Skip to main content

You use a scalpel. I prefer a hammer.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout
(2018)

(SPOILERS) The latest instalment of the impossibly consistent in quality Mission: Impossible franchise has been hailed as the best yet, and with but a single dud among the sextet that’s a considerable accolade. I’m not sure it's entirely deserved – there’s a particular repeated thematic blunder designed to add some weight in a "hero's validation" sense that not only falls flat, but also actively detracts from the whole – but as a piece of action filmmaking, returning director Christopher McQuarrie has done it again. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is an incredible accomplishment, the best of its ilk this side of Mad Max: Fury Road.


But let’s be clear; Fallout doesn't come close to that landmark. We're never in danger of really caring about the characters here, and the attempts to invest such an element are largely in vain. Yet from set piece to set piece this is bold, coherent, energised, enervating, enthralling spectacle. It has the life-and-limb immediacy of grittier '70s-era movie, while retaining the sense of extravagance this sort of multi-$100 million and then some production can afford, and without falling victim to incoherent editing or confused shakycam that these days tends to be a substitute for realism. And Alex Garland regular DP Rob Hardy seems to be working from the Antony Dod Mantle rule book of colour and luminous lighting; the thing pops at you all over the place.


The M:Is have always been masterpieces of the unreconstituted MacGuffin, even more so than the Bonds by having almost exclusively perfunctory villains. The consequence with the Bonds is that we don't often recall the detail of Bond’s mission but we do know the villain he had to take down to complete it. With the M:Is, we don’t usually recall either (Philip Seymour Hoffman being an honourable exception). This may seem like a vital component that ought to matter, but it rarely does; these movies are all about the breathless ride, and it's only when the pictures pause long enough to enable our recollection they are otherwise – M:I-2– that they stumble. Here, the MacGuffin-ness is unapologetically classical and basic; setting off nuclear bombs via black market plutonium cores. Really, though, it's all about Ethan Hunt, just as the Bonds have become all about Bond (in terms of not just the focus of our attention, but the focus of the nefarious plotting). These are ever-smaller worlds.


Much crossing and double-crossing comes as part of the deal, to such frequent and giddy effect, it borders on parody (I half expected the fake-out reveal involving Alec Baldwin to break the fourth wall, so many layers of manipulation have been fabricated by this point). Sean Harris is back, playing both Solomon Lane and Benji – I wish he’d had longer as Benji and a chance to go in for some Simon Pegg shtick – and he’s an ever-formidable presence, injecting life into a fairly vanilla villain (still, he survives, so there’s always an opportunity to make him count next time,  but lines like "The fallout of all your good intentions" are straight out of the Spectre lexicon of shite mischief making). 


Likewise, there isn't much to Henry Cavill's CIA guy August Walker aside from his duplicity, thuggishness and a wicked cool tache. The main highlight here is the clash of imposing Cavill against diminutive Cruise; Supes performs serviceably, but the part doesn't play to his strengths (more than sufficiently exhibited with his Bond dry-run Napoleon Solo). 


More effective are Vanessa Kirby's White Widow (playing the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave's Max from the De Palma original), an arms dealer played for playfully murky motives, and Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa. 



Somehow McQuarrie contrives to foster a degree of doubt over the latter’s early motives and succeeds. He won't be able to do that again. Will he? Less successful is the rather redundant attempt to frame Ethan as John Lark, something that feels tiresome rather than an extra string to a bow of thorny dilemmas; likewise, the Widow's repeated moving of the goalposts on bargaining without Ethan calling her bluff (and, since the demand for Ilsa's head on a platter never comes to anything, it seems particularly unnecessary).


