Paramount Pictures sixth installment in their Mission: Impossible franchise hit theaters on July 27th to incredibly positive reviews. Christopher McQuarrie is the first returning director for the series, continuing where Rogue Nation ended; writing his fifth screenplay for a Tom Cruise film. His direction is noted, as the camera work and cinematography is very similar to the look and feel in Rogue Nation, which isn’t anything I’m actually against. The prior four films in the franchise all felt like different missions, with the varying directors taking their own attempt at fusing traditional spy elements, Hollywood blockbuster action, great stunts, and their own approach to the screenplay.
Twenty-two years ago, Brian De Palma was brought on by Tom Cruise to direct the first film in the franchise. Paramount had always owned the rights to the television show, and with Tom Cruise being a fan of the show as a kid, he decided to take on the role of producer, secured a budget, and began working on a story that would pay homage to the original series while attempting to modernize the story; updating and, in certain cases, outright replacing the characters. The film was the third-highest grossing film of 1996, raking in $457.7 million against a $80 million budget, and despite mixed reviews from critics and a lashing by the original television show cast, different directors have been working with Paramount and Tom Cruise for the past twenty-two years to bring us another mission from Ethan Hunt. It wasn’t until now that they’ve decided to alter the format even further, creating a sequel scenario for the first time in the series.
Ghost Protocol was a mission you should choose to accept, as Brad Bird’s wonderful direction perfectly set up McQuarrie’s Rogue Nation, but the dismantling of the IMF by CIA Director Alan Huntley worried me, as that made it the second film in a row where the IMF is shut down and Hunt is being tracked and framed, and in fact, makes it the third film overall in the series with a similar plot point. I was worried that the series had perhaps started running out of gas, and after two viewings of Fallout, I’m only more comfortable in stating that belief. Alec Baldwin reprises his role as Hunley, having transferred from the CIA to the IMF after the events of Rogue Nation, and his two brief scenes are instrumental in setting the tension, and then further ratcheting up that intensity. I cannot say the same for other supporting actors in this film, or even the antagonist.
Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg return as Luther Stickell and Benji, but Hunt’s team hasn’t felt this inconsequential since the first one, and Stickell actually played a big part in that movie. No, most of the screen time is dedicated to the relationship between Hunt and August Walker, aka John Lark, portrayed by Henry Cavill. I’d be lying if I said Cavill did a great job, as quite frankly, next to Cruise, the guy just feels wooden. Perhaps we piled too much grief on Zack Snyder, as Cavill didn’t demonstrate anything different to me from his cynical, sneering take on the Man of Steel. That definitely was Snyder’s direction, as Cavill’s more upbeat Superman in Justice League feels much more like the traditional Superman everyone grew up with, but that was an odd character shift that everyone pointed out, and with the limited screen time he received in that movie, it’s not a performance he’ll likely look back on fondly. Here, he’s much more collected, but upon his introduction, it’s obvious he’s going to be the antagonist.
Erica Sloane, the new CIA Director portrayed by Angela Bassett, interrupts Hunt and Hunley after the always entertaining and jazzy opening, to tell them that she’ll be leaving her top man, August Walker, with Hunt. A basic shot reverse shot between Sloane and Hunley take place, with their respective agent standing behind them like the favorite child of each department. Automatically, your brain is informing you of the tension between these two men, and the two agencies. McQuarrie’s fluid, wide shots don’t have much flair, but the substance makes up for it, as the workmanship feel of the frames allows you to relax, sit back, and enjoy the action. Themes and cinematic techniques are snuck in when necessary to add flavor to this film, such as the succeeding scene where Hunt and Walker attempt to HALO jump from a plane, and as the conversation grows more tense between the two men, the light in the hanger flashes red. Obviously, it’s simply meant to remind the two agents to jump, but the subtext is all in their conversation.
Moments like that are sprinkled in throughout the film, but I’d be lying if I said this film didn’t begin to peter out after Walker is tricked by the IMF into revealing his identity, Hunley is killed, and Walker escapes with the objects of interest. Walker’s grand plan is to maintain a close distance on Hunt, have Hunt impersonate him to meet with a criminal organization so he can get the plutonium cores from Hunt after double-crossing them, all while Hunt does his dirty work for him, and bust Solomon Lane, the villain from Rogue Nation, out of prison. It’s a little convoluted, and as I said above, obvious that he’s the one behind all this, especially when he’s quick to pin blame on Hunt to Sloane shortly after Hunt and Walker found themselves in an admittedly epic fight in the bathroom with their target of interest. However, the action scenes in this movie are so great that you definitely can excuse the asinine moments in the plot, as the HALO jump, helicopter chase at the end, bathroom fight, and police chase in Paris are all laudable moments welcome to the series.
If you’ve never seen one second of a Mission: Impossible film, then don’t start here. That’s not to discredit this film for everything it does right, but this franchise isn’t the most cleverly written, and any snobby film critics who want to be pushed intellectually won’t find much challenge in this film. Truth be told, none of these films will likely do it for that crowd, but McQuarrie’s approach has definitely injected the best of contemporary Hollywood into a franchise already dependent on great stunts, action, and entertainment. Tom Cruise won’t win an Oscar for crashing into a car at over 80 miles-per-hour and suffering no bodily harm, but he’s helped play his part in making one of the better films of this franchise; standing only behind the previous two as the best this franchise has to offer.