Mission: Impossible - Fallout

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Tom Cruise is the greatest movie star to ever live. Quite a statement to make of course, but after watching and rewatching several of his movies (including the entire Mission Impossible franchise) over the past few months, I've come to this conclusion, and Fallout only reinforces this belief. Fallout is a perfect culmination of the entire MI franchise, taking to heart every lesson learned along the way about what does and what doesn't work. It knows when to play things seriously, when to inject a few laughs, when to end an action scene and when to start a new one, when and how to play with the audiences expectations, and most importantly: it knows how to enjoy itself. In this impeccably made blockbuster of a film, Cruise goes all out, showcasing his charisma and his stuntwork to degrees previously unseen, and anchoring the entire production in a way that no one else on Earth could. Tom Cruise is the Mission Impossible franchise, he has a star power that brings people back over and over just to see him. We all heard the stories about him breaking his ankle and then finishing the shot anyway, we all know by now how he does every single one of his own stunts, how he is the one flying that helicopter, making that HALO jump, driving that motorcycle. The entire franchise is one giant, well-funded reason for audiences around the world to watch Tom Cruise do insane stunts, and I will never, ever grow tired of watching the results.  

Now, before I go too far down the rabbit hole, I want to reign it back in and discuss the movie itself. This is possibly one of the best paced blockbusters I've ever seen, and that includes Ghost Protocol, which up to this point had really set the bar. The beginning has a bit too much exposition and setup, but after that the movie really finds it's rhythm, with every action sequence followed up by a scene that usually served the threefold purposes of giving the audience a moment to catch their breath, moving the plot forward in a meaningful way, and setting up the next incredible action sequence. Fallout understands what some action movies don't, which is that if the action scenes come one after the other with no room to breathe, then they lose all meaning, it's just an unbroken chain of events that slowly grow less impressive. By not only having built in breathing room, but also having a plot that is intriguing enough to give the action scenes weight, Fallout has mastered the action genre. The decision to bring back plot points and characters from Rogue Nation was an important one, which ultimately paid off in spades. Solomon Lane isn't just some generic villain, he's one we already know and have seen before. Ilsa isn't just another woman, she's a character with complicated loyalties, and when she acts against Hun't interests, it carries that much more weight. Time isn't wasted establishing characters we already know, so more time can be spent on introducing the few new characters, and more importantly moving forward with where they need the plot to go. Fallout is a complicated web of double-agents, betrayals, and deep cover operations. Some might say it's overly complex at times (almost alluded to by the line "Why do you have to make everything so complicated?!" shouted by Henry Cavills character), but I believe that it's setup finds the perfect middle ground between complexity and straightforwardness. Everything that happens is easy enough to understand, and at points even predictable, but the complexity of the character's motivations isn't meant to confuse or astound us, it's meant to establish an atmosphere of tension and distrust. When Ethan Hunt's loyalties are questioned, we know that he isn't disloyal, but the characters do not, and they act accordingly, which causes situations to arise where we watch with bated breath, asking ourselves, how exactly is Hunt going to get out of this one? Even when we know a betrayal is coming, it's exhilarating to see it happen, and it's so satisfying to see the IMF handle it gracefully and with style. There are no truly shocking twists, there is only artistry and craft on a level that other movies of this kind only wish they could pull off. As far as I'm concerned, Fallout has definitively dethroned Bond and Bourne, Ethan Hunt is now the coolest movie spy there is. 

