Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018) by Christopher McQuarrie
Review by Lydia Creech
No one did Fallout any favors by the breathless comparisons to Fury Road (or John Wick or Dark Knight or whatever annoys you the most). To me, instead of speaking to Fallout’s special merits as an action film, such far reaches really point out the dearth of anything worthwhile coming out in 2018 (there are, like, three or four good ones, and none of them action). People are so starved for competency that they’ll take whatever packaged, boring ego-vehicle gets plopped out and heap hyperbolic praise upon it.
To be fair, I’m not saying Tom Cruise doesn’t genuinely put a lot of work into being Ethan Hunt. I am saying that I don’t care.
The 6th entry into the Mission: Impossible franchise follows Hunt as he tries to track down missing plutonium cores that the other made-up shadow organization (the first being IMF) stole to make nukes out of. You see, Hunt feels responsible because he chose to save his friend’s life (Ving Rhames reprising his role as Luther Stickell) over safely extracting the cores. From there, most reviews will have you think it “almost never stops, well, moving,” except, well, it does.
There is so much talking in this movie: explaining plot motivations or what various opposing agencies are doing, just going on and on and interrupting the relentless, perfunctory march from set-piece to set-piece (and not in a “give the audience a breather” way). It took me ages to settle in. Thankfully (?), there was still plenty of film left when I finally did, seeing as, like most action films these days, it clocks in at an overly long 2.5 hours (to go back to the unfortunate comparison, Fury Road is a neat 2).
The thing is, if I’m going to consider an action movie as “nonstop,” then I need a) the narrative bits and the action bits to be combined, preferably and b) every set-piece to NOT be a showstopper, which unfortunately Cruise seems desperate to have here (that’s not how this works). I mean, good god, he STARTS with a HALO jump, which was an intensity peak the last time I saw it used. Another much touted area of comparison is that of the bathroom fight sequence, with Cruise attempting to emulate Jackie Chan. Chan, however, is the master of incorporating props and humor into his fight choreography, and all Cruise has is some beleaguered, “Am I too old for this shit?” looks into the camera. The difference comes down to ego; whereas Chan’s set-pieces are about trying stuff out, Cruise’s are about proving he can do it (would Cruise put in a gag reel of all his fuckups at the end?).
Cruise seems to bank on the fact that because he does all these death defying stunts for real, then that’s what counts, but the fact of the matter is that the best action set-pieces also work to propel the narrative forward, not showcase one maniac. Again, back to Fury Road--even during the most intense sequences, I was getting (visual) narrative information or small character beats/arcs. If my heart is pounding and palms are sweating during Fallout, it’s a psychosomatic response due to extratextual knowledge that, yes, Cruise the actor really is standing on top of London’s Tate Modern and I am really afraid of heights (I will allow that the Burj Khalifa sequence from Ghost Protocol fucked me up in a good way), and not because I’m worried for Hunt the character or worried whether he’ll catch the baddie in time.
The sequence that worked best for me didn’t come until the very end, and we finally got some relationship payoffs to go with it (Hunt’s team has to trust he did his thing so they can do their bomb disarming thing), though it’s a bit too little, too late. Director McQuarrie seems to think he’s done a good job placing “story first. Spectacle second,” though where and how is lost on me. Maybe I misunderstand what other critics are responding so strongly to, or my tolerance for silly spy shit is just exceedingly low, but these “best action movie since X” reviews are really just damning with faint praise.