Mission Impossible Fallout, the latest in the long running series, is a near perfect blockbuster. It won’t surprise you in its plotting or character beats, but it’s executed with such energy, style and panache that it still makes for a great night out.

This time the plot concerns stolen bomb material, which they’ve used at least once before. After Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, who is, somehow, 56) loses track of plutonium, he sets out to retrieve it. He’s forced to bring along a CIA assassin (Henry Cavill with a moustache) to get it back. They’re up against anarchists, which is a nice, retro kind of terrorism to bring back (anarchism was the most dangerous thing in the early 20th century, and helped kick off WW1) and, with the help of his usual team (Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames) they must get it back. It all gets complicated though. There are amoral brokers, multiple spy agencies involved, hired hitmen and nobody trusts anybody.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve probably anticipated a lot of what happens. The series, the longest running ongoing film series, (22 years with no reboots or recasts) has settled into a comfortable groove. Ethan Hunt is given a seemingly impossible task and his bosses don’t trust him, forgetting every other time he was completely right. It’s the same routine as last time.

But it doesn’t matter. It’s done so goddamn well that it won’t bother you how familiar any of it is. The simple stuff first: it looks great. Every shot is framed and lit expertly. There are a lot of scenes of near total darkness lit only by lamplight, but it’s never confusingly composed. It’s shot on location, and they show it off, with big wide shots to show that they really are in Paris or London or the Kashmir mountains. The sound is well used, little touches like garbled radio messages remaining garbled for the audience go well with the loud bangs of the action.

And the action is where it really stands out. The Mission Impossible series is one of the few action franchises going that has full scale set pieces. They’re not individual scenes where the plot is put on hold, punches are exchanged, and then the plot resumes. In the MI films, they’re stories, with beginnings, middles, and ends. After a sedate but atmospheric start, the film is really a series of long, elaborate set pieces, including a parachute jump (done for real) an extended truck and bike chase through Paris, and the astonishing helicopter chase finale through the mountains of Kashmir.

It’s a demonstration of the false dichotomy of action vs plot. After all, plot is action, and action is plot, one of the oldest lessons of fiction. The action scenes tell the plot and reveal character. And, like in the best Jackie Chan and Steven Spielberg movies, the characters are still their characters in the action scenes. They react to events, make decisions and interact with their environment.

It’s funny to think that Tom Cruise didn’t do his first proper action movie till 2000 at age 38, and now, as he approaches 60, he’s doing more and crazier stunt work than any other major star in Hollywood. Having dangled off a plane and nearly drowned in the last movie, he jumps out of planes, gets thrown through walls, weaves through traffic, pilots a helicopter and, of course, runs a lot. Tom Cruise always runs a lot and it’s the most consistent feature of his filmography.

It’s impressive how the action scenes feel distinct from one another. Whether it’s a gunfight lit almost entirely by flashlights, or another done in one take, there’s no repetition, despite it being quite a long movie with a lot of its runtime being action. Also, despite being the 6th film in a series that, as I said, has settled into a bit of a formula, it still manages to have a lot of weight behind its action scenes. It does manage to make you wonder if Ethan is really going to pull it off this time, which is probably the most impressive thing about it.

Overall, it’s a great night at the movies. You might call a few twists, but you’ll be too astonished by the next big stunt to congratulate yourself.


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