A large part of what makes Ethan Hunt so cool, is of course, the man who plays him. I made a pretty definitive declaration of my admiration for Tom Cruise at the beginning of this review, and I'm going to take this chance to expound upon why I hold these beliefs. In how he relates to the Mission Impossible franchise, obviously Cruise has been the sole constant throughout the entire thing. He has turned what was originally a remake of an old TV show into his own personal, multi-billion dollar franchise. Make no mistake, he is one of the largest creative influences on these movies. He okays the director choices, he helps plan the action sequences, he brings back the actors he likes, this entire franchise is him. Without Cruise, there is no Hunt, there is no Mission Impossible. The crazy level of commitment he has to the franchise is put into action by his incredible stuntwork, which as I said earlier is basically the entire reason the franchise exists. Tom Cruise's star power is unmatched, we love the stories of how he jumped off a building and broke his ankle, we love that he personally did all of the helicopter flying stunts, that he shot a fight scene for 4 weeks straight just so that it could be done correctly. He is as close to a living, breathing Ethan Hunt as we are going to get, but really it goes beyond that. Cruise isn't just an action star, though that is primarily what he's known for. If you look back on his career, he's worked with some of the greatest directors to grace modern cinema, and frequently produces incredible results. Among his collaborators have been, in no particular order: Michael Mann, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, and Paul Thomas Anderson. All of these world-class directors saw something in Cruise that they needed and wanted. He is an action star who has managed to become a world-class actor putting in performances that rival some of the greats. Now he's no DDL or Phillip Hoffman, but it doesn't take much to see that Cruise's versatility is known and respected by his peers, along with his complete commitment to any project he's on. Go look at any behind the scenes footage or interviews about some of his better projects, and there will be some story of how Tom Cruise trained for weeks to get a single shot right, or learned some new skill, or just in some way tirelessly worked to make sure that he was doing the best he could do. He doesn't need to have such an incredible work ethic, he's a rich, well-respected movie star, he could phone in performances and still get paid, but the pride he has for his work is what makes him such a lasting and powerful performance. He is the last of his kind, he is the only man in modern Hollywood who can sell tickets off of his name alone, and that is the kind of power that he brings to Fallout.

The commitment to quality that Cruise brings to the set and asks of all of his collaborators on the project is what delivers such an incredible final product. This isn't a cash-in, this isn't lazily put together, this isn't poorly thought out. This is tight, clean, well-written and exciting, everything that an action blockbuster should be and more. Too often audiences are satisfied with a big blob of explosions and messily shot fight scenes, getting nothing out of the experience beyond seeing a guy shout a lot and seeing some things blow up (or more accurately, seeing some CGI things blow up). Things feel too fake, too artificial, there are no stakes and no real excitement. Remember that feeling? Do you remember the last time you felt genuinely excited watching a movie, sitting on the edge of your seat, barely breathing as you let yourself get swept away by the thrill of enjoyment? This is what Fallout delivers. It isn't just a summer blockbuster, it is a masterpiece of action. As mentioned multiple times, the stunts in the movie are all as real as they can possibly be, which some people would tell you doesn't matter. If everything ends up looking the same, then what does it matter whether Tom Cruise actually hung off of a moving helicopter or whether it's green screen? I'll tell you why, because the end result does look different, it feels different, the energy is real and big and in your face. It captures your attention watching Ethan Hunt perform death-defying stunts because you aren't watching a stunt man jump onto a cushioned pad on a green screen, you are literally watching Ethan Hunt perform those death defying stunts. The thrills are as real as they can get, because what you're watching actually took place. There is a sense of reality that this brings which is the true pièce de résistance of the film, it ties everything together in a way that makes Fallout more than the sum of it's parts. This is what you get when people put passion into a project. This is the result of people genuinely caring about what they do, and god is it incredible to witness. 

Only time will be able to tell whether popular opinion eventually settles on Fallout being the best of the Mission Impossible franchise, but in my heart the consensus is clear. The artistry, the characterizations, the non-stop incredibly well-directed action sequences, and the tone which strikes the perfect balance between entertainment and serious stakes, every element makes it the best so far. I have no doubt that it will go down in history as a classic action movie, and somehow despite being in his mid-50s, it may go down as one of Tom Cruise's best action performances. He one-ups himself over and over again in ways that audiences keep paying to see, and he is a man who knows what he's good at and does his very best to be even better. And after watching Fallout, I can guarantee you, he succeeds on about every possible level.