Tuesday 7 August 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: After a mission goes wrong, the world is under threat by the terrorist group The Apostles, who now have access to enough plutonium to construct nuclear weaponry. Wanting to correct what happened, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) once again sets out with his colleagues Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) to save the world as they go after the stolen plutonium. However, with CIA operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) assigned to watch Ethan's every move in case he goes rogue again, and anarchist Soloman Lane (Sean Harris) plotting his revenge, this will prove to be Ethan's toughest assignment yet.
Cruise’s insistence on doing his own stunts may have put both himself and the production as a whole in a painful position, but that level of dedication yields some pretty impressive results. Not just from his aptitude in the action scenes, but also in how he translates his trademark charisma into actual character personality. Rather than this feeling like yet another extension of Cruise’s tremendous ego, he instead transplants his usual willingness to give his all for his work into Ethan Hunt’s comparable dedication to his work. After the ego-stroking moments in Rogue Nation, this is a welcome surprise.

Rhames continues to hold the fort as Hunt’s longest-known accomplice, actually giving Hunt some much-needed pathos during a few scenes that work quite nicely, while Pegg unfortunately ends up side-tracked for a fair amount of the film. It makes sense, given his place in the group dynamic versus the film’s overall tone, but there is no such thing as too much Simon Pegg in a movie. Rebecca Ferguson goes further with the allegiance-twisting angle of her character from Rogue Nation to make for a highly engaging and well-developed presence as Ilsa. Her scenes opposite Cruise are as close to classic spy shenanigans as you’ll ever get nowadays, with how their ties to different agencies keep altering how they work together.

Harris’ soft-spoken anarchist ends up working out far better the second time around, delivering some of the film’s most potent bits of writing to create a rather unexpected linchpin performance. Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett as the heads of the IMF and CIA respectively make for a solid showing of the stark differences in methods between the agencies (and, by extension, this and other spy flicks), with Baldwin’s exacerbated delivery offsetting Bassett’s icy calmness.

Vanessa Kirby and Frederick Schmidt as sibling criminals give the film a nice, subtle connection to the first MI film, and Henry Cavill… wow. Apart from being an occasionally-distracting doppelganger for Jamie Dornan, almost like someone tried to turn Fifty Shades into an action film, it is quite clear that all the cares he should have given during Justice League are found here in abundance. The physical presence, the excellent work during the action scenes, his chemistry with Cruise and the others; I am genuinely shocked at how great he is in this movie, considering his track record with action flicks hasn’t been that consistent of late.

For the first time in the series’ 22-year history, we have a director sticking around to make more than one entry with the return of Christopher McQuarrie (Rogue Nation, Jack Reacher) as writer/director. Given how uneven RN turned out, this didn’t sound like the best of news to me initially, but seeing the end result, I can only consider this to be the perfect move to make. Whatever wrinkles that were present last time seem to have been ironed out entirely, as this film isn’t so much a string of action scenes threaded together as much as it’s a two-and-a-half-hour-long adrenaline rush. The fight scenes are absolutely fantastic, employing a lot of brutal low-flash fight choreography and ostensibly insane stunt work to deal some serious damage. The throwdown in a nightclub bathroom with Cruise and Cavill features some of the hardest hits of any action beat I’ve ever covered on here, with all the pipe-wielding and mirror-smashing that entails. What’s more, between McQuarrie’s direction and Eddie Hamilton’s editing, the pacing not only within the scenes themselves but in the transition between them makes for an exceptionally smooth offering. Never before have I felt 150 minutes go by that quickly.

But the presentation of these shootouts, throwdowns and chases are only half of the puzzle; along with being genuine heart-racers, this is easily some of the tensest film-making I’m expecting to see all year. Part of this film’s incredible sense of pacing is that, whenever a threatening situation presents itself like a potentially-botched operation or a faulty piece of equipment, the film never goes straight into all-out panic mode. Instead, it gradually raises the tension over time, piling on ever more possibilities for things to go wrong in such a steady manner that, watching this film in the cinema, I was taken aback at just how heavy my breathing would get in response. To say nothing of the film’s finale, comprised of 15 of the most intense minutes ever filmed, which raises the tension to near-suffocating levels.

Not that this film is all brawn and no brains, though. In fact, this makes a welcome return to the first film’s incredibly heady and serpentine plotting… and manages to outdo it at pretty much every turn. It maintains the use of dubious character alliances that have been a touchstone of this series’ narrative, mainly between Hunt, Ilsa and Walker, and while some of the character turns are a tad obvious, the film seems to be aware of this. As a result, it focuses far less on trying to trick the audience with reveals about who is working for who, and more on layering who knows about such reveals ahead of time in-universe. Or, to put it more simply, the surprise comes in when we see which characters know as much as we do. Through this, the film’s clear intent to deliver on self-supposed clever plot turns ends up yielding positive results, making for a rather snappy offering that is able to deliver solid twists without bogging itself down in explanations for them.

Of course, none of this really gets into the big thing that this film gets right: It manages to tie together the entire film series up to this point, making this into a culmination of over two decades worth of storytelling. For a start, this feels like a collection of all of the films’ best moments (the heady plotting of the original, the bombast of 2, the sly cheek of 3, the tension-building possibility for failure of Ghost Protocol and the moral examinations of Rogue Nation), where all of the fat has been trimmed and what we’re presented with is the premium cut.

But ultimately, it’s how the film looks deep into the fundamentals of the series that ends up generating the best results. The mysterious messages that offer Ethan his missions, the near-constant betrayals he goes through, the number of times that he has gone rogue; what does this all say about the man at the centre of it all? He chooses to put himself into dangerous situations, frequently ends up being emotionally compromised and manipulated, and with how many times his own people have gone after him, he could just as easily become the enemy for real. This basically does for Ethan Hunt what Casino Royale did for James Bond in how it peels back the near-superhuman veneer to show the surprisingly vulnerable human underneath. Yeah, he may risk everything just to save one person, but in a profession this cold and cutthroat, knowing the importance of even a single life can mean the difference between the heroes and the villains.

All in all, rarely does a film already dubbed one of the greatest action films of all time actually live up to that kind of hype; this manages to do exactly that. The acting is top-notch, with Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill giving some of the best performances of their respective careers, the action scenes are hard-hitting and saturated in tension, the pacing makes the seemingly-daunting running time an utter breeze to sit through, and the writing galvanises so many of the series’ defining traits and greatest strengths to create a nimble, clever and emotional story, while removing most if not all of the past films’ shortcomings. It effectively dethrones Ghost Protocol for the best film in the series, and even on its own, it serves as an amazing example of how to use tension and pacing to make action beats truly shine. I am very, very impressed with this one, and quite honestly, it’s one of the best action flicks I’ve ever covered on this blog.

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