"'Your mission, should you choose to accept it ...' I wonder, did you ever choose not to?" — Solomon Lane (Sean Harris)
I heard those opening words dozens of times as a child, and several times more after Mission: Impossible's parent studio, Paramount, revived the show as a major theatrical film in 1996. I never had any doubt that the series' Jim Phelps (the late Peter Graves) or the films' Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) would always accept the mission proffered by the fictitious IMF, the Impossible Missions Force.
The concept goes like this: A splinter faction of American intelligence accepts ridiculously improbable assignments, all of which are virtual suicide missions, in furthering not only American foreign policy but that of the entire free world. You know the rest: "If caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions." Instead of applying superior firepower, the IMF uses a small tactical force equipped with the most sophisticated technology, usually tricking their targets into doing their work for them.
The IMF, small screen or big, has always been about minimizing casualties or preventing them altogether, which in the show's first decade allowed both conservative and liberal viewers to embrace it. Today, with the United States — and indeed much of the world — so polarized, is it still possible for both sides to root for the IMF? The box office, rental and home video markets for the previous films suggests that it is (just as, perhaps inexplicably, both sides root for James Bond), but the world is no longer just two convenient sides comprised of allies of the West and allies of the Soviet Union. Now there are Russians, Americans and literally dozens of other players, most of them working at cross purposes, and almost all with the same purpose — the control of nuclear weapons — and a few who want to destroy everything and restart human civilization from scratch, assuming anyone survives.
If Mission: Impossible - Fallout, the sixth and latest film installment, has a flaw, it's that it's just another restatement of this overworked theme: Lunatics threaten world with stolen nuclear weapons. But the real-life danger of it actually happening that keeps the plot alive, if not exactly fresh.
What is fresh is the incredible production value of Fallout, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who also directed the previous entry, 2015's Rogue Nation, and while it's not absolutely necessary, a viewing of Rogue Nation will aid your understanding and enjoyment of the characters and situations in the sequel.
Fallout takes advantage of the highest budget of any of the films, which even at $178 million is not unreasonably higher than the $150 million of 2011’s Ghost Protoco. The sumptuous set pieces, particularly extended sequences in Paris and London, the high caliber of the cinematography, blocking, editing, the location work, and the thrilling stunts and fight choreography make Fallout not just a surprisingly energetic entry in one franchise, but a benchmark for future action/adventure films.
Yet, after all is said and done, the film boils down to one human element: Tom Cruise and his alter-ego, Ethan Hunt. You can say what you like about his private life, but Cruise is a hell of a dedicated professional, pushing himself, at 55, to do stunts that even a 30-year-old has no business attempting, and, on one occasion in this film's production, paying for it with a broken ankle. Yes, there are invisible safety harnesses in a lot of shots and undoubtedly some green screen work, but I don't think I can name another A-list — or even B-list — star who invests this much into an action role.
Nevertheless, the most amazing thing about his character, Ethan Hunt, isn't his suicidal bravado. It's his dedication to the proposition that the innocent must not die, which mirrors somebody's notion, either Cruise's or McQuarrie's or both, that the world might be a better place if all intelligence operatives and commandos — and politicians — felt that way. Sidekicks Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson are back for the mission, joined by Angela Bassett and Alec Baldwin as bickering spymasters debating over whether the IMF has outlived its usefulness, and Henry "Superman" Cavill as the group's new muscle, who does not share Ethan's concern over minimizing collateral damage.
For the sixth film in a franchise, and one based on a 50-year-old TV show, Mission: Impossible - Fallout is an A film, boldly setting a new standard for action-adventure, and is a thrilling summer popcorn movie that somehow manages to transport you from the here and now, even given the ominously familiar plotline.