With a few notable exceptions, practical stunts and choreographed action with as much done in camera as possible have not exactly been the stock in trade of recent blockbusters. Thankfully, this trend has been ignored by the Mission Impossible franchise, with 2011’s Ghost Protocol and 2015’s Rogue Nation pushing the boundaries of studio movie stunt work, seeing Tom Cruise scale the Burj Khalifa and hang off a flying plane. Yet, no matter how impressive those two entries into the series were, they are positively dwarfed by the flawless action of this latest instalment, Fallout. It’s packed with 2018’s best action scenes, easily matching and surpassing its fellow spy series like Bond and Bourne, and sometimes ascending to the level of Mad Max and even The Raid.
Retaining a director – Christopher McQuarrie – for the first time in franchise history, Fallout plays as a direct sequel to Rogue Nation instead of the more episodic story moves that Mission fans are used to. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is joined by long time supporting characters like Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) as he hunts for three plutonium cores that surviving Rogue Nation baddie Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) plans on using to construct portable nukes.
Not only does this direct continuation allow for a stronger emotional pull, but the retaining of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and the reintroduction of Hunt’s ex-wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) allow Fallout to put paid to Mission’s somewhat sinister tradition of abandoning its female characters after a single film. The plot itself is a bit MacGuffin-y, with a hilarious surfeit of twists and double-crosses, but that’s all part of the Mission charm. This is a spy adventure through and through, embracing cliché in its story without letting it become too winking or hackneyed and breaking totally new ground with its action.
Each and every fight, car chase, and parkour sequence is astonishing, a heady mix of exhilarating artistry, painstaking planning, and nerves of steel. A HALO jump will have you gasping for air before a Parisian bike chase makes you feel the wind whipping at your face. It’s all heart in mouth stuff, made additionally thrilling by the fact that you can see that it’s Cruise himself doing most of these mad stunts for real. It’s the work of a true movie star – an entertainer so committed to his craft that he genuinely puts his life at risk, all the while staying in character.
This impressiveness is at its peak in the film’s final act, the centrepiece of which is a helicopter chase and fight between Hunt and antagonistic CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill and his moustache), sent to spy on the IMF by Agency bigwig Erica Sloan (an entertainingly cold turn from Angela Bassett). It’s the best action sequence of the year by a million miles, and you’d have to look back to Mad Max Fury Road to find something of a similar pulse-pounding intensity and logistical genius. Every duck and weave of the helicopters is terrifying, every inch of progress made by Hunt absurdly cathartic.
It’s a perfect finale to a film that zips by at ridiculous pace, feeling a whole lot shorter than its near-150 minute run time. Fallout is thunderously fun, even outside of the stunts (though they really are the prime draw), McQuarrie peppering his script with snappy one-liners and deft jokes. In a truly inspired move, Agent Walker, despite his proficiency in maiming and murder, is essentially a giant moron, and it’s highly amusing to watch the IMF outsmart him. Cavill does a fine line in impotent frustration as well as cold fury, managing to pose a genuine threat regardless of idiocy.
Not enough praise can possibly be given to Cruise or Rob Hardy’s cinematography team, who essentially had to perform the same stunts, but with heavy cameras strapped to them. Their achievement stands tall as a feat of not only moviemaking but real-world bravery and, even when they’re planted on terra firma, they find room for consistently interesting shots. An arms deal between the undercover IMF and morally ambiguous broker White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) that takes place within a heaving EDM party is slick and immersive, by turns disorienting and crystal clear.
Everything you could possibly want out of a spy caper, you’ll find in Fallout, and it goes above and beyond any expectations in terms of its action. You’ll find almost nothing better in western blockbusters, and very little better even in East Asian cinema. It’s a staggering piece of bravura work that takes, well, the impossible, puts it on the shoulders of one of the world’s most famous men, who then delivers it you in the comfort of a cinema. Exactly what a summer movie should be.