Cruise and McQuarrie daringly connect most of the dots in this Impossible series
The M:I-Fallout team: Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise, and Ving Raimes. Are they getting too old for this sh*t?
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Be prepared: I will spend a great deal of time in this review eating crow. As a movie lover and critic, I’ve always been hesitant to succumb to the charming embrace of Tom Cruise. Throughout his long and illustrious career, he has certainly proven to be an eager beaver, the most avid seeker of our collective attention. To my mind, he has gone about this task with a level of grinningly gleeful desperation, bordering on the maniacal. Cruise, in our real world of movie stars, is like Lex Luthor and Superman merged into one body, yet still battling with one another for control. He’s cunning and shrewd about his plans for world domination, but he longs to be the hero he believes we need.
Which makes this current version of Ethan Hunt, his rendition of the protagonist in the long-running franchise (an adaptation of the television series created by Bruce Geller) so fascinating, because his do-gooder Boy Scout of a spy, after all this time, has actually become the kind of action hero who matches up with where Cruise is in his career arc (whether he wants to admit it or not). Hunt has chosen to accept impossible missions for so long that he’s given up on any kind of meaningful life. The thing is, he doesn’t realize the toll of such choices.
For Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which is the most direct sequel to Rogue Nation, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) occupies the surprising position of being the first director to helm successive movies. He pits Hunt against a splinter cell of the Syndicate, and their broodingly charismatic leader Lane (Sean Harris), as the anarchistic faction seeks to cause worldwide pain by detonating three nuclear devices at the same time. The pain is personal for Hunt because he captured Lane in Rogue Nation, but lost the three dangerous core elements for these bombs at the start of this movie when he made the choice to save the life of his teammate Luther (Ving Rhames–the only other Mission: Impossible performer to appear in all of the movies of the franchise).
Hunt’s loyalty is apparent, even though it is questioned by the CIA task force leader (Angela Bassett) who forces her own cleaner August Walker (Henry Cavill) onto Hunt’s team in the race to stop the inevitably impossible plan from happening. What’s also crystal clear is that Hunt is slowing down, in part because Cruise himself is no spring chicken. He still sacrifices himself, performing all of his own stunts to provide McQuarrie with authentic sequences requiring fewer cuts, but the wear and tear shows. It creates a real sense of weariness in Hunt that helps to define the character in ways that McQuarrie would probably rather not have to spell out in his script. Such character beats aren’t supposed to be a part of a franchise like this, right?
By saving time and narrative beats, Fallout gets to focus on being the best compilation of Mission: Impossible moments. That doesn’t mean though that the movie merely works overtime, weaving plot and character strands from nearly every other installment in this disjointed series. It does that, quite well in fact, but McQuarrie goes the extra mile, teasing us with hints and references to a host of action movies and thrillers like the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight films (Lane is a beautiful merging of the sensibilities of The Joker and Bane), The Matrix, and even The Usual Suspects (which McQuarrie co-wrote and refers back to through the twisted fun of assumed identities). Yet the writer-director has no intention of tricking or overwhelming us while we’re watching this movie. McQuarrie’s aim here is to entertain us, by keeping us in the game the whole time. He wants to make the impossible appear effortlessly possible and available to each and every person in the theater.
And he’s aided and abetted by Cruise, who works best, overall, in small doses. His high-energy assault in the Paul Thomas Anderson film Magnolia is efficient and effective because he’s part of an ensemble piece. I completely fell for his cameo turn in Tropic Thunder as Les Grossman where he’s a revelation, a comedic flash grenade, especially doing his post-credit dance sequence. Under wraps, to a certain extent in that fat suit and the makeup, he’s uninhibited, but also paradoxically contained. There is a freedom in his movement and expressiveness because we don’t feel like we’re watching Tom Cruise, and he knows it.
Fallout grants him a similar level of independence from being the old “Tom Cruise.” No longer does he need to be the perfect running machine. I would argue that as this current version of Ethan Hunt, Cruise maintains that strong sense of right and wrong, but his aging fallibility matters far more.