Friday, 17 August 2018

IN THEATRES: Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Following the events of Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team are on the hunt for the remnants of the Syndicate, a group of unaffiliated intelligence agents hellbent on sowing chaos around the world.

After Hunt puts the safety of his team above completing a mission to take possession of two rogue nukes, the CIA take over the operation, pairing Hunt with bagman August Walker (Henry Cavill). As Hunt goes on the hunt for the anonymous cabal of 'Apostles' before they can unleash these weapons on the world...

It is still unbelievable now this series has progressed. For the first three entries, it felt like a franchise built on star-power, whatever was popular at the time, and whatever the particular interests of the filmmaker are. With Ghost Protocol, the filmmakers started to actually do some world-building.

Cruise's Ethan Hunt has been a placeholder hero with no real history or personality. The first attempt to add backstory, Mission: Impossible III, signalled a shift with the addition of a serious love interest, but its sequel is where Hunt begins to exhibit something resembling a human personality.

Whereas M:I I-III's Hunt is ready to jump into action at a moment's notice, with Ghost Protocol he becomes more weary of what he is getting into. As the veteran of the team - with a history of dare-devilry - his teammates expect him to handle the most physically daunting tasks, no matter what his feelings are. The best example of this is Benji (Simon Pegg) taking Hunt's lung-power for granted when coming up with the aquatic heist in Rogue Nation.

This gives the films' signature stunts a level suspense and drama that they have previously lacked, beyond the thrill of seeing the star in real danger. Unlike previous directors, Chris McQuarrie has made this feature of the character, and uses it as the basis for delving into Ethan's psyche: why is he so willing to risk his life for others?

McQuarrie's Hunt is the first iteration of the character who feels like a part of the team - he is the squad leader, the team captain. He wants to get the job done, and he does not want to lose any of his team-mates in the process. This Hunt does not see people as expendable, and is driven to make sure that this is never the case. The brilliance of this shading is that McQuarrie does not offer some cod explanation or backstory - instead it ties in perfectly with Hunt's ridiculous actions from the previous movies.

Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust returns, and kudos again to McQuarrie for bringing back an interesting character and not negating what makes them interesting - thankfully, her relationship with Hunt does not turn romantic. It never feels like she is being wedged in, and the film gives a neat resolution to her (and Hunt's) running battle with the villain of Rogue Nation, Solomon Lane.

This is also the first movie where Henry Cavill fits in. As a leading man, he never shows the charisma or weight to hold attention. But as the defacto second lead (and - spoilers - antagonist), he is really good. Without the need to shoulder the movie, and as a counterweight to Cruise, he fits. Even his character, August Walker, feels like an inversion of Cruise. He does not care about the destruction and deaths he will cause.

McQuarrie does great job of marrying the con-focused spy craft of the original TV show with the more action-based hijinks of the film series. The action here is clever, funny and immersive.

McQuarrie has a great facility for pilling the pressures on Hunt and his team.

The fight between Hunt, Walker and 'Mr Lark' in the bathroom is wonderful. Playing out in sustained wide shots, it is paced like a great dance scene or pratfall, with plenty of reversals as the IMF agents struggle to figure each other out while also trying to get a hold of their opponent.

The other highlight is the third act, which involves three different scenarios in three different locations. It is truly jaw-dropping, above and beyond Cruise's commitment to doing his own stunts. The finale throws in so many spinning plates so deftly it deserves to be studied as an example of maintaining and building tension.

As far as pure enjoyment goes, I don't know if this one hits the same highs as its predecessor, but it is a great movie regardless. Fallout has thrown down a gauntlet for action movies going forward. From star vehicles that cribbed from other movies, Mission: Impossible has moved to the front of the pack.

But what is the pack? The landscape is awash with superhero properties. The closest competition are Fast and Furious and James Bond, but even those examples don't fit. F&F is past parody now, and Bond is stuck in the same perpetual loop of reaction to itself that the franchise has been in for decades.

Fallout reaffirms indisputably that Mission: Impossible really stands alone as the best action spectacle franchise of the last decade.  

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