You know what you're getting yourself into when you go see a Mission Impossible movie, and that's part of the franchise's charm. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to think as little as possible, sit back, and watch Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) jump out of windows, and dangle from various aircrafts over dizzying landscapes. Mission Impossible: Fallout, the sixth installment in the series, follows the pattern set up by the original back in 1996. It's formulaic, predictable, and insanely fun.
Ethan Hunt is back for another high stakes mission (as someone points out later in the film, it's probably never occurred to him that he has the option to say no), along with trusty IMF teammates Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). Their assignment is to retrieve three highly dangerous plutonium cores from a man code-named John Lark, who is working with anarchist terror-network The Syndicate (yes, them again) to bring down the free world. Like Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) — the former MI6 agent turned-Syndicate Supreme Leader who was captured by Ethan back in 2015's Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and who returns to haunt him for this movie — Lark believes that humanity is its own worst enemy, and that a violent catalyst is needed to redress the matter. ("The greater the suffering, the greater the peace," is the mantra repeated throughout.) If the Syndicate acquires the cores in question, they can build nuclear weapons powerful enough to destroy the world as we know it.
I could go on, but the truth is the plot doesn't matter much, and it would be a shame to miss out on the twists and turns of what is really an escapist lark (pun very much intended). Unlike so many other recent blockbusters intent on tapping into the current political climate for inspo, Fallout remains true to its roots. Its villain is positively 90s: An anarchist operating in an international context so stable and united that he is the only real threat. Does that mean the President of the United States isn't threatening to upend the world order? That the Supreme Court isn't on the brink of reversing Roe v. Wade? What a world. Such a villain also plays against the trend popularized by Black Panther, of having an antagonist with understandable motives. We can all pretty much agree that nuclear blasts in populated areas are bad, and should be prevented.
The power struggle between CIA chief Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett) an Secretary of the IMF Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is the only thing that feels remotely relatable. She is pro-casualties if it gets results. He wants to save that one life, as well as the millions. The continued existence of the IMF, a unit that implies a continued role for the United States as the world's superhero, remains in semi-question throughout. As a result of this internal conflict, Ethan gets saddled with August Walker, a CIA operative played by Henry Cavill and his mustache (a survivor of the great Justice League erasure of 2017), who is there to pull the trigger if Ethan's conscience gets in the way. (It is a strangely cruel phenomenon that has made Cavill, by all rights a heart-melting leading man, into a punchline. I suspect it has something to do with our inability to process someone that physically perfect.)
Action franchises have been disappointing of late. James Bond is stuck trying to be artsy and failing, and most spy thrillers have been overshadowed by the rise of Marvel and DC, who provide fight scenes with the added bonus of colorful costumes, capes, and superpowers. But to say that Fallout is a great action movie purely in relation to others would be unfair. The action sequences are truly fantastic, and include a breathtaking car-chase through Paris, a helicopter chase over the mountains on the border of Kashmir that I watched with my fingers covering my eyes, and the requisite rooftop acrobatics that caused Cruise to sprain his ankle during filming. (There's even a nod to the original, which is so cheesy and yet so vital to the experience that the audience in my screening openly cheered.)
Yes, the plot is contrived, and implausible, and full of masks and identity thefts, but the film aggressively owns its premise. It never tries to be more than it is. The same can be said for Tom Cruise who, at age 56, fully leans into the myth that he is still a 30-year-old heartthrob un-ironically carrying a franchise as the romantic lead and action star. That would be frustrating, and reeking of white male privilege, if the film didn't redeem itself with interesting female characters. And while neither recurring ally Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), nor new and intriguing arms broker White Widow (The Crown's Vanessa Kirby) feel particularly groundbreaking, they are presented as capable. independent women who are good at their jobs, rather than damsels in need of rescuing. In fact, they're usually the ones doing the saving.
The two and a half hour run-time is off-putting (and sadly, a more and more frequent occurrence), but overall, Fallout is a solid summer blockbuster that delivers on thrills, smiles and exuberant facial hair. Mission accomplished.