RECAP: Mission: Impossible-Fallout

Mission: Impossible–Fallout (2018): Christopher McQuarrie

Ethan Hunt returns to clean up the mess he left after the events of Rogue Nation. The first straight sequel in the six-deep franchise, Mission: Impossible–Fallout also returns the chief villain from the last installment in 2015.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Ethan Hunt finds that the past can haunt you, as people from his past crop up left and right, and there’s some nukes in the wind. 

Hero (6/10)

Mission: Impossible–Fallout finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) dreaming about the enemy he captured a couple years ago. He’s also dreaming about his ex-wife, the only woman he’s ever loved. Somehow these two characters are going to enter the fray. How and why are unknown. In the dream, a nuclear bomb explodes and incinerates all parties.

Back in the awake world, Hunt has a mission, should he choose to accept it: find three missing nuclear warheads now in the hands of The Apostles, a group formed by the members of the anarchist organization Hunt foiled in Rogue Nation. These people went rogue from a rogue group. They’re double rogues.

Hunt and the Impossible Missions Force set up an elaborate ruse to extract a passcode for a phone owned by a man who helped make the nuclear bombs now missing. Hunt builds a fake hospital room and has his friend Benji (Simon Pegg) impersonate Wolf Blitzer using the IMF’s mask and voice-mimicking technology. Such subterfuge is all over Fallout.

Once again, Hunt will go to any lengths. At stake, as usual, are millions of lives. Also at stake is one life. Specifically Luther Stickell’s (Ving Rhames), Hunt’s longtime partner. Early on, Hunt and his team arrive in Berlin, where they plan to buy the plutonium cores from whoever stole them before.

The Apostles follow Hunt and take Luther hostage just after Hunt takes the nuclear cores. Hunt finds he has a choice–he can take the nukes and let Luther die, or he can save Luther and worry later about the nukes. Hunt chooses the latter. That choice is what makes him an asset, according to his boss, but a liability, according to the CIA. Hunt cares for the one life more than the millions.

What Hunt understands, and later the CIA, is that caring for the one life is as important as caring for the millions. They are morally equal. He’s solved the train track morality problem long ago: instead of switching the track, you knock the train over and save everyone.

To prove his moral superiority, Hunt agrees to break from custody the man he nearly died to put away: Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). The Apostles, who have the nukes, want Lane freed in exchange for one of the nukes. Hunt agrees to help rescue Lane, and does, though he does so on his terms. Hunt had a plan to recapture Lane and find the nukes, but there was always a chance the plan could fail. He risked everything to win everything. I wouldn’t go to Vegas with this guy.

Hunt might be the most fearless spy working today. The guy never shows fear when faced with tremendous odds against his physical safety. He treats every stunt like a duty to be born quietly, as if he has the best Protestant work ethic since Max Weber or Adam Smith. Jump out of a plane? Yes, SIR. Fly a helicopter without any experience? Yes, SIR. Crash said helicopter into another helicopter? Where do I sign up, SIR?

Despite the grim determination, Hunt never seems to enjoy his job. You won’t catch him smiling, not even when he meets his beloved ex-wife.

Late in the film, as Hunt travels to Kashmir to disarm the nukes, Hunt bumps into Julia (Michelle Monaghan), who happens to be in the area cleaning up a smallpox outbreak The Apostles orchestrated after Lane’s capture. Imagine seeing your lover and pretending to her new husband that you are only old friends. Also, you might be minutes away from fiery, nuclear death. Have a nice afternoon!

After six takes now, Cruise has made Mission: Impossible into an all-time action franchise. Cruise takes everything seriously, a refreshing part of an action universe stuffed with sly grins and slick lines.

Villain (7/10)

Solomon Lane has spent the previous two years (confusing because the last movie came out three years ago) bouncing around the secret prisons of the world’s chief powers. Fallout finds him in France, where he’s about to enact the most dastardly of plans. Lane, a British Special Forces agent-turned-anarchist, led, perhaps still leads, a group called The Syndicate, whose mission is to destroy the world’s governments.

Hunt foiled Lane’s chance in Rogue Nation, but Lane returns with bigger plans and more megalomania. “The Syndicate was civilization’s last hope,” Lane declares. Lane and his cronies have obtained three plutonium cores and the knowledge to make them  bombs.

Two of these bombs will detonate simultaneously in mountainous Kashmir, home to Led Zeppelin inspiration and, more importantly, the headwaters of several rivers irrigating much of India and China. Lane plans to irradiate water destined for crops to feed billions.

