Tom Cruise Proves He Can Still Do It All in Explosive ‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout’

Now this is a summer action movie. “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” knows what it has to do to deliver and does it exceedingly well. The story is a mere vehicle for the astounding action sequences, breathtaking stunts and white-knuckled fights, but it’s never lame. One heart-stopping scene follows another, with a plot that is fine-tuned, and at heart not too implausible. Like the James Bond movies, this is a franchise that endlessly recharges itself by staying imaginative and crafty. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, delivering his second title for the series, has made a thriller combining an old school sensibility with a scope that works best in the IMAX format.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is back and remains haunted by recent events, especially the separation with his wife. He and his IMF team, including Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and boss Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), face a new threat when an underground terrorist group, known as The Apostles, hijack a cache of plutonium. The group is loyal to anarchist revolutionary Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who Hunt captured in the previous movie, “Rogue Nation.” Lane remains imprisoned in France but his acolytes remain loyal to the idea of destroying the current world order. After an attempt at getting the plutonium goes wrong, Hunt and the team devise a new plan to infiltrate Paris, grab Lane and stop The Apostles. With the CIA already suspicious of Hunt, enigmatic agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) is sent to keep tabs, to the annoyance of Hunt of course. The two agents sky dive into France and make contact with a mysterious arranger known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), who they will try to con into helping them get to Lane. But not everything is as it seems and what begins as a simple mission turns into a cat and mouse chase where identities can’t be trusted. Complicating matters further is the sudden reappearance of MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who has a complicated, romantic history with Hunt and who also seeks Lane, to bring him back to the United Kingdom.

“Mission: Impossible — Fallout” works like a shot of adrenaline that only slows down to let the story breathe and develop. This is the sixth movie in a franchise already running for 22 years, but it knows how to recharge with a genre and setting designed to last long. Unlike the “Fast & The Furious” movies, which have to figure out what to do next with a gang of car thieves, “Mission: Impossible” is all about espionage in an ever changing world. McQuarrie’s script for “Fallout” features all the little details we recognize in this series, including the delivered self-destructing messages, concealed gadgets to knock someone out and the iconic face disguises (watch out for a certain celebrity cameo early on). But everything is revived in new, grand sequences.

The dynamic action scenes McQuarrie has crafted tie the whole film together, one major sequence leading to the next chapter and so on. Great action films leave moments and images imbedded in our minds and “Fallout” has some great ones, where the big stunts are still given some humor. A skydiving scene into Paris has an absorbing, widescreen scope that is just one example of why this is a perfect IMAX movie (many of the action sequences are shot in the screen ratio of the massive format). After sniping at each other on the plane, Hunt and Walker dive into a threatening sky where lightning can zap even an action hero. A bathroom brawl at a French rave has bone-crunching intensity mixed with a laugh or two, especially during one moment where Cruise looks tired when he realizes he needs to tango some more with the villain, because it must be hard to still be taking down terrorists at 56. Indeed, part of this film’s impressiveness comes from how real and big all the stunts are, with Cruise still doing them himself. Can he truly ride a helicopter into a dogfight above rugged mountain peaks, sprint endlessly through windows, ride a motorcycle and dive into a manhole? Like all great action stars, he makes us believe he can. Sean Connery was still breaking into Alcatraz in his late 60s for Michael Bay, so Cruise still has many miles left, at least with this series.  A car and motorcycle chase sequence when Hunt and his team try to grab Lane is one of the year’s great sustained action scenes, building up energy without resorting to bombastic CGI tricks.

If “Fallout” is riveting as an action piece, as a thriller it tells its story in the tradition of good spy yarns. In a year of superheroes and intergalactic warlords, here is a robust entertainment with human villains and believable schemes. Fanatics want nuclear weapons to spark global chaos, something not too far-fetched. Suspense comes from those good old tricks of snooping out double identities, figuring out who’s a traitor, and eventually racing against a ticking timer. Cruise is all coolness, while regretting past mistakes, Cavill is less charismatic but is a good addition with his clenched expression, perfect for an assassin. Vanessa Kirby’s White Widow floats with seductive mystery. McQuarrie films these faces and the action surrounding them with a classic look, almost reminiscent of 1970s thrillers. The movie moves fast but isn’t edited like a music video. Cinematographer Rob Hardy, who also shot the recent, hypnotic “Annihilation,” here uses a widescreen canvas to beautiful effect. The score by Lorne Balf avoids electronics, going for a large, symphonic sound.

“Fallout” is about two and a half hours long, but McQarrie is so good at throwing one twist after another, all of it racing ahead with his big sequences, that we hardly notice. It is a reminder of how a big action movie doesn’t always need capes or spaceships, just a good story and real suspense.

Mission: Impossible — Fallout” releases July 27 in theaters nationwide.