“Why don’t you just die?!!!” The exasperated bad guy that shouts this question to Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible — Fallout deserves the gruesome fate awaiting him. Silly rabbit should know that our indefatigable hero is now in his 22nd year of executing dizzying, dazzling stunts. He’s not even close to slowing down. And the highly enjoyable new chapter of the saga is the preeminent popcorn movie of the summer.
Yup, Tom Cruise is still at the top of his game — not to mention the top a Paris skyscraper. You need to see it, preferably in IMAX, to truly believe it. Thought Cruise hit his adrenaline peak when he dangled from a moving plane in the opening moments of 2015’s Rogue Nation? Rookie move. Now he can use a flying helicopter as a weaponized baseball bat, crash it, then still have enough fuel in his tank to combat his enemy while dangling off the cliff of a snow-capped mountain. That’s just one white-knuckled set piece in a movie flush with ‘em. (Take note, Skyscraper fans.) By the way, the prologue in this installment is a twisty old-school comical delight. Think of it as a crackerjack before that familiar fuse is lit.
For all the death-defying thrills in Fallout, there’s a freshness to the story in that it’s the first one to directly build on the plot of its predecessor. Remember Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the sneering British renegade agent from Rogue Nation? Prolly not, which is fine. Though he’s now in the custody of the government, he’s still a power player in the crime syndicate. This time the group is hell-bent on using plutonium to set off massive global bombs. Hunt chooses to accept a mission that involves nabbing the plutonium (and, no, the Libyans from Back to the Future don’t have it.)
This is no solo operation. Hunt has the help of his regular posse of experts — played by the likeably brusque Ving Rhames, comic maestro Simon Pegg and nostril-flaring Alec Baldwin. And because the IMF’s rogue brand of espionage has never appealed to the suits in Washington D.C., a new CIA chief (Angela Bassett) sticks her own guy (Henry Cavill) with the crew. The mustached Cavill is significantly more comfortable tearing into the biggest movie star of the past 35 years than he is donning Superman’s Man of Steel cape. Meanwhile, former foe Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) has her own agenda with Lane. The fierce femme fatale every bit as, er, steely as her male counterparts.
The group skips from Berlin to Paris to London to the country of Kashmir, leaving a bloody trail and mucho destruction in their wake. Yet the violence is slick enough to warrant a paltry PG-13 rating. All the more applause-worthy considering writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (who wrote Edge of Tomorrow and The Usual Suspects) packs so much in Fallout that he essentially delivers M:I 7, M:I 8 and M:I 9 as well. When it seems like the big narrative arc might be winding down — the audience in my screening room literally burst in applause at a certain discovery — it’s really just a jumping-off point for the climactic Act III.
Truth is, if you’ve seen one Mission: Impossible movie since 1996, you’ve seen ‘em all. But that adage only means that you’re once again in store for a breathless, comically tinged actionpalooza. (A fight scene in a gleaming nightclub bathroom is more choreographed than the finale of a Broadway musical.) Audiences flock to these M:I movies to see these hallmarks such globe-trotting adventures, high-tech toys, illogical high-stakes plots and the rubber masks designed to fool you in all sorts of fun ways. BTW, I don’t know how the IMG gets the budget to make those perfectly sculpted masks but they get me every time. Patented live-wire craziness can be immensely satisfying.
As can watching a bona fine action star give his all. Cruise, who turned 56 on July 3, is finally starting to show some wear and tear. He shattered his ankle jumping off one building; there is something slight off with his face (not judging, just saying.) But he never fails to disappoint in this role. And he is the No. 1 reason this franchise remains robust. It’s possible he might soon retire from the gig. Let’s make it our mission to ensure that he doesn’t.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout opens in theaters on Friday, July 27