‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout’ Review

Tom Cruise is running again. It’s that peculiar run that could only come from him, arms swinging back and forth on a perfect axis, legs pumping up and down like some infernal machine. He’s running up a staircase, over rooftops, down an alleyway, going and going and going. It’s not quite robotic. A robot, after all, can break down. Where’s he running to, and where from? It doesn’t really matter. Mission: Impossible — Fallout knows what you’re here to see. You’re here to see Tom Cruise run again. And run he does.

Cruise is an interesting figure, in that he seems to be everything people hate about movie stars. He’s as vapid as they come, that million-watt smile concealing nothing and no one. He’s the figurehead of a weird religion-cum-cult that’s indisputably evil. He’s made no public overtures to feminism or any progressive values. He’s insanely, ludicrously rich. And yet I can think of few people (my mother, admittedly, is one) who out-and-out hate the guy. People who are too smart to fall for celebrity charms willingly submit themselves to his. He gets away with murder.

By murder, I mean Fallout, which absolutely kills. Still, I can’t think of another movie star who’d be able to get away with a two-and-a-half hour paean to their own ego. Fallout is a film about Ethan Hunt, and how brilliant and how unwaveringly good he is, and how he’s the only man in the world who can get shit done. Even when, as in Fallout, the world’s troubles are caused by that brilliance and unwavering goodness. The great supporting cast is mainly there to, well, support Cruise. Luther’s (Ving Rhames) big moment is a monologue about how great Hunt is. “Is it your job to make excuses for him?” demands one character of Luther and Benji (Simon Pegg). Well, yeah, kinda. Even the enigmatic Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), highlight of previous entry Rogue Nation, goes from Hunt’s romantic foil to just another team member over the course of the film. To be clear, I don’t have any real problem with this use of the non-Cruise cast. You can call it a waste, but Fallout knows what you’re really here to see.

More than any other film in the series, Fallout delves into Hunt’s psyche, with a handful of dream sequences and one memorable moment where Hunt imagines himself executing police officers in order to maintain cover. The film wants to discover who Hunt really is. It turns out, though, that he is who he said he was.

This, to me, is what makes Fallout really interesting. It recalls Michael Mann’s Miami Vice in its examination of identity. Like that film, it takes characters whose job it is to lie about themselves and tries to find whatever truth is buried underneath. Unlike in Miami Vice, however, the heroes of Fallout are (mostly) who they say they are. For all the double-triple-quadruple-crossing to be found, for all the masks dramatically ripped off, for all the deep cover secret identities, Ethan Hunt has nothing to hide. Halfway through, the plot hinges on whether Hunt is actually the person he’s pretending to be. Nope, it turns out. He’s just Hunt. Scratch him and all you’ll find underneath is Cruise, flashing that million-watt smile, because he wanted you to find him all along.

But are you really here for Cruise himself? People like to talk about Cruise as “the last movie star,” but check his recent resume and you’ll find a string of flops not named Mission: Impossible. Knight and Day? Rock of Ages? Edge of Tomorrow? The Mummy? American Made? All flops. Cruise can’t shoulder a film on the strength of his name anymore. People like Mission: Impossible not for Cruise himself, but for what Cruise does in these films. Where else are you going to see a guy ride a motorcycle against traffic without a helmet, or pull a helicopter out of a death spiral, or HALO jump into a thunderstorm, all in beautiful IMAX? Fallout delivers with aplomb on this franchise promise. The climactic helicopter ballet is one of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen. The bathroom fistfight rivals John Wick for inventive choreography. I liked an underground shootout that on paper is as bland as they come, because it’s bolstered by director Christopher McQuarrie’s masterful command of space, distance, and movement. I even liked that one-shot HALO jump, a technique that usually annoys me to no end.

The biggest influence on Fallout is probably Christopher Nolan, whose film The Dark Knight exemplified the trend of the dark and gritty franchise reboot (a trend started two years beforehand by none other than Mission: Impossible III). Fallout has his fingerprints all over it: Steely smooth images, a dark and moralistic narrative with contemporary concerns, a main character who’s sad about his ex-wife, the works. But Fallout out-Nolans Nolan by a considerable degree. For one thing, it’s not nearly as self-serious as Nolan can be at his worst. It finds time for humor, and not just the script-revision one-liners you find in so many blockbusters. Where Nolan finds time for striking imagery in between action sequences, McQuarrie doesn’t find a binary there. McQuarrie has a grip on coherent—even beautiful—action that Nolan has never managed, and there are more memorable images in Fallout than in any of Nolan’s films combined. I think of Hunt and his team floating down a Paris sewer, in and out of circles of light streaming down from above; Ilsa speeding so fast down an alleyway that the walls around her lose their form; the camera falling out of a plane away from Hunt, and then Hunt closing the distance; the sinister Solomon Lane taking a deep breath as a diagonal wall of water rushes towards him; more than I can fit into one paragraph.

