Second Sight: The Shock and Awe of Mission Impossible: Fallout

Visual storytelling is one of the cornerstones of artistic expression.  Auteurs create various works that bear their souls to the public for (sometimes merciless) consumption.  The action film is no exception, though the delivery method is often found not within specific compositions, but through various operas of blood, bullets, and breathtaking set pieces.  Christopher McQuarrie;s Mission Impossible: Fallout is an intersection of the two, merging a familiar but human story with one of the most audacious displays of stunt work ever committed to film.  While the predictability of the story conspires to undo it, McQuarrie's impeccable directorial control, Tom Cruise's painful dedication to authenticity, and some unexpectedly gorgeous cinematography elevate the film far above its franchise predecessors. 

Agent Ethan Hunt's humanity during a stressful situation leads to another threat against the world, forcing him and his team to delve back into the shadows of underworld politics.  As Hunt gets closer to the center of a web of conspiracies, it is revealed (again) that no one is what they appear to be.  McQuarrie's script is the weakest element, using tired retreads of yet another nuclear threat, however this is also the first hint at something far more intriguing.  Fallout is not only a thrilling action experience, it is an allegorical representation of the relationship between artists and consumers.  Easily the most mortal of the six entries, Fallout has an interesting preoccupation with humanity, considering it is a film filled with preternatural displays of physicality.  Cruise's Hunt is tormented by the very possibility of failure, mirroring a climate in which risk taking is anathema in the endless sea of hero's journey and origin stories being recycled and repurposed for the next IMAX spectacle.  There is a sequence involving a traffic cop that injects more humanity into the franchise than all of the other films combined and it reminds the viewer how powerful an actor Cruise can be when he chooses.  During the third act, Hunt continues to push himself while his comrades accept his inevitable success in an almost dogmatic mantra, echoing the faith that audiences have in their preferred forms of entertainment. This is a 22-year-old franchise that not only continues to improve with each entry, it has begun to resonate with both critics and audiences, a feat that has become increasingly difficult to accomplish.  

While the substance is admittedly thin, similar arguments could be made towards other titans in the genre, such as Fury Road and this concept broaches something deeper.  What is the measure of a story?  A spy gets betrayed again. A prolonged chase scene. A reluctant hero rises to the task.  There is no truly original story, only variations that add, subtract, and modify to present the artist’s vision to the masses.  What might be transcendent for one is fodder for another and it is this understanding that allows Fallout to exist among the titans of the genre.  The power of these films is in how grand ideas and powerful social commentary are presented visually. 

The action sequences in this film are dynamic and harrowing, including the infamous bathroom brawl that is worth the price of admission.  Rob Hardy's elusive cinematography captures the action in a plethora of colors and techniques.  The close quarters combats are framed with tight, claustrophobic shots, while the aerial maneuvers were filmed with IMAX cameras to create a larger than life aura that persists even when things move to the streets.  There are two chases, one in the air and one on the ground that are the arteries of McQuarrie's vivid promethean, summoning the ethos of the MI Films and then mutating them into something even more ground breaking.  Just as Cruise/Hunt is pushed to his limits, the death defying acrobatics on display are staunch reminders of the wonders of modern film making.  Phil Sims's art direction is both unflinchingly bold and traditional, with the arms dealing White Widow's nightclub auction being the epitome of opulence.  Lorne Balfe's kinetic score is the final ingredient, melding pulsing notes and traditional riffs into an unexpected frenzy that follows the IMF team wherever they tread.


Fallout also boasts a trio of potent performances by actresses whose inclusion is not only welcomed but is also seamlessly interwoven into an already vibrant cinematic universe.  Rebecca Ferguson continues her scene stealing turn as MI:6 agent Isla.  Her chemistry with Cruise is outstanding, forming the heart at the center of the narrative.  Both Hunt and Isla are confronted not only with the confines of their abilities but also the realization that there may not be a place for them in the world and their differing reactions is one of the film's many surprises.  Michelle Monaghan returns as Hunt's ex and while her role is essentially an extended cameo, her pathos is the symbol of everything at stake in the espionage game and it is hard to consider anyone else filling her shoes.  Finally, Vanessa Kirby's unstable supernova, the White Widow, absolutely enthralls anytime she is on screen, signaling an outstanding talent who deserves more work.  Rounding out the cast are series regulars Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and Alec Baldwin.  Angela Bassett joins the cast as a soft foil for Baldwin, however Henry Cavill's pugilist assassin is perhaps the film's greatest crime.  Not only is Cavill's performance trapped underneath the wreckage of the script, not even his moustache can obfuscate the character's telegraphed arc. 

Ultimately, some of the best films are the ones that say multiple things.  Horror is often considered to be one of the most malleable genres, however, throughout time some of the most important stories have come from the action genre, showing their own unique brand of violent flexibility.  The 21st century has delivered some of the best action films of all time, thrilling reminders that any art form can have relevance.  Mad Max: Fury Road, The John Wick films, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, Dredd, and The Raid films form a pantheon of cinema to which all members of the genre should aspire.   Mission Impossible: Fallout is a welcome addition to this august gathering.

--Kyle Jonathan