There is nothing quite like the Mission: Impossible franchise in Hollywood. Sure, some series have been around longer, but most have recast and retooled as time has gone by. Mission: Impossible, by contrast, has continually upped its game while keeping Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt front and center in the story. We're now on installment number six with Mission: Impossible - Fallout, and while conventional wisdom would dictate that a 22-year-old franchise fronted by a 56-year-old action star would have flagged by now, but the new film has shockingly improved upon the series in almost every conceivable way. It's not only one of the best installments in the M:I canon, but one of the best action movies of the century so far.
Set two years after the events of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Fallout catches up with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team on the trail of three nuclear weapons. However, when the IMF loses the warheads during a botched operation (due to Ethan making a moral judgement call) the team is forced to ally with CIA agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) as they go on a journey to track down the elusive John Lark - an anarchist who wants to use the nukes to create a new world order. Along the way, demons from Ethan's past surface as he finds himself face to face with endlessly-enigmatic Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and the maniacal Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).
Let's get one thing out of the way up front: action franchises shouldn't maintain this level of high quality with this degree of consistency. What Tom Cruise has managed to do with the Mission: Impossible franchise is nothing less than amazing, as Mission: Impossible -Fallout continues the series' impeccable track record of delivering nonstop action defined by the specific artistic fingerprint of the director behind the camera.
In this particular go-around, Chris McQuarrie (the first director to double up in the series) has pretty much perfected his craft as a Mission: Impossible director. The fights are brutal, stunts are kinetic, and the chases are as pulse-pounding as they get. McQuarrie has honed a lot of the traits that showed up in films like Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation to deliver a movie that, at least from an action perspective, tops anything that you're going to see this summer. Yes, movies like Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 offered up some delightful set pieces with the help of strong special effects, but Mission: Impossible - Fallout is the type of movie that will endure because of the sheer level of practical authenticity apparent in each shot. Even after the Burj Khalifa sequence from Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol or the airplane stunt from Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, there are moments in Fallout that are unlike anything we have ever seen.
Of course, a considerable portion of the credit goes to Tom Cruise, who continues to double down on his status as an action icon. Honestly, after audiences get a chance to see Fallout, it will be hard to argue against the notion that he's the genre's most powerful and enduring figure. Between a single take HALO jump, a white-knuckle motorcycle chase, and a death-defying helicopter dogfight (to name a few set pieces), Fallout stands out as one of the most thoroughly-impressive physical performances that Cruise has ever delivered.
Tom Cruise's stunt prowess seems aided by the fact that the seasoned actor arguably delivers his best performance as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible - Fallout. There's a healthy balance of physical and emotional pain lurking behind Ethan in this movie that wasn't apparent in many of the other films, with Cruise effectively conveying the character's perpetual exhaustion through his daring exploits. Move over, James Bond, because Ethan Hunt is the action world's defining spy these days.
The rest of Fallout's cast rises to the challenge of matching Cruise's intensity, as well. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg remain reliable as Luther and Benji, Ethan's most trusted confidants, while Rebecca Ferguson's return as Ilsa Faust helps to complicate the story and add more layers of the distrust that were apparent in Rogue Nation. With all of that said, it's Henry Cavill who rises to the top of the supporting cast as CIA agent August Walker. A "hammer" to Ethan Hunt's "scalpel," Walker is a brutally-efficient character who gets some jaw-dropping action beats (particularly one fantastic bathroom fight scene) alongside Mr. Hunt.
All of this feels bolstered by a strong sense of tone, a beautiful visual style, and a booming score by Lorne Balfe that evolves the legendary Mission: Impossible theme in almost every way. Some audience members might feel somewhat jarred by the aspect ratio changes that occur throughout the movie as some scenes swap back and forth between the IMAX and standard formats, but other than that, Mission: Impossible - Fallout remains one of the most beautiful-looking blockbusters that we have seen so far this year.
It should be noted that for everything Mission: Impossible - Fallout does right, it's not a completely airtight story. Fallout is arguably the most continuity-driven entry in the franchise to date, with some deep cut references to other entries in the series (particularly as they relate to Vanessa Kirby's White Widow character) that newcomers might not pick up on at first. It's not enough to break the movie's story by any means, but when compared to the relatively lean storytelling of past films, it can make Fallout feel a bit busy at times. Nevertheless, this is a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, as Fallout generally feels expertly-executed from start to finish.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout is one of the most confident and capable action movies of the century. The franchise only seems to gain momentum with each passing installment, and the sixth entry in the series leaves us hoping that Ethan Hunt and the agents of the IMF will continue to accept these missions for years to come. See this movie as soon as possible, and on the biggest screen possible.