MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT (2018) – Film Review

I confess that I found the trailer for Fallout to be one of the most engaging, thrilling, and exciting ads of my trailer-watching experience. I loved it (and still do). The cinematography, frenetic action, and fight choreography—all edited in sync with Imagine Dragons’ song “Friction” and layered with Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme—made my cinephile self’s mouth rabidly water with ecstatic anticipation.

Of course, few movies can live up to that kind of hype. Was my excitement justified, or did I crush Fallout with the weight of my unrealistic expectations? That’s what we’re here to find out.

As a reminder, I rate movies based on three criteria: objectionable content (C), artistic merit (A), and my personal opinions (P).

CONTENT (C): 9 out of 10

During the CIA headquarters break-in scene in the very first Mission: Impossible film, Ethan Hunt stops one of his team members from killing a guard. His instructions are emphatic: “Zero body count.” Hunt’s noble desire to spare innocent life at all costs has continued throughout the series, and in this sixth installment, this desire is given further room to shine. The great lengths to which Hunt goes to ensure no collateral damage is almost shocking in its unwavering earnestness.

Another element in this franchise needs to be mentioned. The last installment, Rogue Nation, attempts to create sexual chemistry between Hunt and the mysterious Ilsa Faust, even though the audience knows Hunt is still married to Julia. To be fair to the character of Hunt, he does not act inappropriately toward Ilsa. (In other words, anything inappropriate is more the storytellers’ fault than the characters’ fault.) In Fallout, this tension is resolved with a surprising amount of catharsis. It might not be handled in complete accordance with the orthodox Christian views of marriage, but it eliminates any hint of glorifying marital unfaithfulness.

It is also worth noting that this is the first M:I film (since movie #1, that is) that does not ask any actress (or character in the story) to undress or objectify themselves for the sake of the narrative—a fact for which I am most grateful.

As far as profanity goes, this movie runs par for the M:I course—except for the addition of two f-bombs (one spoken and the other soundlessly mouthed).

ARTISTRY (A): 9 out of 10

As one might expect from an espionage-themed action/thriller, Fallout has its twists and turns. As the story unfolds, the plot points and various character motivations develop believably. So engaging are the proceedings, in fact, that the film’s two-and-a-half-hour length feels much shorter. Only one action sequence (involving a helicopter chase) causes suspension of disbelief to go past the breaking point.

Much has been made of the numerous death-defying stunts performed by Tom Cruise during this movie, and rightly so. Possibly more so than in any other M:I film, Fallout’s stunts function both as an extension of the story’s development and an expression of Hunt’s character—not so much as a mere publicity stunt to create hype about the movie. The realness of these stunts adds a level of urgency to many scenes.

As my friend Jonathan Broxton has pointed out, much of the musical score by Lorne Balfe sounds like it was lifted from Inception. It’s not a horrible score by any means. In fact, with the setting of Fallout’s third act being someone reminiscent of that of Inception, the music almost gives the climactic action sequence a Nolan-infused sense of gravitas (although I would have probably preferred a less synth-heavy score—something more like Joe Kraemer’s work on Rogue Nation).

The strengths of this movie far outweigh any minor weaknesses. In fact, when it comes to entertaining spy movies, few can claim to be its equal.

PREFERENCE (P): 11 out of 10 (Yes, math. I know. I’m bending the rules.)

The first act of 1996’s Mission: Impossible felt like an extension of the television series on which it was based. Then, to audience’s surprise (and chagrin), the filmmakers unceremoniously stabbed the TV show in the back, pointing the movie—and the future franchise—on a completely different trajectory. Instead of the spotlight being on the consolidated efforts of a competent team, the spotlight focused primarily on one man: Ethan Hunt. In future installments, it seemed as if the movies were primarily a vehicle for showing just how cool and awesome Ethan Hunt (and, vicariously, Tom Cruise) could be.

Back in 1996, I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I hated what the screenwriters did to Mr. Phelps’ team. On the other, I was able to detach myself from the disrespect shown to the TV show and enjoy the movie for what it was. In fact, over the years, Mission: Impossible has become one of my favorite movies. I have re-watched it countless times.

That being the case, it seems strange, even to me, that none of the other Mission: Impossible films have managed to captivate me in any meaningful way. Whereas I have seen the first installment dozens of times, I have, at present, seen installments 2 through 4 only once each.

To my great delight, Fallout is a game changer. It affected me viscerally in ways that few action films ever have. My apprehension about various characters’ well-being peaked early on and remained almost consistently high for the movie’s first half. It was a bit draining, actually. For a comparison, Fallout made me more tense than I ever felt in A Quiet Place. When a scene in a typical movie is fraught with tension, it is typical for Shannon to grip my hand or arm. In Fallout, the gripping was mutual.

What also stuck out to me was Hunt’s dogged determination to avoid unnecessary deaths in accomplishing his goals. I know previous characters in other stories have had this same trait. Something about this particular story, however, struck me at a deeper level. Maybe it’s the fact that action movies so often seem to view collateral damage as a necessary part of life. By staying his hand (so to speak) on several occasions, and by putting his own safety on the line—and even jeopardizing his mission—in order to save the lives of others, Ethan Hunt challenged me with the depth of his pro-life convictions.

Some storytellers attempt to point out the danger of becoming callous to violence as entertainment. The less successful ones use a self-defeating process: employing graphic violence to shock people with the horror of human death. Such violence, however, often only tends to encourage bloodlust in its audience. (Martin Scorsese mused on this fact after seeing audience reactions to Taxi Driver, which I haven’t seen). The two stories I’m specifically thinking of are the movie Gladiator and the book series The Hunger Games.

In contrast, Fallout literally shocked me in its portrayal of the value of human life, precisely by refusing to kowtow to my desensitization to onscreen deaths. Ethan Hunt—and, by extension, screenwriter/director Christopher McQuarrie—reminded me that life is beautiful. And they did so simply by refusing to turn human death into just another window-dressing prop for a story. Kudos to the filmmakers for leaving such a strong impression.

Shannon and I didn’t speak to each other at all during the end credits (not an uncommon occurrence, to be honest; a movie technically isn’t over until the credits are complete). Finally, Shannon said to me, “That may have been the coolest movie I have ever seen.” That may be the most succinct and accurate description possible.

Ethan Hunt’s job in Fallout was near impossible—protect the world from a nuclear holocaust and prove to Cap Stewart that another Mission: Impossible film was worth watching. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say he succeeded on both counts with helicopter-flying colors.

CAP score: 97%

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