You’ve got to hand it to Tom Cruise and the Mission: Impossible franchise. Over the course of two decades and presumably a Faustian pact with the gods of cardio, Cruise has made good on his borderline obsessive mission to outdo the previous films in a series which shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it has become that rarest of things: a time-defying Hollywood franchise which bucks the trend by going from strength to strength – if you don’t dwell too much on John Woo’s much-derided second film.
With this sixth instalment, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie becomes the first filmmaker to return to the franchise, following 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, making Mission: Impossible – Fallout the closest thing these films have come to a direct sequel. The needlessly convoluted plot sees the IMF team (Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) tasked with un-botching a mission in which they lost three plutonium orbs, and tracking down anarchist John Lark, a faceless bad egg whose hero-taunting manifesto states that “there cannot be peace without first a great suffering”. The team are imposed a CIA minder named August Walker (a moustachioed Henry Cavill), and soon cross paths with both Rogue Nation’s enigmatic Isla Faust (a frequently show-stealing Rebecca Ferguson) and returning nemesis Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, who relishes every minute of screen time and infuses his excellent villain with Hannibal Lecter-esque vibes).
Admittedly, the plot isn’t why you go to see these films, but for once – and building on Rogue Nation’s promising narrative strands – Fallout takes care to ensure that the ludicrous story doesn’t come off as one big excuse to string together as many showy action set pieces as possible. There are attempts to inject some character development and even some heart into it. That said, the main draw remains the action, and the thrills come thicker and faster than before. The now 56-year-old Cruise continues to up the stakes by doing his own increasingly insane stunts, and it really shows this time. This is due in large part to McQuarrie’s understanding of the material and DP Rob Hardy, who favours long and wide shots over close-ups, assuring that audiences can see everything during the pristinely choreographed sequences. Whether it’s a HALO jump above Paris, a bone-crunching bathroom fight, an adrenaline-triggering bike chase or a deliriously bonkers third-act involving a snowy standoff between two helicopters, you’ll be able to testify throughout the ever-escalating madness that it’s never Cruise’s stuntman. It becomes even more impressive when you draw a parallel to the Mission: Impossible-mentoring James Bond series, in which embarrassingly little effort was put into masking the fact that the then 57-year old Roger Moore had clearly become too long in the tooth come his 007 swansong A View To A Kill.
While Fallout delivers the worthy blockbuster badly needed this summer and actually reminds other genre neighbours that this is the level we should be aiming for, it’s not all perfect. One big twist is very predictable, the exhilarating bike chase tears through an impossibly empty Paris, and while it never drags, the 148-minute runtime might be overdoing it. But it’s hard to care too much when the action is so brilliantly handled, the self-conscious (but crucially never smug) laughs are well timed and the film is this relentlessly exciting. Only one question remains: how on earth are Cruise and co going to top this when it comes to the next mission?
Mission: Impossible – Fallout | Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (US, 2018), with Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg. Starts August 2.
Check our OV search engine for showtimes.