Saturday Features

Mission implausible

- OBIE SHRESTHA

Aug 4, 2018-

Even before we get to the opening credits in the new Mission Impossible: Fallout, we’ve already been briefed on two global terrorist groups with such wonderfully ominous names as “the Apostles” and “the Syndicate”; witnessed a loopy interrogation scene featuring Wolf Blitzer; and our secret superagent hero Ethan Hunt (played by that chugger from the fountain of middle-age known as Tom Cruise) has already chosen to accept his latest mission, involving the retrieval of a substantial quantity of plutonium lest the abovementioned baddies decide to use it to, you know, nuke the world or whatever. Talk about jumping right in! But it’s precisely that kind of no-messing-around quality that has enabled the Mission Impossible franchise to keep its head so well above water for over two decades now(!)—outrunning many of its contemporaries in the action blockbuster field. And this newest installment, directed by the frequent Cruise-collaborator who also helmed the last MI film, Christopher McQuarrie, makes a terrific case for why the series will probably endure even longer.

 

 

In this latest outing, Hunt and his posse from the Impossible Missions Force—namely, tech wizards Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg)—having bungled their assignment to prevent three plutonium balls from falling into the hands of the Apostles, come under fire from the new CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett). As punishment, she decides they must now be chaperoned in their attempts to recover that radioactive bounty by the stone-faced Special Activities agent August Walker (Henry Cavill), just to make certain there are no more mistakes.

As much as Hunt might not appreciate being babysat in this manner, he realises he has little choice. And not surprisingly, he is soon to discover that things are not always what they appear to be; as Hunt tries to adjust to an increasingly convoluted web of conspiracies and false identities, he is set on an unexpected collision course with several ghosts from his past, including Isla Faust, the MI6 operative he had befriended during his Rogue Nation adventures (Rebecca Ferguson), Solomon Lane, the rogue British agent he had helped drag into custody in that earlier film, and a very, very significant other. As always, Hunt’s battles are as internal as they are external—he has always struggled with the human cost of the work that he does. Thankfully, the pseudo-philosophical moral deliberating soon gives way to the far more interesting action spectacles that make up majority of the film’s run time, complete with a doomsday clock ticking away, motorcycle rides through la belle Paris, some crazy rooftop parkouring, a return of those impossibly life-like rubber masks and a scene that puts a literal spin on the word “cliffhanger”, among others.

Much as in the case of preceding installments in the series, plot and narrative coherence aren’t really among Fallout’s strengths. It’s all very rudimentary spy-action stuff, and one never really gets any substantive insight into the minds of any of the characters—excluding Hunt, even though he doesn’t fare all that much better either—they’re all basic two-dimensional types. Even the villain could very well have just torn a page off of the Handbook for Madmen with Apocalyptic Visions that appears to have comprised standard reading material for so many interchangeable blockbuster baddies of late. Though McQuarrie, who also wrote the screenplay, does try to trip us up with a number of cheeky twists, one can pretty much see most of these double-crosses coming from a mile away. And my least favourite scenes in the film are the chatty, more intimate ones: neither McQuarrie nor Cruise have a flair for the emotional stuff, and the dialogues often come out cringe-worthily hammy and manufactured. Less talk, more jumping out of buildings, please.

Speaking of jumping out of buildings, let’s get to the good stuff, the parts where Fallout truly shines. If you’ve come to the film expecting nothing more than relentless bouts of outlandish stunts and well-executed action choreography—and, of course, the joy of seeing Cruise dangling precariously off of a variety of objects and surfaces—then you’re not going to be disappointed. There’s something very nostalgic, almost comforting about these sequences, as odd as that might sound, perhaps because they feel timeless in a way, like they could belong to an era in which action set-pieces weren’t yet obscured by overuse of digital effects and where the punches and thuds felt rather more visceral, more tangible.

Of course, a big part of that—and the major reason for the franchise’s longevity—has to do with the widely-publicised fact that Cruise does his own stunts for these films. Meaning that much of the physical exertions that we’re seeing onscreen is actually the actor himself, rather than a convenient double, and McQuarrie wants us to never forget that, if how he trains the camera on Cruise’s face throughout these feats is any indication. Indeed, this conceit is such a big part of the film’s make-up that there are certain moments—most notably during a chopper chase scene—where the visuals have been deliberately made to take on an almost documentary quality, all pretenses of plot and storyline laid down for the meanwhile, the focus solely on showcasing this one man and his labours.

Cruise himself is as game as ever, up to seemingly any challenge it seems. Whatever your feelings towards the actor, if you’ve seen the video of him breaking an ankle while filming one of Fallout’s more extreme stunts—and then, still insisting on finishing the scene—you’ll know it’s hard not to admire that kind of commitment. Others in the cast don’t really register much: Pegg is wasted, his role limited to a couple of punchlines, and maybe one really good scene; Rhames is just okay; and Cavill—whose mustache I couldn’t take my eyes off of knowing what we now know of the trouble it caused for another franchise he was part of—has zero personality. Vanessa Kirby does show up in an enjoyable cameo to class up the joint, but there’s not enough of her here. 

To wrap it up, the reason Fallout, and the MI series overall, still enjoy currency in this age of blockbuster fatigue is because they know exactly what they are: a vehicle for good old-fashioned action in the purest, most unadulterated form possible, nothing more, nothing less.

Mission Impossible: Fallout

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Actors: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames

Genre: Spy action

Published: 04-08-2018 08:56

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