second, Michael Giacchino 3 and 4, and Joe Kraemer did 5). The score for Rogue Nation had been one of the series' best, capturing a fun, thematic action score, but the darkness and frenetic feel that Balfe captures only ups the intensity factor for Fallout's overall ambience.
It didn't hurt that I had rewatched all five previous films in the days leading up to seeing Fallout either. Doing so had helped to make Rogue Nation an incredible ride at the theater when I saw it three years ago, and it had a similar effect here. You can't appreciate all the nods to the previous films and its story progressions and character developments without having it fresh in your mind. Fallout beautifully carries the story forward while raising the stakes for our heroes. Also, Fallout is a direct sequel to Rogue Nation, so it really helps to know what happened in that film when seeing this one. Given that it seemed Cruise's original plan was to keep each film separate and standalone, it's obvious to see how solid the past 4 films have been once they started building off of each other. But Fallout doesn't ignore the 1996 original at all. In fact, there's a significant nod to Max, the arms dealer, who had been played by Vanessa Redgrave. In this film, Ethan walks in on some kind of reception where a young woman who sounds remarkably like Redgrave is talking about Max and her love for "paradoxes" (as Max referred to Ethan in the first film). It's pretty subtle, and only original fans would catch it, but it felt like a little fan appreciation moment.
IMAX is really the perfect viewing format for Mission: Impossible Fallout. You could tell when the screen expanded for the moments that were shot with IMAX cameras -- like Ethan's insane helicopter stunts near the end, for example. The action scenes were frequently thrilling and nerve-racking too, which just added to the overall film. And it's a thrill to not only have Rebecca Ferguson reprise her role from Rogue Nation, but have Simon Pegg back for his fourth straight outing. He adds a lot to these movies - especially some light, well-placed humor, and it's also great to see him get involved more in some action sequences. But it was especially great to have a story like this that also stirs in plenty of emotional weight as well as even some ethical questions to chew on (like Ethan's struggle with getting the job done while still being able to do the right thing). There are also several fantastic twists in the story that are shocking and ones you just don't see coming, and that just makes this ride even more fun to be on.
The content was rougher, in some ways, than previous Mission films. This installment probably has the most profanity of any of the previous movies, unfortunately. Henry Cavill's August Walker even drops the franchise's first "F" word at one point, which was also disappointing (Superman, no!). The very first film had some bloody moments for sure, and this one definitely does, although it isn't all that gratuitous. A character is shot in the face, but we never see the wound. However, we see a large pool of blood on the floor and see others' reactions to how horrific the sight must be (and a comment is made that the man "doesn't have a face" anymore). Other scenes have some brutal action - like stabbing and even characters getting shot - that aren't bloody at all, but the motions and actions are certainly brutal or violent. Some really rough scenes take place at the end of the film, with characters being brutally strangled with ropes and such, and one character's face gets severely burned and somewhat melted, which we see for a few scenes. Overall, this movie is really intense, and not appropriate for young viewers.
If you're a fan of the franchise, Fallout feels like a natural story progression and just what we've been waiting for. It's excellent, and easily one of the year's best films. I'd love to see the team out for another Mission, but I can't imagine how it could continue to just get better from here.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 7/27/18)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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