Let’s address the plan. The Syndicate, or the splinter group The Apostles (same difference) released smallpox in Kashmir before the nuclear plot. Medical teams worldwide descended on the region, inoculating the locals. They also brought MRI and X-ray machines, and you know what those give off? That’s right, radiation signatures, exactly what you’d want if you planned to hide two nuclear bombs amongst the medical camp. Solid scores there.

How about execution? Lane leans on a crony in the CIA, its top assassin, August Walker (Henry Cavill). Walker assumes a fake identity of John Lark to help steal the plutonium cores. Walker also helps free Lane from a Paris prison transport and subsequent IMF interrogation in London.

What’s unclear is Lane’s role in his own plot. His former associates in anarchy carried out the Kashmir smallpox plot with Lane off the scene. They also kidnapped a prominent nuclear scientist to create the bombs needed to poison the water.

Lane does little, which is why, surprise surprise, the true villain is…Walker.

Yes. Walker is doing all the dirty deeds. He tries to frame Hunt as John Lark, using a different phone than the one recovered from Lark after he was killed in Paris. Walker helps free Lane from his Paris prisoners. He controls a faction of the CIA spooks sent to attack Hunt’s team in London.

All these things make Walker the villain, but one factor escalates him. Walker has found Hunt’s ex-wife Julia. Hunt discovers this while hanging from an elevator in London’s Tate Modern art museum. Walker tastefully lays a photo of Julia on the grate floor, when he calls himself her “guardian angel.” Later, we learn that Walker orchestrated for Julia to be one of the doctors on site in Kashmir, where she can instantly die from the nuclear blast.

Walker acts early as a goober CIA apparatchik. He’s eager to leap from the plane to HALO jump over Paris, but he’s knocked out by lightning during the fall. Hunt saves his life, giving him his air canister so he can regain consciousness and not splat on Paris’s city-as-a-museum streets. When he lands, conscious, Walker cracks that Hunt lost his canister during the fall. Exactly the behavior we’d expect from a dumb golden boy.

Once the movie shows Walker giving his CIA boss a false phone, we know he’s up to no good. The question is, when will Hunt figure it out? Well, they pull a fast one on Walker, who’s dumb enough to give away his plot to the wrong man. Ever heard the phrase “Book smart, street dumb?” Well, me neither, but that’s Walker to a T.

Action/Effects (10/10)

Terrific action sequences span the world in Mission: Impossible–Fallout. Well, not so much the world as Eurasia, but that’s a big part of the world.

A fantastic driving sequence sends several characters across Paris, all to rescue or kill Lane. The action starts when Hunt smashes into a prisoner transport and knocks the vehicle into the Seine. Chaos ensues, but all you need to know is that Benji and Luther are on hand to rescue Lane from drowning and transport him by skiff through Paris’s underground canals.

Hunt has to evade the police, choosing a motorcycle. Several minutes of harrowing driving follow. Hunt, helmetless, skids his bike along the slick blacktop and bumpy cobblestone. Note the way he dangles a leg to help him turn. The chase takes him into the roundabout encircling the Arc du Triomphe, and OF COURSE he turns the wrong way.

I found this sequence the only time where CGI was clearly involved. Cruise does plenty of dangerous stunt work, but driving amongst multiple lanes of swirling traffic–probably not. EXCEPT…it wasn’t CGI at all! I can’t believe it either. That fool drove against traffic.

Eventually Hunt rejoins his company, and they get Lane into a tan BMW. Chasing them is rogue agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) on a bike. First she takes aim on a bridge overlooking Lane and shoots at them. Hunt peels away. Chase on.

The score cuts out for this chase. All we hear are the roars of engines and squeals of tires. Ilsa and Hunt drive on roads and through corridors not meant to be roads. We hear the thoom-thoom-thoom of Ilsa’s bike engine echoing as she rockets along an covered causeway.

Hunt executes a terrifically awesome handbrake-assisted right turn after driving down six stairs. HALO jump aside, this was Fallout‘s coolest-looking stunt.

The chase ends when Ilsa flanks Hunt and faces him down. She draws her rifle and shoots the windshield, trying to kill Lane. Hunt, who wants Lane dead as much as anyone, needs him alive for the next day or so. He won’t let Ilsa stand in his way. She’s literally doing that, so he drives into her, sending her over the hood. (She’s fine.)

