Move Over 007: Mission: Impossible - Fallout

It’s very rare these days that a pure action movie hits that one would consider a masterpiece.  It seems that for every “Mad Max: Fury Road” we’re served up about 10 “Skyscrapers,” “Rampages,” and “Fast and Furious” films (sorry Dwayne Johnson, we like you, but you’re in bad movies).  This is what makes the latest entry into the “Mission: Impossible” franchise so refreshing: It has the perfect blend of slick action set pieces, sharp cinematography, likable characters, and intriguing plot points.

The overarching plot of this movie is pretty basic.  The Impossible Mission Force (IMF) has botched a mission to keep plutonium from an evil terrorist group called “The Syndicate.”  Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his usual sidekicks Luther and Benji (Ving Rames and Simon Pegg respectively) have to fix their collective screw up and retrieve the material before it can be used to make nuclear weapons that the bad guys plan on using to wipe out an enormous percentage of the global population.

Like with any good film in the “Spy-Thriller” genre, there are twists and turns, and a few side plots (most of which I won’t get into here).  One of my favorite wrinkles in the movie involves a focus on Ethan’s relationships with both his ex-wife (Michelle Monaghan) and Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), which both bring an emotional core that is typically missing from our main character in this series.  Tom Cruise admittedly pretty much plays “bland action man” in these films (I like to compare him to Seinfeld, in that Jerry is pretty standard, while being surrounded by more eccentric and enjoyable characters), and the development of both of these relationships make you feel emotionally invested in what’s going on with him like you never have before.  It brought a lot of weight to the film that I wasn’t at all expecting.

The notable newcomer to the franchise is Henry Cavill, who plays a CIA operative named Walker that is assigned to keep tabs on Hunt and his team.  He’s a more than welcome addition, though some of his line deliveries toward the beginning of the film are a bit wooden and over the top.  A good portion of his scenes involve him verbally sparring with Tom Cruise, which feels a bit too formulaic, but by the end of the movie we’ve settled into his character and he becomes one of the most fun parts of the film.  Watching Cavill kick ass is extremely enjoyable.

But you don’t come to these movies for intriguing characters, do you?  What you buy your tickets for are the action set pieces, which this franchise has now garnered a reputation of offering up in abundance.  Have no fear: this movie has a ton of action, and it is some of the most engaging and nail-biting stuff that’s hit the screen in quite some time.  There are chases on foot through alleys, car/motorcycle chases down busy streets, bare-knuckle brawls, and an extremely impressive helicopter chase as well as a boat-load of other crazy things to witness.

All of these scenes are incredibly intense, while never feeling too frenetic.  It’s always easy to comprehend what is at stake, where all of our characters are, and what all of their roles are in what is playing out on screen.  It can’t be stressed enough how big of an achievement this is considering the complexity of some of these scenes.  It really must be seen to be believed.  I would imagine storyboards/concept drawings must have been especially critical in the process of bringing the script to life.

This film was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who upon leaving the cinema I have declared to be a mad genius.  The only movie in recent memory that I would feel comfortable comparing it to would be George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”, in that it’s mind-boggling how well the intricately woven action flows.  The artistic vision on display by McQuarrie here is awe inspiring.  The vast majority of the action on display feels authentic (the stunt work is second to none), and even when it doesn’t the audience won’t mind because what’s happening is just too damn spectacular to care whether or not it’s believable.  The framing of the shots are excellent, and the camera moves through the chaos in ways that you won’t believe.

The “Spy-Thriller” genre has always held a special place in my heart as I grew up religiously watching 007 movies.  I’ve always thought the Bond franchise was more interesting than anything in the “Mission: Impossible” series, in that James Bond has more character than Ethan Hunt and the cartoony villains bring far more life into the franchise than any of the foes in the M:I films.  As much as I hate to say it, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” has changed my mind: While not as thought-provoking as Bond movies can be (the brilliant “Skyfall” being the most recent example of a stellar Bond film), it is as much fun to watch as any of them (that’s counting all 26 of them… it’s that good).  With “Ghost Protocol,” “Rogue Nation,” and now “Fallout,” 007 has met his match.  Mr. Bond, it’s your move.

Grade: A+