We are living in a truly enthralling time for modern cinematic franchises. There’s certainly a discussion to be had about where the grasp of media corporatism will lead us, what with the recent acquisitions of Marvel, Star Wars and 21st Century Fox by global media powerhouse Disney, but I’ll leave that for another time. For now, can we talk about sequels? Or specifically – the sheer absurdity of just how good modern sequels have become?
Until recent memory, you could count on one hand how many sequels were not only better or ‘as good’ as their predecessors, but those that were genuinely excellent films. In conversation you’d throw around the usual – Godfather Part 2, Terminator 2, Toy Story 2, Aliens – all as exceptions to the golden rule: sequels generally aren’t that great. More to the point, the notion of the ‘long standing’ franchise was relegated almost entirely to tiresome, repetitive horror movies (the Friday the 13th franchise, any sequel to Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street) or 80s action schlock (think Death Wish and the Rambo sequels). Not any more. These days both the domestic and international box office are dominated by franchises. Moreover, with one or two exceptions, the Star Wars, Fast and the Furious and Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises all maintain a strongly positive audience and critical reception – and some are getting better as time goes on. Both Fast and the Furious (8 films so far) and the M.C.U (21 films and counting) are raking in higher ratings now than when they began ten plus years ago.
So, with all that in mind, let’s talk about Mission Impossible: Fallout. The sixth film in a reboot franchise based on a late 60s to early 70s spy show. It is a film that has no right to be as good as it is – but make no mistake, it IS good. It’s excellent. In fact, without rushing to too much of a premature declarative judgement, I’d say it’s one of the best action movies I have ever seen in my life – and I was raised on a steady diet of Schwarzeneger and Stallone. The film is expertly crafted to have you at the edge of your seat and get your adrenaline pumping, all the while injecting just enough levity and gravitas when they’re needed. You will undoubtedly be thrilled for the entire two and a half hour run time.
The plot itself is fairly standard for a mission impossible flick: Terrorists steal some plutonium, the ‘Impossible Mission Force’ or IMF must then navigate a tight web of deception and espionage to get to it before a couple of nuclear warheads go off. Action set pieces and fun gadgetry abound. If you pay too much attention to the narrative structure you might find yourself a little confused at how simultaneously complicated and basic the whole thing is. It’s like taking the longest, most complicated route to get from point A to point B – but the truth is it doesn’t matter. I’ve never watched a movie where I could just discount the plot to its bare minimum and still love every second of it. There’s more than enough spellbinding action and adventure to keep you distracted from any perceived plot inconsistencies.
Where this movie truly shines is its set pieces. A car chase through the streets of Paris, a foot chase on rooftops and through office buildings, a ‘Halo Jump’ skydive, a helicopter chase through mountains and glaciers – one of any of these would be the most talked about aspect of ANY action film. Here Director Christopher Macquarie gives us a seemingly unending cavalcade of heart-stopping action, propelled upwards in no small way by the fact Tom Cruise actually performed many of these stunts himself – he learned to pilot a helicopter for the film’s climax, broke his ankle jumping across a roof ledge and even performed a serious halo (High Altitude Low Opening) jump on camera.
While we’re talking about Tom Cruise – love him or hate him, the man has a cinematic charisma. Cruise’s leading man Ethan Hunt is as enduring an action brand name as Rambo or John McClane, and the character (unlike the aforementioned McClane) has aged impeccably well. Ethan Hunt has slowly grown from a cocksure, out of depth government agent to an ageing, exhausted but self-aware powerhouse. He’s bolstered by an at times comically loaded performance by Cruise, who sometimes seemingly winks at the camera, almost to say “Yep, I am way too old for this, but here we go again!”.
The supporting cast in this outing are worth a mention too. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg return as IMF team members (and occasional comic relief) Luther Stickell and Benji Dunn respectively, whilst Henry Cavill (of Superman fame) gives a surprisingly effective (and endlessly fun) turn as Hunt’s competition-cum-antagonist August Walker, a CIA operative with suspicious motivations.
Here we go again indeed. I cannot talk highly enough of this adrenaline soaked thrillride. In an age where action franchises are excessive and bountiful, Mission Impossible: Fallout is a standout of the genre. If this pattern continues, I, for one, cannot wait for another instalment.