In his famous review of “Far Cry 3” (the best in the series), Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw used the sentence “I am a banana” as a shorthand for “there were things that could be fixed in this franchise and lo and behold, they all have been fixed!”. Well, when it comes to the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, now I am a banana too.
A word about “Rogue Nation”. The term “dissolution of tension” was coined by Mr Plinkett in his review of “Attack of the Clones” and it means action so over the top that you end up not caring and not worrying about the outcome at all. The only thing I remember from M:I-5 was the heist scene where Simon Pegg was supposed to walk down a corridor that would electronically measure his biometrics and thus verify his (false) identity, while Cruise was at the same time trying – in dramatic circumstances – to switch these biometric data of the person Pegg is impersonating with Pegg’s own. It’s all very Mission-Impossibly sequence: there’s a big jump, underwater action, countdown clock, a machine that can jump back to life at any moment and the oldest trick in the book of cutting the red or blue wire (Cruise has to switch data cards, they look identital, he drops both of them and has to randomly insert the right one). If something goes wrong, Pegg is exposed, caught and probably killed.
Only when you realize that it’s Simon Pegg’s fate on the line – that is, the hacker/comic relief character, not the action/fight/run Ethan Hunt who in the worst case scenario might have some chance of surviving, which might actually end up being an interesting set piece – all the “will it work” tension just disappears instantly. That’s what I felt while watching. If even the promo materials outright state that “it’s another story of Ethan Hunt and his team who come out of every distress and always succeed”, why am I even supposed to care? If the characters are infallible, why worry that they’ll fail?
“Fallout” is all about failure (should be called “Failout”, perhaps?). Between movies the characters from infallible supermen (pun intended – did you know that this is the movie Henry Cavill insisted to keep his mustache for, resulting in that cringeworthy Superman’s CGI upper lip in “Justice League”?) turned into relatable human beings. In contrast to many other spy movies the plot is driven as much by evil agendas and treachery as it is by mistakes and screw-ups, but ones that make the characters believable and likeable. Not like cold-blooded Bond or stone-faced Bourne, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise probably sold more of his soul to Xenu and magically looks even younger that three years ago) is a living and emotional person, as is his whole well established team (bringing back the lovable Ving Rhames and exactly the right amount of funny Simon Pegg), and this gives just so much stakes for me to care. I also loved how the women were portrayed: they’re not some Bond chicks made of embarrasing names and cleavage. They are beautiful not in their bikinis or fancy dresses but in how they’re capable, clever, cunning and often dangerous (also, is The White Widow the daughter of Max, Vanessa Redgrave’s character from the first M:I?).
The stakes are also high in the action scenes, as “Fallout” builds its set pieces masterfully. After a pretty funny (on a meta level) opening scene where Ethan Hunt just gets a video-game-like mission debriefing – images, maps, photos and names on screen, like in a Splinter Cell cut scene – the tension appears and just never goes down until the very end of the movie. Here’s my thought process during some of the more impressive (let’s be honest, they all were) set pieces: “Yes, I see how you’re trying to impress me. Not trying to hard, movie? While you’re on that, why don’t you… oh, wait. Oh. Whoa. Wow. How did he do that? Isn’t he, like, 60? How did they shoot this???” This went on for some time only to end with “Yeah, okay, I admit: that was impressive.” And this was just the first big stunt. Later, during the Paris car chase, I was constantly going “Okay, now what? Okay, NOW WHAT??? OKAY, AND NOW WHAT???“. In a stark contrast with “Rogue Nation”‘s blandness here the stakes were being raised with every sequence, every scene, almost every shot. With some properly placed moments of alleviation I was nervous, excited and literally on the edge of my seat until the very end credits.
With its latest installment this franchise sets itself as an example of one that does it’s fucking homework. They seemingly took the disappointing predecessor apart, looked at it from every angle, analyzed what went wrong and fixed EVERY SINGLE THING that needed fixing. Even the ever-problematic notion of “your mission, should you choose to accept it” is addressed! Not only does the M:I-6 not include the flaws of M:I-5 (aside from the dissolution of tension, there was also plenty of product placement and forgettable plot). It doesn’t end there: the series went further back and picked the best elements from every other installment. There are jaw-droppingly awesome stunts from “Ghost Protocol”, even some pretty impressive motorcycling salvaged from the wreck that was “M:I-2”, and the nerve-wrecking emotional intensity of Abrams’ “M:I-3”. And then, from de Palma’s groundbreaking 1996 “Mission: Impossible” they took a convoluted plot full of twists and double-crosses. I’m gonna have to watch “Fallout” again just to figure out who worked for whom in the end and if they acted accordingly to their motivations, but after first viewing it all seems consistent. Even though I did figure out some twists before they happened, it doesn’t by all means mean they were predictable, only that I learned what to expect from a spy flick. Not that many after all, apparently, as I did only guess only a few, and minor ones at that.
It’s easily one of the best movies no only in the franchise, but in all espionage cinema, and definitely one of the greatest action movies this year. The thrilling spectacle of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is worth every Superman’s mustache in the universe.