Speaking of McQuarrie, I and others were worried about him returning for this film. Mission: Impossible has previously thrived off of an auteur revolving door, each film looking and feeling completely different to the last. It turns out that our fears were misplaced. Fallout is as different from Rogue Nation as it could possibly be. If Rogue Nation was a zippy Le Carrè riff, this is like a more muscular take on modern Bond films, the spy thriller as spectacle of physicality, bodies punching and shooting and falling through space. Fallout is missing an audacious clockwork sequence like the opera scene in Rogue Nation, but it makes up for it in sheer beefy thrill. The entire film is that now-iconic shot of Henry Cavill’s Agent Walker pumping his fists in the middle of a fight, a declaration of power and stamina and force. I can’t blame dissenters on this film who felt pummeled into the ground by it. I just loved the beatdown it delivers. Rogue Nation could slip through a crack in a wall. Fallout breaks the wall down with a single blow.

And for the spy-lovers among us, there is mask-ripping aplenty in Fallout, a final payoff to the running gag in the previous two films about masks either not working or not being suited to the situation. This, ultimately, is a series about the moment when a mask comes off and the truth is uncovered, the long-con of the heroes revealed. Mission: Impossible is interesting in how it so often puts the audience in the villain’s perspective, clueless until the heroes’ trap is sprung on them. This is a series about plans, but rarely about planning. The one time we see a plan laid in Fallout, Hunt throws it out the window and improvises. We only see the plan as context for how Hunt refuses to follow it, and we’re in the dark as his true plan plays out. This gets us around some tedium and straight into the good stuff: The ludicrous execution. “Hope is not a strategy!” spits Walker. “You must be new,” retorts Ilsa.

There’s actually a lot to say about Walker, but I don’t want to spoil things, so I’ll just say that he’s the best addition to the franchise in a very long time. Cavill is better used here than he ever has been before, even as Superman. He’s the perfect foil for Hunt. Hunt always seems to be fighting the limitations of his physical form. Walker doesn’t seem to have any limitations. He’s a rectangle of pure muscle. If Cruise is built to run, Cavill is built to punch. It’s his destiny. The series has been missing a true-blue brawler character. It’s Cavill, more than Cruise, who’s the film’s avatar.

I encourage you to see Fallout on the biggest and loudest screen you possibly can. It’s a film designed to blow your hair back. Let yourself get beat down by it, submit yourself to its brutal blows and Cruise’s irresistible charms. Some people will find it all overwhelming and object to its unrelenting nature. Speaking for myself, I can’t wait to go back and let it wash over me again. I’m not sure if it’s the best Mission: Impossible, but it’s everything I love about all the previous entries in one bruising 150-minute package. Maybe it’s not perfect, but I choose to accept it.

Tom Cruise Wants To Die On Screen

Why does one of the last movie stars want to martyr himself?

The age of the movie star is dead. We still have celebrity actors, yes, but their names and faces are less significant now than they’ve been in a century. Black Panther wasn’t a success because Chadwick Boseman was on the poster. The internet means that you can see your favorite stars whenever you want, no need to wait for their new film to come out. We’re in the age of the mega-franchise, where films themselves act as marketing for their fellows. The people in them are interchangeable and mostly irrelevant.

Of the top-ten actors with the highest grossing resumes, most are part of massive franchises with large ensembles. Samuel L. Jackson, with his parts in everything from the Marvel movies to the Star Wars prequels, sits at the top; Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johannson are present as well. Harrison Ford, who starred in Indiana Jones and Star Wars, ranks highly, though he hasn’t been a leading man for some time. Only two names on the list are currently working lead actors who work mostly outside of franchises. Tom Hanks is one. Another, rounding out the list at number ten, is Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise is the person you picture when you hear the words “movie star.” He’s a conventionally attractive white man with a toothy grin and a rambunctious attitude. For years he played essentially the same character: The bad boy who’s not too bad, just dangerous enough to be exciting, the spitfire kid who just needs to get his act together. He was never the everyman, never relatable. You wanted to be like him, but more than that, you wanted to be better. In his review of Days of Thunder in 1990, Roger Ebert laid out the building blocks of what he called the Tom Cruise Picture, a cinematic blueprint which Cruise had adhered to in almost all of his projects. And aside from that handful of years in the late 80s and early 90s when he really wanted an Oscar, it was a blueprint he clung to.

