Thursday 16 August 2018: Another Impossible Cruise Missile (2018) A Few Observations by Philip Powers

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) #51552

A Christopher Macquarie Film

Tom Cruise, Henry Cahill, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin & Angela Bassett

Now that we’re up to the sixth film in the franchise I thought that the stunts would have become repetitious enough that they’d have all become interchangeable in my mind. Yet, I was surprised, that new ways of choreographing these scenes could be done so that they don’t come across as ‘the same thing, just a little differently.’

That being said, there are newly choreographed sequences of the same things we’ve seen before: Cruise jumping out of a plane, Cruise riding a motor bike without a helmet, Cruise dangling from a plane or a helicopter, Cruise hanging from the side of a sheer rock-face and Cruise running really, really fast.

– Philip Powers, 20180818

The revitalised Mission: Impossible television series began brilliantly in 1996 (when Brian DePalma stepped into the frame at the last minute), then continued in 2000, 2006, 2011, 2015 and 2018. The increasing urgency of the films probably underlines the fact that Cruise is aware that his star is falling (more and more rapidly) and his films are not performing well any more in his home country while still being successful overseas.

In recent years with the development of his Mission: Impossible franchise and his new Jack Reacher franchise, Tom Cruise has become the ultimate actor/stuntman/action hero (in which he broke an ankle this time according to newspaper reports). Whereas Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis have been delivering a lot of variable action films, Tom Cruise just keeps on going with consistently good action films (The Mummy [2017] excepted: $80 million* domestic gross which still grossed $400 million worldwide – not bad for a falling star, when his worst, most misjudged and misguided film in years can reap these returns).

The high point was MI:2 which did $215 domestically, although (adjusted for inflation) the first one is still the biggest hit (M:I and M:I 2 sitting in 2018 dollars at $379 and $370 million respectively) in terms of ticket sales. #3 pulled in a respectable $134 million while 4 and 5 did an average of $200 million each. The latest one will finish at around $180 million (my guess, after three weekends) even though it had the best weekend opening of all six films (unadjusted) with $61.5 million; also the second largest opening (unadjusted) of his career. However, it should be remembered that the original M:I film pulled in $45 million in 1996 when it debuted which is close to $95 million now.

Cruise has been smart with his choice of writers and directors, using John Woo to create the most unusual of all six films (and second most successful), and bringing J.J. Abrams on-board for number three (written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and J.J. Abrams). For number four he used the animation wizard (of The Incredibles 1 and 2 and Ratatouille) to make an excellent entry (written by Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec). For number five he tapped Christopher McQuarrie, writer of the legendary The Usual Suspects (who also wrote the first Jack Reacher screenplay – from Lee Child’s ‘One Shot’ as well as Edge of Tomorrow). With McQuarrie he gets two for the price of one, a smart writer – and a smart plotter – who also directs. For the latest Ethan Hunt extravaganza McQuarrie serves in both roles once again.

Fallout is by far the longest of them all. All of them, with the exception of the first, run two-hours or more. The latest runs three minutes shy of 2½-hours.

Some people object to films running 130-minutes-plus. They think it is too long unless it is an epic in the mould of Gone with the Wind, Dances with Wolves or Titanic, but it’s actually smart thinking by McQuarrie and Cruise, because in 2018 you need time to feature extended action sequences as well as develop an intricate plot by similarly featuring quite a bit of talking. It places the franchise in a double-bind because if the action sequences don’t top the previous ones then the audience will be underwhelmed and if you don’t have enough twists and turns in the plotting, the thinkers are going to be dissatisfied. These films have to serve as action films and spy films equally.

This is where the latest incarnation meets its insurmountable hurdle, which is to provide anything fresh. It’s completely absent from Mission: Impossible – Fallout. It’s made up of the same blueprint of any number of stunt-ridden franchises (like The Fast and the Furious, which don’t rely – much – on any kind of plot). The colour has gone out of its cheeks. It’s fallen victim to the same thing that is going to kill the Bourne franchise, the last of which pulled in $162 million domestically: this kind of film, like The Expendables, and like the James Bond, Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones series, face a seriously impossible mission – creating original action sequences. The last Jason Bourne film was admirable for its action sequences, as was Salt in 2010 and Die Hard 4.0 in 2007. But what hurts all of the two-dimensional plotting in these films, like the Dwayne Johnson action films, is the lack of consistently funny dialogue, the fact the credibility of the plot isn’t credible enough, and that the snakelike plotting of double and triple-crosses in the spy films has become too confusing (innumerable examples). What you’re left with is extraordinary achievements like John Wick 1 and 2 and Atomic Blonde, which cannot hope to balance a plot that has even a whiff of anything vaguely in the ballpark of story-satisfaction for those who enjoy the mental as well as the physical stimulation.