There’s also a great bathroom fight in Paris, which, despite being awesome, is at best the fourth-coolest part of the movie. I loves me a good bathroom fight. The nicer the bathroom the better the fight setting.

Fallout‘s action might be there series’s best. Car chase, helicopter chase, fall-from-a-plane chase, foot chase–about any way you can chase some is a way someone is chased in the movie.

Sidekicks (4/8)

Back on the scene is the mysterious Ilsa Faust. An electric addition to the franchise in Rogue Nation, Ilsa returns with unclear motives and goals. She appears in Paris, when she kills John Lark, who Hunt was planning to impersonate to meet with a White Widow to secure the three missing nukes.

Plenty of moving parts in Fallout, and Ilsa is the moving-est one. Many events transpire before we learn her true motivation: MI-6 offered to wipe the slate clean with her if she would kill Lane so she can return to Britain as a citizen no longer on the run. Hunt tells her that she was free. “We are never free,” she counters.

Once Lane escapes IMF custody, Ilsa is free to pursue him without hindrance.

Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) has been with Hunt for all six impossible missions. Little more than a cypher now, he gets better exposition in Fallout. Luther explains Hunt’s relationship to his ex-wife. Their love for each other was getting in the way of Hunt’s ability to do his job, which is saving the world. He couldn’t save the world while he was saving her. They parted ways. Luther’s still around to do tech and observation stuff. Don’t worry. And he’s shot in the chest, and lives.

Henchmen (4/8)

Lane and Walker are more co-villains, despite the latter taking orders from the former. These men are anarchists, and it’s hard to say that either is beholden to the other.

Making a fun debut is White Widow, a black market broker and wearer of evening gowns concealing switchblades.

Stunts (6/6)

The stunt worth discussing most is Tom Cruise doing a HALO (high altitude, low opening) jump above Paris. Abu Dhabi stands in for the City of Light, but the rest of the stunt is real.

Walker and Hunt need to enter the Grand Palais in about two hours. Problem is, they are in Germany. The fastest way to get there is to fly and then jump from the plane. A faster way would be to jump without a parachute, but that would end their mission.

Walker and Hunt board a cargo plane posing on radar as a passenger jet, so it flies at around 30,000 feet. The two suit up, wearing masks to provide oxygen that they need at that altitude, just like climbers on Mount Everest. Hunt looks out the cargo bay and sees a lighting storm directly in their fall path below. He says that he and Walker should rethink the jump. In response, Walker yanks Hunt’s oxygen hose loose and jumps.

Hunt is forced to follow. He runs forward as the camera operator runs backward and both fall out of the plane. Here comes one shot of Hunt falling tens of thousands of feet. He enters the storm clouds quickly and is hit by lightning, shorting out his comms.

When Hunt emerges, Paris is visible below and rising fast. A few yards away is Walker, falling with the loose limbs of the unconscious, knocked out by the lightning. He’s also lost his oxygen canister and probably can’t breathe. Hunt angles toward Walker. Much time is spent trying to resuscitate Walker. Hunt finally gives up and donates his canister to Walker, whose mask defogs as the oxygen works its magic.

Again, they aren’t slowing down. Cruise and a cameraperson are actually in the air actually fiddling with limp bodies while air whips past them at 150 or so miles per hour. Hunt hears the computer voice in his head urging him to deploy his chute before he becomes a street pancake, but he does Walker’s chute first.

Hunt yanks his own cord in time to spin into a spire jutting above the Grand Palais and smacks into it as the chute catches the top. Walker comes down moments later, consciousness regained, and cracking at Hunt for losing his oxygen.

Cruise and company did 106 jumps to capture the sequence used in the film. The director, McQuarrie, wanted to shoot at dusk, leaving only a three-minute window for the jump each day. In all the team spent 12 days shooting the scene. The results are on the screen. Another terrific moment and notch in the belt for the best stunt team in Hollywood, and easily the best stunt/actor combination in film history.

Climax (5/6)

When the IMF team arrives at the Kashmir medical camps, it chases radiation signatures, hoping two of them belong to bombs. The genius of Lane’s/Apsotles’ plan surfaces–in poisoning an entire region, international medical groups imported dozens of MRI and X-ray machines, masking the signatures of the bombs.

Also present is Hunt’s ex-wife, Julia, and not by coincidence. Walker arranged for her to be there, gifting her funds to travel and for her work elsewhere. In the span of a few minutes, Hunt learns that the nukes will be very hard to find, he meets his wife for the first time in years, and he meets her husband, to whom they pretend to be acquaintances. A whole life’s worth of problems to be dealt with in less than 60 seconds.