Honestly, though, these aren't biggies. Where McQuarrie makes an uncharacteristic meal of things is trying to inject the human component into Ethan's endeavours. Did Tom whisper in his ear that he's never going to play a superhero now, so please could Chris make him Batman? That's effectively the announcement. From the frankly ludicrous – and yeah, I know the IMF is fantasy, but still – repositioning of a taskforce that's supposed to make hard, nay impossible, choices to one that will always put the individual above the many on the basis that hey, if you have a superman (not Cavill) involved, you can pull both off and crack a million-dollar smile at the end? And that accompanied by a beat whereby Angela Bassett (who deserves better) is basically required to stir and repeat the now-full-of-stab-wounds Alec Baldwin’s turnaround of two movies ago. She's actually right first time in her assessment of Ethan being responsible for this shit storm ("If he had held onto the plutonium, we wouldn’t be having this conversation").



On top of that is the disappointingly superfluous inclusion of Michelle Monaghan, who's basically required to deliver – well, actually, of all things, Ving Rhames delivers it for her, which only comes across as a wee bit nonsensical – a speech about how both mutually realised what Ethan needed to do was leave her in order to get on with saving the world (I'm paraphrasing, but not that much, insanely). Julia essentially needs to be there to justify Ethan getting the greenlight to be with Ilsa (but do we want him to be? She's much too cool for Ethan's school).



Also factoring in to this is that Monaghan’s a very sympathetic fit for this series; she and Rhames have an instant rapport. Ferguson's great, but an inherently no-nonsense character, which ultimately makes for too little contrast with Ethan in the long term (Pegg, meanwhile, gets a marvellously out-of-his-depth fight with Harris, but contrastingly, an "I don't believe it" scuba outing to save Lane from a submerged prison van; he's also enough of a plonker that he completely ignores the case full of plutonium in favour of imitating Ethan with a gun).



Still, the deal here is the impossible stunts, scrapes and close shaves, and Tom coming away unscathed, the odd broken leg or two aside. The picture isn't that breakneck to begin with, taking time to set up its above-mentioned (lame) theme, followed by a deft fake-out attack on three religious capitals (while the Apostles/Syndicate seem very dedicated, their ultimate aim is a touch nebulous, nominally bringing down the global system – and one might argue in their favour that they do at least see the broader problem as one of globalism, rather than a particular petty vendetta against a particular petty regime – but only when they aren't distracted by Ethan Hunt).



Why do Ethan and August need to HALO jump into Paris? I can't remember, but it's very cool and sets the tone for what's to follow, which includes an oddly-shaded fundraiser in a (plush) backroom that has the vibe of an Eyes Wide Shut outtake, a superlative fight sequence in a men's room, and a breathlessly giddy breakout sequence extracting Lane but mostly consisting of chasing Ethan on a bike in a manner that out French ConnectionThe French Connection. And then he chases Walker all over London.



The extended third act is similarly relentless, juggling a ticking clock – I say juggling, as McQuarrie doesn’t so much stretch the fifteen-minute countdown as wilfully throw it out the nearest chopper window, but laudably so – of Ethan pursuing the detonator with Luther, Julia, Benji and Ilsa hunting and/or defusing the nuclear devices. This reaches its zenith with Benji being strangled by Lane and Ilsa strapped to a chair, struggling to come to his rescue. On the more hilariously heightened side, the helicopters holding Ethan and Walker plunge down a crevasse as they duke it out.



Cruise is 56 now, but still looking a decade plus younger; either he's got CGI de-aging on his side to a much higher standard than Bradley’s disconcertingly waxy visage in Allied, or he's putting a supercharged clone through its paces. I wouldn't count against him leading the M:I franchise for another decade, given he's already done it ten years beyond what should have been feasible. And Paramount will pull out all the stops to make it so; while there's no doubt the series could work without him (as long as another Jeremy Renner isn't being viewed to take over), it's the desire for dedicated stunt work that has seen these movies find their particular niche, when ever more CGI-assisted feats have become the unremarkable norm elsewhere. Is Mission: Impossible - Fallout the best M:I yet? I’ll get back to you on that, but only because this series is an embarrassment of riches. Next time, though, much as I enjoyed Lorne Balfe's score, can whoever takes the reins leave Lao Schifrin's theme unvarnished? It's so much more effective that way.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.