But time went on, and Cruise grew up. You can’t play the hotshot young upstart forever. A change was gonna come. What would the adult Tom Cruise Picture look like? In 1990, he became involved in the Church of Scientology. Six years later, he starred in Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible. And history began.

It’s the Mission: Impossible franchise that best tells the story of Cruise’s strange spiral. Though it didn’t start out this way, over time the series became a vehicle for Cruise himself (not a stand-in) to pull off terrifying and death-defying stunts. In Mission: Impossible 2, he free-climbed a cliff without a safety net and allowed a knife to come within millimeters of his eyeball. In Ghost Protocol, he climbed the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. In Rogue Nation, he clung to the side of a plane as it took off. In the upcoming Fallout, he jumped out of a plane at high altitude over a hundred times. The series became a sort of stunt spectacular with Cruise as star performer, pulling off daring leaps and thrilling escapades. The draw was less Cruise himself than what crazy thing Cruise would try to do for the ostensible sake of “realism.” In behind-the-scenes interviews, Cruise often talks about how viewers can tell if something is phony. This, he explains, is why he has to do things for real.

In 2008, a video stolen from the Church of Scientology by 4chan users leaked online. As excerpts from the Mission: Impossible score play in the background, Cruise speaks enthusiastically about the effect that Scientology has had on his life. He’s using the same tone of voice as in those behind-the-scenes interviews to heap praise on “KSW,” which stands for “Keeping Scientology Working,” a sort of policy guideline for the organization. “When you’re a Scientologist,” he says, “you see things the way they are.” Cuts are accompanied by the sound of camera shutter snapping, suggesting his celebrity even in a private, internal video. He smiles that familiar smile, and laughs that laugh, and goes for the hard sell. “It’s rough and tumble, and it’s wild and wooly, and it’s a blast. It’s a blast.”

It’s important to note that the Church of Scientology tried their damnedest to suppress the release of this video. Cruise’s value to them was never as an out-loud pitchman. His was the front-facing position, the “all is well” smile for the outside world. He was meant to normalize Scientology for the pre-converts, but to do that he had to be casual and humble and a little hush-hush about his involvement. The video was meant to encourage and excite people who were already members by implying association with Cruise. He talks a lot about “we” in it, about “our” responsibilities. But he didn’t get famous by being relatable.

Information about the inner workings of Scientology is hard to come by, but it’s been suggested in the past that Cruise is treated as a key figure in the organization, to be shown the utmost respect and adulation. He’s been told again and again for decades that he has an important role to play in the ascendency of Scientology, maybe the most important role. Religions need prophets. They also need martyrs.

On the set of Rogue Nation, as he clung desperately to the side of that plane, exhaust fumes filled Cruise’s lungs. He didn’t tell anyone. Instead, as the plane landed, he gave a signal to the director that he wanted to go again and get another take. His disregard for his own physical safety is more than evident here. Getting the shot is more important to him than his own life. It used to be that Cruise’s existence was the film’s message. “Come and see the star” was the old way of marketing movies. Now you can see Cruise anywhere, whenever you want. Now Cruise is a vessel. The shot is the message.

Does Cruise have a death wish? I don’t feel too comfortable pathologizing him. That being said, he wouldn’t do these stunts if he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of dying for the sake of a film. He was over a hundred stories off the ground when he climbed the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol. Any more than a handful of stories, he said, and you’re dead no matter what. I don’t know if he fancies himself a Christ figure, but he sure seems to want to die for us. He likes to refer to the Mission: Impossible series as just “Mission.” Would that make him a missionary?

In some ways, Cruise is the perfect tonic to the post-movie-star world we live in. While he’s part of a large franchise, it’s one of the few that markets itself on something besides simple brand recognition. He’s figured out a way to attract moviegoers that isn’t just cynical regurgitation of recognizable images. To see a Mission: Impossible movie is to glimpse a better—not perfect, but better—modern Hollywood cinema.

Movie stardom is dead. Long live Tom Cruise.