Blockbuster is almost perfect
THE thing about Tom Cruise is he's a bona fide movie star.
You can hold his shambolic personal life against him, you can find his connections to Scientology repugnant, but as soon as his face is on that big screen and he turns and flashes that $20 million toothy smile, he's hooked you.
His charm and screen presence is undeniable and everything else surrounding the off-screen Cruise melts away. And when it comes to the Mission: Impossible franchise, he is peak Tom Cruise.
Which is why after 22 years playing Ethan Hunt, this franchise is still so successful at thrilling audiences with its mad daredevil stunts, heart-thumping action sequences and its promise of a bloody entertaining time. A promise it fulfils and then some to see Mission: Impossible - Fallout as the best action movie 2018 has had so far.
Because how do you argue with a movie that pummels you with insane helicopter chases, intense hand-to-hand combat, a riveting motorcycle chase across Paris and more Tom Cruise running than you've ever seen before? You can't. You just can't.
It leaves Bond in its wake, and after the iffy second and third movies, this is a franchise that keeps getting better.
Set two years after the last instalment, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, the dastardly Syndicate group has morphed into the Apostles after the capture of its leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).
When Ethan (Cruise), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) receive intel that fundamentalist members of the Apostles plan to detonate three nuclear bombs in crowded religious centres, the team tries to disrupt the sale of the plutonium cores.
The mission fails when Ethan chooses to save Luther's life and the bombs are in the wind. After the latest cock-up, CIA director Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett) sends her agent August Walker (a moustachioed Henry Cavill) on the next mission with Ethan.
Walker is a brute force kind of guy, preferring to punch, shoot and kill first, which makes him Ethan's opposite and foil.
The mission puts them in the path of a duplicitous arms dealer named White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) who is to serve as an intermediary for the plutonium cores, which Ethan can only get his hands on if he agrees to free Lane.
He also faces off with Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), the MI5 agent who's determined to kill Lane. Ferguson's return is a first for the franchise, which usually leaves its female cast members behind, only carrying over the men from one film to the next. Ditto with director Christopher McQuarrie, who previously directed Rogue Nation, becoming the first MI repeat director.
Michelle Monaghan, who played Ethan's wife Julia in the third movie - she has popped up in cameo form once before and also returns in Fallout, which is supposed to be the culmination of all of Ethan's choices up to this point, coming home to roost.
Mission Impossible has never been super concerned about legacy until now and it's refreshing to see it devote so much story time and character development to the consequences of Ethan's decades gallivanting around the world playing hero, which tends to leave a lot of collateral damage.
The story progression, as you'd expect from a spy thriller, has many twists and turns, double-triple-quadruple crosses, some of which you see coming from way off and some you don't, and some of which is really stretching the realm of reality. It's not the strongest element of the movie but it'll do - it's best you don't think about it too hard.
Of course, what you come for is the action and there's no franchise doing this better than Mission: Impossible.
It's not just that Ethan Hunt HALO jumps out of plane 25,000 feet above the Earth's surface in a vertigo-inducing sequence, it's that Tom Cruise HALO jumps out of a plane 25,000 feet above the Earth's surface.
It's Tom Cruise who learnt to fly a helicopter so he could do a barrel roll flying over New Zealand's South Island (standing in for Kashmir), it's Tom Cruise racing through the backstreets behind the Paris Opera on a motorcycle and it's Tom Cruise who broke his leg leaping across rooftops next to the Thames in London.
The franchise's commitment to practical effects and stunning real-life locations, rather than copiously using CGI and green screen like its contemporaries, isn't some movie star's vanity project. It creates a real sense of jeopardy for the audience. You're constantly catching your breath.
That's the kind of exciting, adrenaline-pumping and visceral movie-going experience Mission: Impossible is known for and delivers.
The only thing that lets the movie down (some story issues and one weirdly edited scene aside) is that it starts to drag in the last act. Coming in at almost two-and-a-half hours, Mission: Impossible - Fallout is definitely one action sequence too long, though I'd be pressed to nominate one to omit - a small quibble but one that prevents it from being a perfect action movie. So close.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout is in cinemas from Thursday, August 2.
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