Mission: Impossible as a series is one that has defied expectations. For one, it is an adaptation of a classic TV series whose adaptation annoyed the stars of the original and in general is not a quick ticket to critical success. They also hired a director whose work is uneven to say the least. Then again, this was on the heels of the massively successful The Fugitive adaptation that proved you could do it right, and for the most part, the first M:I film did just that in 1996. The vault heist scene is still getting ripped off and parodied to this day, and the train scene, though not all the effects have held up, is still genuinely exciting. It’s a fun film which would set the course for establishing star Tom Cruise as a special kind of action star. The kind who even with all the off the screen stuff, is still magnetic to watch not the least when he’s doing his increasingly crazy stunts.
2000’s Mission: Impossible 2 should have been an improvement, upgrading the director to action legend John Woo and in general the advancement of time and technology. Instead, we got a director whose work in English has generally been ridiculously silly (sometimes it works, usually it doesn’t) and was no different here. It didn’t quite work and while the film was alright, it didn’t quite stick in the collective consciousness. 2006’s annoyingly titled Mission: Impossible III (pick a damn numbering convention), brought in Alias and Lost creator (the former is what got him the job) JJ. Abrams to direct in his debut and while he did fine, I don’t think I can tell you one thing that happened in it.
It was the fourth installment though, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, where the series redefined itself much the way fellow 2011 film Fast Five did as one of the premiere action franchises around. The Incredibles and Ratatouille director Brad Bird made his live-action debut with a thrilling, funny, action packed installment that was not only far and away the best installment yet, but one of the best action films of the decade. The Burj Khalifa scene may be deservedly the most famous as Cruise stunts reached the stuff of legend, but the sandstorm after stuck with me just as much. The director carousel continued once more with Cruise regular Christopher McQuarrie stepping into the role for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (finally they have a naming convention they like). While still a fantastic film and well above the first three installments, it wasn’t able to quite live up to its predecessor.
For the first time, we have a repeat director in McQuarrie (who once again writes the film) and in many ways this feels like a follow-up to his last effort. Various threads and supporting characters carry over from that title including breakout star Rebecca Ferguson. The film concerns the IMF (Impossible Mission Force, not that the series seems willing to admit that silly title out loud any more) consisting of Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as well as Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and now run by Alec Baldwin. Gone though is Jeremy Renner who was busy probably being in Avengers 4 and who had been built up as a secondary lead in the past two films. The IMF is an American espionage task force that specializes in well, the name says it all, but also in misdirects, masks, and outsmarting their opponents. It’s the heroic espionage unit when contrasted against the CIA, here represented by newcomers Angela Bassett (as the Director) and Henry Cavill (as a field agent).
Hunt, dealing with guilt over his failed marriage to Michelle Monaghan’s character (an issue dealt with in Ghost Protocol, but she was only really a character before in III), heads out on a mission to purchase plutonium from a black-market supplier to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. The situation inevitably goes sideways and the IMF (and Cavill) must set things right filled with all the twists and turns you’d expect from a Mission: Impossible film.
The action is always going to be front and center in any M:I film, and it absolutely delivers here. There may not be one single Burj level set piece, but there are so many fantastic set pieces that the sum of them all is perhaps unmatched in the series. They are all shot with crisp long shots, not resorting to choppy editing to make things exciting. It’s certainly a risky proposition to let actors to their own stunts, putting hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars at stake for the vanity of multi-millionaire, but it’s hard to deny that the visceral thrill of knowing that it is really Tom Cruise doing all that crazy, nerve-racking shit like halo jumps while also minimizing the need to cut away. It’s just immaculately shot by cinematographer Rob Hardy (Ex Machina, Annihilation) with Lorne Balfe’s (The Florida Project) heavily percussive score adding even more to the fun.
Cavill is enjoyable here filling in the space vacated by Renner (who I wished could have been here), mostly serious with a few shades of humor, but it’s the rest of the cast who shines the most. They have such chemistry by this point and each gets plenty of an opportunity in the spotlight. The film balances its lighter and darker elements remarkably well. One of the reasons that the series has made its action scenes so enjoyable is the way it has integrated humor into them, and that continues here, which makes them not only funny, but also helps keep my eyes from glazing over and makes them more memorable.
I’m not ready to call Mission: Impossible – Fallout the best of the series just yet (I want to let it sit for a bit first), but it is certainly debatably one or two. I went in with unreasonably high expectations and it managed to live up to my hype for it. It’s big, exciting, funny, and proof that Cruise hasn’t lost a step (except for you know when he was obviously limping from when he hurt himself). The story is a bit lacking, but it does what it needs to in order for the characters and action to excel. Simply a fantastic action film from beginning to end.