Mission Impossible Fallout: the best one yet?

We were first introduced to super spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in the first Mission Impossible in 1996 (directed by Brian de Palma), and it represented a bit of a departure for Cruise. His last film credited film before that was Interview with the Vampire (1994) and, with maybe the exception of Top Gun, he’d not really done action before.

Not that the first Mission was big on action, it was more a spy thriller with an action feel. And it’s fair to say the franchise has grown and morphed over the years. It switched gears, opting for full blown action for the second film and hasn’t looked back.

Now a juggernaut blockbuster, a huge part of the franchise’s success has been down to Cruise driving it, such is his star power.

For the sixth instalment, Fallout, Christopher McQuarrie returned as director (the first to do so), and went about giving it a different look and feel to his last film, Rogue Nation. The main premise here being the ‘fallout’ from all Ethan’s prior missions. So, in terms of setup (not that it matters much), we learn that Ethan’s team have lost three nuclear weapons which, obviously, they’d like back before a terrorist group called ‘the apostles’ decide to unleash them – as is the way with bad guys.

Blaming Ethan for losing the nukes is CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Basset), who decides to pair him up with Agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) to ensure the job gets properly. Ethan’s a scalpel and Walker is a blunt hammer. They immediately butt heads, but both grudgingly accepting that they have the same goal.

Cut to a trial by fire for Walker, who has to immediately proceed with a halo jump out of a plane over Paris for his first mission with Hunt, infiltrating a fancy party to make contact with a lead that should get them closer to the nukes. And whether it’s intensely visceral brawls in bathrooms, foot or motorbike or car chases, Cruise is at the heart of it all.

Now, we know he does all his own stunts, and a major part of the appeal of watching these films is wondering what crazy stuff he’ll do next. To the point where you find yourself exclaiming, ‘Oh my God, that’s Tom Cruise, he’s running across the top of Blackfriars bridge in London! He’s really doing it!’ This happens multiple times – often within a single scene.

The clever thing the filmmakers have managed to pull off is finding new and inventive ways in which to get from one action set piece to the next. And new ways in which to put Tom Cruise is perilous situations. You can almost imagine the headlines, ‘Tom Cruise died filming the latest Mission Impossible.’ Whilst it would be sad news indeed, it wouldn’t be hugely shocking. Probably with people saying, ‘Well, it’s the way he would have wanted to go.’

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Mission films are now a finely tuned machine. The action is tangible, visceral and exciting, and if CGI is used, it’s hard to pinpoint where or when. Indeed, McQuarrie manages to get a number of the action set pieces to feel like Christopher Nolan put them together, which is high praise indeed.

Then there’s the storytelling.
Yes, these films are action blockbusters, but they also feel like they deliver on character in a dynamic way. Never did I suffer from action fatigue, or feel that any character moments were being shoehorned into the story between the car chases and explosions, it all felt organic and well put together.

To the point where I’m comfortable saying that this is the best Mission yet.
Mr Cruise, I look forward to seeing what you’ll do for the next one, should you choose to accept it.

Jack Reacher – Cruise brings the pain!

JACK REACHERThere’s been so much talk of Cruise not being tall enough to fulfil the role of Lee Child’s man mountain creation Reacher, that many have lost sight of the fact that he’s an incredibly versatile, dramatic action actor.

It’s no wonder Lee Child gave his seal of approval. Plus if we’re going to talk physical appearance – other than height – Cruise fits the bill. As well as being incredibly ripped (there’s a shirt off scene to prove it) he gets Reacher’s movement spot on. A hulking presence, hands loose, ready to fight – but able to talk his way out of situations if needed.

Cruise also brings an intensity and intelligence to Reacher, perhaps drawing on his ruthless hitman character from Collateral. Dialogue on Reacher’s part is kept sparse and concise, so you’ll be disappointed if you think you’re paying to see a breakneck action film with the dial ramped up to 110%. Mission Impossible this ain’t and that’s no bad thing.

One director, one shot
This largely due to Writer/Director Christopher McQuarrie, whose past work includes The Usual Suspects, The Way of the Gun and Valkyrie. He’s also written the screenplay for forthcoming films The Wolverine and All You Need Is Kill, the latter starring Cruise.

McQuarrie’s films are intelligent and well scripted, often with great set pieces. His gun battles put you in mind of Michael Mann’s Heat in some respects. He’s primarily a writer, but his last directorial effort, The Way of the Gun starring Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe, was highly underrated. If you missed it, here’s the hilarious opening scene – not for kids!

JACK REACHERAnd so, back to the film. In terms of cast Cruise is amply – ahem – supported by Rosamund Pike’s lawyer, Helen, who mainly gets to react to most situations with wide-eyed surprise and a heaving busom. Sixty years ago that part would’ve gone to Marilyn Monroe! Perhaps I’m being unfair, Pike does well with what she has, but ultimately this is Cruise’s movie. That said, there’s a great addition of Robert Duvall in the third act. Bigger than a cameo and helps the plot along.

In terms of bad guys, McQuarrie’s choice of villain, Werner Herzog as shadowy gulag survivor The Zec, was an inspired one, if a tad underwritten. He has a suitably creepy introduction but goes a little downhill from there – his motivation for evil deeds perhaps not coming across as well as it could have done.

All in all though, McQuarrie and Cruise have confidently created a potential new action franchise. Reacher, a throwback to characters from 70s and 80s films, could perhaps be a breath of fresh air if done in a modern way. On the strength of this film, my guess is don’t be surprised if we see a sequel in the next few years. If McQuarrie stays on board – or a similar type of Director – then we’d be in for a treat.