By JASON MARTIN (July 27, 2018)
Full disclosure: I’m an unabashed mega fan of the last two MI films, which I consider to be among the best action films of the decade. With VERY few exceptions, maybe just one, I’d take Ghost Protocol (and arguably Rogue Nation) over just about any Marvel or DC movie we’ve received.
Let’s say you view Ghost Protocol as Casino Royale, or perhaps you feel that way about Rogue Nation from a few years ago. If you’re viewing the Mission: Impossible series in comparison to, for sake of argument or a more appropriate example, James Bond’s more recent entries, Fallout is Skyfall, but I liked it better than that also outstanding film.
Folks, this is the best experience I’ve had inside a movie theater in 2018, bar none, and I can’t wait to see it again. That’s even with the fact that during the climax, a fight broke out inside the IMAX room I was in and much of the theater ran out in terror. That’s not a joke. We were given passes and apologies upon exiting. It was something else…but I digress.
Tom Cruise, despite his age, was born to play Ethan Hunt, and as the series has aged, it’s gone more the way of high-end wine than unfortunate dairy products. The original released all the way back in 1996, 22 years ago, which reminds me how old I am. I was a junior in high school when he hung by that wire to avoid touching the floor. That movie was cerebral and at times was taxing on the brain. It relied on dialogue to move its story along, with just a few action sequences. It was the MI version of a John Le Carre novel. As great as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was, I got lost attempting to watch the big screen adaptation. I’m not ashamed to admit it. It didn’t work for me.
Mission: Impossible did work for me, but it rewarded paying close attention. Then came the second installment, which was full of flash and sizzle, but lacked substance and was most known for its reworked and modern soundtrack than anything else. JJ Abrams directed the third movie, which featured an incredible performance by the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman as an unhinged arms dealer that lacked a soul. But, at that point, the Mission: Impossible series was merely regarded as “pretty good.”
Then came Brad Bird and the fourth movie in 2011, which not only was the highest reviewed of the quadrilogy, it was objectively a fantastic theater experience. Some of the larger scale scenes of Ghost Protocol rival anything we had seen attempted in big budget movies at the time, and I dare say we still haven’t seen much better than the Dubai building sequence, featuring Hunt scaling the world’s tallest glass building.
Rogue Nation released in 2015, Christopher McQuarrie took over for Bird, and although it wasn’t received quite as well, it was the eighth highest grossing film of the year. I was still a major fan. The series at this stage was basically the Fast and Furious franchise, which found a resurgence in its fourth film, and then absolutely took off with the inclusion of The Rock and more of an Ocean’s Eleven style of heist structure in the surprising Fast Five.
The two franchises to me are two peas in a pod, or I should say they WERE, right up until I walked out of Fallout, which absolutely blew me away for just how radically different it was than anything that had come before it in the series. Folks, this was a dark, gritty, intense, more grounded (until the last half hour at least) story that packed its own callbacks and story elements that generated more depth than we’ve ever gotten from a Mission: Impossible movie. That’s why I feel so strongly about its connection to Skyfall, which was exactly the same.
Casino Royale was excellent and had tremendous substance, but Skyfall created peril that felt much more believable and less reliant on the glitz and glamour. The foundation was stronger.
That’s the description that best describes Mission: Impossible: Fallout, the best action film of 2018 by a WIDE margin. If you remember MI:III, you know how personal the movie was for the Ethan Hunt character, as it largely centered around him trying to protect his wife, Julie (Michelle Monaghan), who was constantly in danger because of his line of work. Somehow, on more than one level, Fallout surpasses it in its personal and individual touch concerning Hunt. Cruise has never been better in the role than he is here, because he doesn’t play Ethan as if he’s Bart Simpson and has never aged. There’s a maturity, but it only drives him more, because what’s important to him now has grown, it’s expanded, and the stakes have never been higher.
The rest of the cast, as always, is exceptional. Simon Pegg’s inclusion dating back to 2006 created the lighter fare when needed, but Pegg can do the serious just as well. He’s always good in Abrams films, but Benji Dunn may well be my favorite recurring role of his. Rebecca Ferguson, who we met in Rogue Nation, has chemistry for miles with Cruise, and Ilsa Faust’s actual purpose in Fallout, from moment one, creates another web of intrigue for the Impossible Mission Force amidst one of its most crucial operations.
What is Mission: Impossible without Luther Stickell? Ving Rhames plays this guy perfectly, as he can drop a one-liner or a sarcastic barb when necessary, but also can shed a tear and get across Ethan’s past not just to those on screen hearing stories for the first time, but to the audience, better than Hunt could himself. Alec Baldwin remains exceptional as Alan Hunley, and we welcome in Angela Bassett as the head of the CIA.
And then there’s Henry Cavill, who is far better, like world’s better, in Fallout than at any point as Clark Kent or Superman. This guy owns it. There’s not much I can say here because the character is so important to the story and writing too many words might spoil something, but needless to say, Cavill absolutely nails it. His interplay with Cruise in particular stands out, and he was the perfect addition. In that vain, Bassett also feels exactly right for the future.
I had two thoughts after the first of MANY Fallout viewings. The first is how good it was and how it reminded me of Skyfall in how serious it took its story, amidst so many chances to go outlandish or cartoonish. It only did what it had to in order to stay true to the source material, but it was planted on solid ground. The second was this was the MI equivalent of 24‘s fifth season, which was nearly flawless. The height of one of the most talked about series of the century, which won the Emmy for best drama that year, it came after another great season. There was then a significant drop off.
We are six films into the Mission: Impossible franchise, and the last three have all been can’t miss, albeit to varying degrees. Ladies and gentlemen, without hyperbole, this is my favorite movie of the year so far. I do this for a living, I write about it and I consume entertainment to have fun and escape normalcy and lose myself in something. That’s what Fallout granted me. That’s what we all seek. You don’t feel like garbage walking out of it, the language isn’t terrible, and you feel not only that your money was spent wisely, but that your time was.
Go see this. It’s a solid A. In fact, I’m giving it an A+. When I can say, yeah that was better than Ghost Protocol, you’ve done something. And Fallout is better than Ghost Protocol. This is a STELLAR movie. Christopher McQuarrie has his masterpiece. I might go so far as to call this one of the great action films not just of the decade, but of all time.