Julia’s appearance exemplifies what makes Fallout, and the franchise in general, excel: complication. Many scripts would have the heroes land in the final location and go off chasing the bombs. Mission: Impossible reintroduces a long-lost love from three movies back into the conclusion.

After Hunt says hello and goodbye, perhaps for the last time, to his beloved, he sprints after Walker, who he sees boarding a helicopter, one of two taking off to escape the blast zone. The rest of Hunt’s team stays to find the bombs.

Hunt runs toward the chopper. The second one carries a net full of supplies attached by a rope dangling 30 feet below. Hunt grabs this rope and starts climbing. Walker rides in the lead chopper, the detonator clipped to his jacket. Hunt needs to get this detonator and remove a triggering pin so that his team can cut bomb wires to prevent them from detonating. Don’t get lost in the details; let Hunt take you for a ride.

Up the rope Hunt climbs. He thrusts out a leg to rest on the right skid, but his boot slips and he falls, backward, grabbing the rope and hanging from the bottom of the cargo net. The danger in preforming this stunt–sky high, couldn’t be higher.

Hunt tries again, this time getting the leg on there. The camera captures this climb and the spectacular scenery crawling beneath. I mean, unbelievable shots here. Hunt pops into the helicopter’s two-seat cab like “Hello…bitches.”

Hunt struggles with the passenger, shoots the pilot, and throws out both. Hunt sits in the pilot’s seat and realizes that he can’t fly a helicopter. That Hunt can’t do a thing is news to, well, everyone.

He’s got seconds to learn, which he does OK. Walker still hasn’t noticed the commotion behind him. Hunt needs to drop the payload beneath him, which he decides to use as a weapon. Hunt flies ahead of Walker and dumps the cargo. The pilot notices and swerves away as the cargo splashes in the lake below. Game on.

Walker shrugs. He seems happy to have a fight. He draws a massive machine gun with tracers and leans out the door, ripping rounds at Hunt, who’s turn it is to swerve. Walker misses a lot, but it puts Hunt into a near-fatal spin.

Both parties fly into a narrow river gorge, banking to avoid the rock walls. More phenomenal camera work here. Cameras attached to the side of the helicopters put the machines on one half of the screen and the trailing scenery, including the other helicopter, on the other half. They flew the hell out of these machines and we got to see it.

The chase continues through clouds and over icy mountaintops. Skids and blades strafe the snow. They cut it as close as possible. Hunt tries to ram Walker, and the latter runs out of bullets, but not before actually hitting Hunt’s engine and igniting it. Hunt decides he’s got one chance, and he flies into Walker’s helicopter. Both machines crash and turn on the spin cycle. We watch the actors twisted inside the cabs.

The wrecked hulks fall into a crevice and, preposterously, wedge into the rocks. Hunt, above Walker, unbuckles and falls into Walker, through the gap between the wreckage. “Why won’t you just die?” Walker asks. The answer is obvious: $$$$$$$$$$$$

Both wrecks fall again. The two spies are on a flat clifftop, overlooking a drop of thousands of feet. One helicopter wreck falls below; the other falls down the cliff, but a single chain and hook catch on a rock, keeping the metal from fiery death.

The men struggle to their feet. The detonator is kicked around. Walker gets Hunt in a headlock. Hunt gut punches Walker. Walker lands a huge blow and chokes Hunt. The camera cuts between closeups and wide panoramas. The men battle like Himalayan gods.

Hunt, stuck in a choke hold, jumps up and flips his body forward, sending himself and Walker over the cliff edge, where they catch the cable holding up the helicopter.

Well, that’s not a challenge enough, so both men climb the cliff. Walker is below, and that gives Hunt an idea. He yanks the cable, enough force to dislodge the helicopter. The hook whips Walker and knocks him off the cliff. He dies with the chopper wreckage.

What about Hunt’s colleagues? They’ve combed the medical camp and found one bomb, which Luther prepares. He’s joined by Julia, who looks at the bomb and asks, coolly, “Is that what I think it is?” It is.

Isla goes by herself to a cabin where she spotted Lane. She enters alone, and pretty soon she’s tied to a chair. That’s bad news, but hey, Benji’s here to joke you out of your predicament. No, he’s here to get choked out by a Special Forces guy-turned-anarchist. How do you think that goes?

