In a recent edition of my Franchise Opportunities column, I made the case for why the Mission: Impossible series needs to nail down a finite conclusion to Ethan Hunt’s story. This notion likely already has Paramount — a studio whose only other heavy-hitting franchise is facing a bit of a crossroads — dreading the day Tom Cruise calls it quits. But with the actor already in his mid-50s and the series riding on a miraculous creative high 20+ years in, Mission: Impossible, I argued, would be better off ending on its own terms, rather than being forced to close the file on the IMF (Impossible Mission Force, natch) due to dwindling box office returns. After all, an action franchise this audacious, intense and immensely entertaining can’t possibly maintain that level of quality forever, right? Then here comes Mission: Impossible — Fallout with a compelling counter-argument for why Cruise and returning writer/director Christopher McQuarrie should never leave this series behind.
This sixth installment sees Hunt (Cruise) and his team — including regular players Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg — forced to work alongside CIA Agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) to retrieve some plutonium. In the aftermath of Hunt’s capture of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), leader of The Syndicate, a new threat has emerged, and of course, it’s up to the IMF to prevent chaos from erupting all over the world. These films tend to start from a fairly straightforward place before all the twists and turns set in, and Fallout is no exception. Before long, a simple retrieval mission evolves into a complex web of twists, reveals and consequences. Perhaps most satisfyingly, the story not only dovetails nicely off of the previous film, McQuarrie’s own Rogue Nation, but features callbacks to the previous installments as well. Fallout even finds a new way to tap into Ethan Hunt’s past and plumb the depths of his character like never before. Not bad for a franchise this late in the game.
Thanks to McQuarrie’s script, the film’s narrative never gets lost in the spectacle of it all. Fallout features some of the most poignant character beats and high-stakes drama of the entire franchise. That being said, the stunts somehow still raise the bar for what audiences have seen in films like this. Cruise continues to amaze with his physical commitment to the series, leaping from buildings, jumping out of airplanes and engaging in some of the most hardcore combat this side of John Wick. In a time where most blockbuster action films (like the Fast and Furious series, for instance) have resorted to computer-generated effects, Mission: Impossible is one of the only major brands to remain devoted to stuntwork and that classic movie magic. At times, Fallout flows seamlessly from one breath-taking set piece to the next, building suspense with every step the story takes. By the end, audiences will be gasping for air and ready to book their next trip back to experience it all over again.
As far as the performances are concerned, moviegoers waiting to see if Cavill’s infamous mustache was worth the wonky finished effects featured in Justice League can rest easy. The actor offers more charisma and physicality as Walker than we’ve seen from him in ages, easily holding his own next to Cruise. Harris is once again menacing and calculating as Hunt’s de facto arch-rival, and both Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett lend gravitas and humanity to their roles as the authority figures to whom Hunt and Walker report, respectively. Yet, Rebecca Ferguson continues to be the standout supporting player. As the mysterious Ilsa Faust, she delivered a star-making turn in Rogue Nation and gets the chance to further develop her character here. As if it wasn’t already apparent, Fallout establishes that Ferguson (not Jeremy Renner, as was once rumored) deserves to inherit the Mission: Impossible franchise when that fateful day comes to say goodbye to Hunt.
In many ways, Cruise — especially as exemplified by this series — may be our last remaining movie star. Of course, plenty of actors and actresses can still headline a tentpole release and bring in hundreds of millions at the box office. But we live in an age where franchise brands so often supersede their casts, and the kind of above-the-title, star-driven action vehicles that are the Mission: Impossible films feel very much like a vestige of 1990s Hollywood returning to show the new kids how it’s done. Still, dubbing Mission: Impossible — Fallout the best of the series to date is a particularly tough call, seeing as the films have been riding a franchise high ever since M:I-3 director J.J. Abrams hopped aboard to produce the series starting with Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. But, considering Fallout‘s expertly crafted story and jaw-dropping spectacle, if Cruise and McQuarrie hoped to prove just how excellent a spy thriller they could make, then mission accomplished.