For a series where every installment feels more like a product of inevitability than inspiration, credit is due to the Mission: Impossible series for its commitment to one-upping itself. If the cost of entry is an insane Tom Cruise stunt show every few years that’s punctuated with some spy silliness and a couple of laughs, and an overlong and instantly forgettable plot, then the world is getting a good deal out of this franchise.
In Fallout, megaspy and compulsive risk-taker Ethan Hunt (Cruise) must track down a trio of nuclear devices before they fall into the hands of the anarchist terror network The Apostles, which is dedicated to achieving lasting peace in the wake of unthinkable calamity. The devices are only up for grabs in the first place because Hunt chose to rescue Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) instead of fleeing with them during a botched operation, so he is assigned August Walker (Henry Cavill) as a partner to ensure the mission is done by the books—and at the expense of human life if necessary.
From there go the plot twists you’ve been expecting—a preposterous amount of double crosses and double-double crosses, then on to a big reveal where the biggest surprise is that writer-director Christopher McQuarrie seems to think we hadn’t already figured it out. In any case, all of these meanders exist to build tension for the barnburner of a finale, and boy does Fallout deliver. Where Rogue Nation frontloaded its major death- defying spectacle, Fallout contains several breathless chases and fights that would have been the highlight of most other movies, topping it all off with a gambit truly worthy of the moniker Impossible.
There are many ways Fallout is superior to those that came before it: dialogue, use of space, establishment of stakes, interesting new characters and effective use of existing ones. But what really sets it apart is how it values suspense over intrigue. Anybody can lie to an audience about a character’s true motivation in an attempt to shock it later, but it takes real skill to show the viewers what’s going to happen and still keep them invested in how it goes down. Hunt needs to get in that room, there’s no question he’s going to make it into that helicopter, but it takes serious skill to make us want to watch anyway.
It’s also a pleasant surprise that this may be the best acted film of the series. Cruise’s performance shows Hunt weighed down by a lifetime of fighting, cursed by the knowledge that to quit may mean the end of the world. Alec Baldwin is a cut above the self- parody we have come to expect; Simon Pegg still quips but his humor is a more integrated part of his personality than before; and even Angela Bassett’s walk-on role is memorably complex. The odd one out here is Cavill, whose limp line readings drain his character of all mystery. He and his mustache have quite the screen presence, but a character actor he is not.
In the grand ranking of enormous blockbuster sequels, M:I lands somewhere below Fast & Furious for pure fun, way above Jurassic World for understanding its own franchise’s history, and is about even with good-but-not-great Marvel movies in terms of narrative cohesion and overall quality. Though if future movies expand on the best parts of Fallout and move past flaws (too many masks, outcomes that could not possibly have been planned for), we may end up with something truly special.
Mission Impossible: Fallout
PG-13, 147 minutes; Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14
and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
Playing this week z Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056 z Ant-man and The Wasp, Christopher Robin, Eighth Grade, The Equalizer 2, Hotel Transylvania 3, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again z Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213 z Blindspotting, The Equalizer 2, The First Purge, Hotel Transylvania 3, Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Skyscraper, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, Unfriended: Dark Web z Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000 z Blindspotting, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Eighth Grade, The Equalizer 2, Leave No Trace, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Skyscraper, Sorry to Bother You, Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?