All hail the saviour of the modern blockbuster action spy thriller!
It may seem a bold claim to make in an age when James Bond and Bourne have proven you can have thrills and international spills and still say something, however fleetingly expressed, that’s meaningful and insightful about the human condition; but after witnessing the way Mission: Impossible – Fallout, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie and with Tom Cruise returning as the intrepidly dogged IMF agent Ethan Hunt, it is one I happily stand by.
Right from the start of the revived franchise, albeit with a few less-than-stellar episodic wobbles along the way but most particularly since McQuarrie took over with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the Mission: Impossible films have proven themselves to possess both engrossingly bombastic narrative momentum and an affecting sense of humanity that weaves itself seamlessly into the franchise’s DNA.
It’s a tantalisingly satisfying mix of two usually mutually-exclusive blockbuster ingredients that gives the films a robust substance that’s noticeably absent from a lot of other globe-spanning action film that nails the bombs and mayhem, but stumble when it comes to delivering characters we actually give a damn about.
McQuarrie and Cruise together, because let’s not forget that the movie star who fronts the franchise, along with now established team members Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is no silent participant in the franchise’s success, have created that rare breed among blockbusters – a film with an actual beating heart.
In the case of Mission: Impossible – Fallout it’s the fact that, apart from the close bonds between Ethan, Luther and Hunt – so close that they play a pivotal part very early on in the trajectory of the never-less-than-gripping story – Hunt is no unemotional bystander in the events careening and cavorting through the film.
If you recall, he was forced to split from wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) such was his desire to keep her safe and still be able to do his job – if that sounds like a cold, heartless decision, one glimpse of Hunt with his wife, agony writ large across his face, is enough to convince it ripped his heart out to do what he did – only to find himself emotionally-invested in the fate of MI6 agent Faust with whom he forms an unexpectedly close bond.
It’s who Hunt is – he cares, he cares a lot, and apart from his preternatural ability to run at great speed across impossibly large distances (there must be exercise program in there somewhere), it’s what defines him as a man, and why, as Alec Badlwin’s IMF Director Alan Hunley says to him at one point, the IMF is such a different animal to other agencies like the CIA.
Unlike the agency fronted in this film by the far more coldly-calculating Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett in fine steely form), the IMF considers all life to be valuable, which is why Hunt will prioritise the one just as much as the many.
It’s this driving respect for human life that fuels Hunt, and hence the IMF, and which informs much of the action that takes place; the set pieces are as spectacular as you could ask for, possessed of a fluid balletic choreography that is entrancing to watch – witness the chase scene through Paris which is a thing of ferociously pinpoint beauty – but what gives them particular resonance is the fact that Hunt can’t simply employ any means at hand simply by pointing to the end.
The end matters, of course since without it there’d be no reason for him to take the death defying risks he takes as a matter of routine (such as the final act’s fight atop a vertigo-inducing clifftop in Kashmir) but it ultimately would be soured or corrupted if it was achieved with wanton disregard for the very thing that matters most to Hunt – the preservation of human life.
It doesn’t matter if it’s someone close to him or a bunch of villagers he’ll never trade a Christmas card with, Hunt is a man of character, emotion and heart who also happens to devastatingly good at besting and outwitting the bad guys.
Not that he’s wholly successfully at that, at least not early in the story for where would the film go if Hunt was a evil-fighting god, but he manages to be both a saviour and vulnerably human and that makes him a wholly compelling figure to watch and gifts Mission: Impossible – Fallout (and its predecessors, of course) with the kind of humanity that elevates its well above others in the genre.
But with the emotion, and the resonance is so loud it sounds like a beating drum, comes crazily over-the-top action, which Mission: Impossible – Fallout has in gasp-inducing spades.
Like any action spy blockbuster worth its impressive gadgetry and impeccably-tailored outfits – is it possible to look good and save the world? Yes it most certainly so with Hunt’s hairstyle barely skipping a perfectly-coiffed beat – many of the sequences are laughably, grandly, epicly larger-than-life.
But you care not, and not simply because there’s a huge amount of heart to balance the action cheese; it’s that each of the bombastically cheery scenes is delivered with a sinuous muscularity that gives them a kind of artistic edge that makes them almost beautiful to behold.
Elegant and sparse, silently powerful and coolly dramatic, Mission: Impossible – Fallout manages to be both restrained and intense, utterly full-on and contemplative, using music, silence and rampant noise to generate a vigorously-involving atmosphere that still feels almost meditative throughout.
It’s almost like an act of magic the way it balances the two extremes but it does, and does it magnificently well, even managing to throw some humour in now and then to lighten things up a bit:
“Hope is not an agenda!”
“You’re new around here, aren’t you?”
There’s no such as a perfect action spy thriller, just as perfection eludes pretty anything that falls into humanity’s remit, but Mission: Impossible – Fallout gets pretty close, crafting an immersive film that is heartfelt and dramatic, over-the-top and contemplative, wildly noisy and insightfully inward-looking, a winningly-appealing cinematic experience that understands that we need a heaping, helping dose of humanity if we’re to give a damn about the world being saved (again) at all.