"Mission: Impossible" is one of the most consistently reliable of all long-running franchises. Over six films and an almost unbelievable span of 22 years, the series has never grown stale, reinvigorating itself with increasingly outrageous action set-pieces and fresh blood at the helm nearly every time. Brian De Palma's 1996 original, John Woo's 2000 sequel "Mission: Impossible 2
," J.J. Abrams' 2006 follow-up "Mission: Impossible 3
," Brad Bird's 2011 installment "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
," and Christopher McQuarrie 2015 entry "Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation
"each one feels like a coherent piece of something larger even as each filmmaker has brought their own individual style and flair to the intrigue-filled, tautly designed, stunt-heavy proceedings. For "Mission: Impossible Fallout," McQuarrie (the first director to return for an encore) has upped the ante once more, and to sometimes dizzying degrees. Even as the viewer watches, he or she can scarcely believe what has been pulled off.
The Impossible Mission Force is never long without a megalomaniac to thwart, and this time agents Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) have in-custody anarchist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and an entire terrorist group called The Apostlesled by a mysterious figure named John Larkwith whom to deal. IMF's mission, if they choose to accept it (and you know they must), is to retrieve three plutonium bombs in The Apostles' possession before they are able to fulfill a trio of cataclysmic coordinated attacks. As Ethan & Co. trot the globe, whisking off to Belfast, Paris, Berlin and Kashmir, allegiances are tested as Ethan struggles to get a handle on Special Activities operative August Walker (Henry Cavill), tasked by no-nonsense CIA director Erica Slone (Angela Bassett) to shadow IMF on their latest assignment. Also returning to the fold: MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), torn between helping Ethan and satisfying her own separate mission, and Ethan's ex-wife Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan), now working as an international doctor.
"Mission: Impossible Fallout" is better and decidedly more impossible than ever, and yet there is never any doubt in Ethan's cunning, dexterous, near-superhuman abilities to jump from buildings, climb cliffs, hang off the outside of aircrafts in flight, and whisk through busy city streets in trucks and on motorcycles at 100-plus mph. At an ageless 56, Tom Cruise (2017's "The Mummy
") plays the part magnificently, exhibiting his signature charisma and intensity while personally executing the kind of bonkers stuntwork other actors wouldn't so much as wish upon their own stuntperson. If there was an Academy Award for performing the most death-defying feats in a single picture, it wouldn't be necessary to nominate anyone else because Cruise would be the only logical choice.
From the subtly ramped-up opening studio logos clear through to the lighting of the end-credits fuse, the film rarely stops moving, its rat-a-tat pacing as assured as its somewhat standard but exceptionally well-designed plot. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie finds a rhythm at once controlled, spatially coherent, and rousingly, wincingly intense. An overload of exposition up front gives way to blessedly little thereafter as the assuredness of McQuarrie's visuals do much of the talking (dialogue is used sparingly for long stretches). Double and triple crosses, sly mind games, and wickedly entertaining about-facesthe film consistently finds ways to surprise every time it begins to feel like a certain situation has been seen one too many times before. Inventiveness doesn't stop there; the lensing of action sequences are full of extended shots and cohesive editing, and whatever might be the result of CGI effects trickery proves seamless since so much of it has been completed practically. Consider, as examples, the marvelous early scene where Ethan and August skydive through a lightning storm, or a white-knuckle brawl in a nightclub bathroom with a Lark decoy (Liang Yang), or a breathtaking motorcycle chase that leaves one questioning how they did it, or a climax so impressive and layered it's best for viewers to discover it on their own without a single spoiler of what it entails.
In terms of what he's willing to do onscreen in order to raise the bar from the previous five "Mission: Impossible" films, Tom Cruise might have no choice but to call it a day on Ethan Hunt after this one. Short of literally blasting himself into outer space, where does he go from here? As CIA tagalong August Walker, Henry Cavill (2015's "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
") effectively raises suspicions while leaving the viewer wondering if his motives go beyond Sloane's request to shadow IMF. There is little which can be discussed about Cavill's performance without giving key developments away, but he succeeds mightily in fulfilling the requirements of his role. Rebecca Ferguson (2017's "The Greatest Showman
"), the easy standout in "Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation," is excellent once more as Ilsa Faust, her part not quite as central to the plot this time but given plenty of juicy chances for ass-kickery all the same.
The only actor beside Cruise to appear in every installment to date, Ving Rhames (2012's "Won't Back Down") has too often been ushered to stand along the sidelines; at long last, he is given significantly more to do as trusty IMF agent Luther Stickell. Rhames knocks a pair of intimate exchanges in the second act out of the park. Also making welcome returns: Simon Pegg (2016's "Star Trek: Beyond
") as agent Benji Dunn, and Michelle Monaghan (2015's "Pixels
") as Julia, her storied, bittersweet relationship with Ethan (introduced in "Mission: Impossible 3
") coming full circle in emotionally satisfying ways. Finally, Vanessa Kirby (2015's "Everest
") exudes a sensual, intelligent charisma as femme fatale arms dealer White Widow, stealing each of her scenes, and Angela Bassett (2018's "Black Panther
") makes a deliciously memorable entrance as CIA director Erica Sloane, shadily describing IMF in her opening scene as "a bunch of grown men in rubber masks playing trick-or-treat."
"Mission: Impossible Fallout" features characters seemingly teleporting themselves from one country to the next in the time it takes to cut between scenes, and as for eating and sleeping, well, they've somehow found a way to bypass these middling necessities and are no worse for the wear. Thinking too hard about basic logistics in a film like this is fruitless. Instead, what's important is the adrenaline rush of the experience, and how well it is achieved. The answer: exceedingly well, right down to that old chestnut, the ticking time bomb, cause for a final fifteen minutes of classic crackerjack suspense. With nary a sign of series fatigue in sight, "Mission: Impossible Fallout" thrillingly hums along while devising a cavalcade of daring stunts the likes of which have seldom before been attempted. In terms of pure, sustained, crowd-pleasing excitement, it's the must-see, big-screen event of the season.