Poorly. For Benji. He quickly has a rope wrapped around his neck and is nearly choked out. Make that fully choked out. Ilsa, for her part, breaks her bonds by falling backward onto a table and breaking free her bonds. Now it’s time for a double team.

Lane throws Ilsa into some shelves and goes back to finish off Benji, who’s dangling from the ceiling. Ilsa fumbles around and finds a broken bottle. There’s a neat sequence of Ilsa stabbing Lane in the calf with the bottle and perfectly tossing the bottle to Benji, who starts slicing the rope around his neck.

It’s enough to allow Ilsa to do some face-sitting attacks on Lane, jamming elbows into his head and such. Ilsa gets a rope fragment around Lane’s neck. Benji, meanwhile, has the rope around his neck finishing the job. He’s choking out while Ilsa’s choking out Lane. She looks at both, deciding which to care for first. She chooses Lane, and, finishing the job, saves Benji.

Interesting take. Fallout sets up Ilsa as the anti-Hunt. She chooses to kill Lane and let Benji die. (Although, neither happens.) Ilsa is set up as a foil for future installments, one would guess.

Now, about those bombs. Hunt lost comms with his team during the helicopter chase amongst mountains and canyons. His job is to remove a piece of the detonating device that Walker carried, while the others were meant to cut certain wires simultaneously and not before Hunt’s pulling of the pin or whatever the piece is.

Luther and Benji talk to each other about the wire cutting. They agree to cut with one second left in the countdown. They choose this time because they have no idea if Hunt has done his job or not. Benji wanted to go on two seconds, but hey, they might need that extra second.

So they wait. The movie uses dramatic cuts and zooms on the nuclear disarmament camps as the seconds tick away. We know Hunt has won the fight, but will he climb the cliff in time to reach the detonator?

As the clock strikes one second, the two techies cut their respective wires. The screen flashes white, as if the bombs exploded. For the second time in Fallout I thought that, maybe, perhaps, some nukes had exploded. Cut to Hunt, who looks into an orange sky. He spits out the triggering piece or whatever, still hanging from the cliff. The orange sky is revealed to be a beautiful sunset.

Great work in the editing room to ratchet up the tension more than normal. Of course the IMF stopped the bad guys, though.

Hunt is rescued from his perch and cared for in the same medical camp that was nearly annihilated. The CIA and the Indian Army are on site as well. Everyone is safe. Ilsa gets to return to British society. Lane, still alive, is under British custody now and likely suffering the most heinous of tortures. Bully for him.

Jokes (0/4)

With less Benji comes less joking. I am fine with this. A laugh line here and there makes the film better without distracting from the stellar action displayed. Walker’s Golden Boy routine made me smile. Hard to tell if that was a front or the character’s personality.

Setting (4/4)

London and Paris make world-class backdrops for any film, but New Zealand once again is a film location par excellence. New Zealand’s South Island stands in for Kashmir, location of the climactic helicopter chase and crash. Soaring peaks and chilly lakes beckon the viewer’s eye from the choppers twirling around the screen. The landscape looks fantastic especially in the shots showing Hunt climbing the rope beneath one of the helicopters.

London and Paris look great, too. Hunt runs from St. Paul’s to Tate Modern without touching the ground. Drones or helicopters fly by Cruise as he sprints atop the Blackfriar’s railway Bridge. If you’re wondering why he didn’t take the straight route across the Thames on the Millennium Bridge, it’s because 10 assassins were chasing him. Duh. Ethan Hunt knows what he’s doing.

Commentary (0/2)

Fallout is remarkably devoid of commentary. Some bad guys are out there, and they want to kill people. “The greater the suffering, the greater the peace,” is a line written by John Lark and repeated often. It’s a line existing in a void, with no characters comparing current suffering and peace to previous suffering and peace.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Everything checks out well here.

Others

  • Tremendous upper body strength on display: Hunt climbs a rope (twice), climbs a cliff, and grips the bottom of an elevator cage.

Summary (46/68): 68%

It’s nice to watch an action movie that’s just that: a movie with plenty of action in it. Mission: Impossible–Fallout isn’t a deconstruction or reinvention of the genre. The plot is straightforwardly laid out to begin: there’s some nuclear bombs in the hands of bad people who want to blow them up. Ethan Hunt, go get ’em.

The Mission: Impossible franchise promises two things: terrific stunts and a twisting plot, and Fallout delivers each in spades. That’s what we ask for and what we get.