I applaud Christopher McQuarrie in both of the last two films but M:I is going the way of the dinosaurs, starting with the terribly lame offering from the Jurassic Park team, this year, with Juarssic World: Fallen Kingdom (which still grossed . What was in my head throughout Fallen Kingdom was the constant thought that the animation of the two prominent dinosaurs and the way that was combined with the destruction of property was so believably integrated that I was in awe of the talents of everyone involved in the CGI, particularly those who created such realistic animal movements. The way Blue and the Indoraptor move is so exquisitely beautiful my mind kept appreciating every single movement of the legs, the head and the tail of these two beasts; not the tale. I wasn’t thrilled by the action, I found no part of the film suspenseful and I had too much time to reflect on how unfunny the funny lines were, how ridiculous the villain Eli Mills (and his accomplice, actor Rafe Spall) is and how clichéd the plot was and how little of it there was to make sense of. When my mind should have been riveted to the screen I was actually counting the rivets. This is why I think McQuarrie should be recognised for bringing a fair amount of common-sense plotting to M:I VI.


Despite the obvious guilt of Walker (Henry Cavill) throughout the entire length of the movie (and I hadn’t seen the trailer so I wasn’t alerted by how it positioned that character), the inclusion of Lane, and the way his character – by nice sleight-of-hand, distracting from who John Lark really is and his importance to the plot – comes to be the dominant villain during the last quarter of the film, is nicely achieved. Even the fact that Director of the CIA, Sloane (Angela Bassett), is not a true-believer in the fidelity of Ethan Hunt to the USA is well-done, given that Walker is so trusted by her and Hunt is so trusted by Hunley (Alec Baldwin) the head of the IMF. At one point she demands they all stop their mission and come back home because she doesn’t trust any of them anymore and wants to send in a new team. It is pretty solid reasoning given the amount of disinformation there is in the air and the fact that she’s lost trust in everyone. She wants to sort out who the traitor is while a new team tries to retrieve the rest of the missing plutonium. There’s even a nice inclusion of an old movie trick, a variation on the James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Taylor plot from 36 Hours, and a really well-done change of plans by Hunt, flying in the face of his orders from the White Widow where he hijacks Lane despite the army of bad guys surrounding him. In one of the most beautiful scenes of violence ever depicted on film the hold of Lane’s car has all audio muted except for the underscore. It makes for a suspenseful, heightened, albeit brief, respite of bullets and bombs.

The inclusion of Isla (Rebecca Ferguson, reprising her role from Rogue Nation), who is tracking Hunt, hoping he will lead her to Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who she has orders to assassinate to prove her loyalty to MI6 (after her deep cover assignment in Rogue Nation), is thoughtful and provocative. She’s caught between a rock and a hard place because she believes in Ethan and doesn’t realise the importance of Lane – to use as bait – to sort out his dilemma. These balls ([plot-points) are kept in the air by McQuarrie, juggling the balance between friendships, comradery and good judgement, and the fact that CIA Director Sloane is withholding important information from everyone – except Walker, the villain – about the real role of the White Widow.

See how much I’m writing about the plot in M:I VI? You can’t spend that amount of time describing the plot in John Wick, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Baby Driver or Atomic Blonde. You can with M:I VI because they’ve allowed the film 147-minutes to balance action and story.

And, it’s at that point where Cruise and McQuarrie and J.J. Abrams (the producer) allow the film to go to hell. They’re at bat, they’ve got a ball from a pitcher which they’re all over, and they mishit it for a foul. Despite the fact that all of the films have impossible missions and that everything in tv shows like Mission: Impossible and Alias (Abrams own M:I rip-off) have a never-ending series of ridiculous twists and unbelievable turns, Fallout suddenly goes ballistic. It chooses to resolve itself with something other than an impossible mission. It sets up three completely separate requirements of the plot, two of which have to happen through chance and nothing other than chance. The last fifth of the film is worse than people surmounting impossible odds which defy gravity, reducing it to an unbelievable series of events that would make the authors of the two or three most embarrassing James Bond screenplays, blush.

But, “hey, this is me”. For people who walk into a cinema for 150 minutes of entertainment and walk out of it not asking for anything that would make them want to see the film again – like Skyscraper or Rampage or Baywatch – that’s a different yardstick from mine.

What a shame that the appearance of caring about the overall credibility of the film was lost whilst trying to make the climax the most amazing action finale ever. I’m guessing that I need to have a larger capacity for being able to laugh at impossible things than I actually have.

* Box Office figures are taken from (and as they are figures taken from an unofficial source I can’t claim that they are accurate, just that I have used them to make my article interesting).