Early in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth film in Tom Cruise’ flagship juggernaut of an action franchise, a package is delivered to our hero, Ethan Hunt. The passcode to receive the package is an exchange involving a paraphrase of a very old quote of unknown origin:
Fate whispers to the Warrior,
A storm is coming,
And the Warrior whispers back,
I am the Storm.
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And while the quote may seem like just a random, cool-sounding phrase, it sort of feels of a piece with what Fallout is actually trying to say about Ethan Hunt. Yes, after five full films, for the first time, Fallout is really attempting to go there and find out what makes Ethan Hunt tick. And while it is careful to not dig too deep and continues to paint his character in fairly broad strokes, for the first time he feels like something more than merely an avatar for the aging action star who plays him — though he is still very much that as well.
Fate whispers to Ethan Hunt, the Warrior. He can’t help but put himself in harm’s way if it means saving lives, or even just one life. He allowed the one true emotional connection he ever had be lost to further that purpose. And as much as it hurts him personally, he’ll keep on doing it, because somebody has to. To reference Grant Morrison’s seminal superhero comic All-Star Superman,
Pictured: The Job
Which is why, the movie argues, we need a man like Ethan Hunt. Alec Baldwin’s Alan Hunley tells him that his desire to save all lives, especially of those closest to him, is both his greatest weakness and his greatest strength. And just as Tom Cruise continues to do insane, death-defying stunts to please his audience, Hunt continues to do the impossible, with his one true fear being letting everyone down.
I won’t dig too much into the plot of Fallout here, except to say that it is a full-on direct sequel to director Christopher McQuarrie’s own excellent Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, with additional plot threads reaching as far back as J. J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III, and that revisiting the previous three entries wouldn’t hurt as a primer for this one. Somewhat surprisingly, McQuarrie, as the first filmmaker in the history of the franchise to return for a second go-round, is completely disinterested in recreating what worked for him the first time. He spoke in interviews of wanting to feel like a completely different filmmaker to keep with franchise tradition, and he succeeded with flying colors. For while all the craft and action and practical stunts that define the franchise’s later entries are still present, the tone and feel has changed completely. This is a much harder Mission: Impossible, one with a less vibrant color palette (with Annihilation cinematographer Rob Hardy stepping in for the veteran Robert Elswit), and a far harsher, more percussive score (Lorne Balfe stepping in for McQuarrie’s regular composer Joe Kraemer), and a generally harder-hitting, grittier tone. The punches and shots and hits and crashes in this one hurt, in a very direct visceral way. The plot itself is a series of endless twists and turns and reversals — maybe the most spy-movie-y the franchise has ever been — and coupled with the magnificent stunts, excellent chases and hard-hitting action, creates easily the most intense film in the franchise. As I left the theater, I needed a moment to come down from the intense roller coaster ride of interlocking suspense and tension.
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Reload Thine Fists
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the future with this franchise. Fallout ends on a note where adventures could potentially continue, but it also feels in a lot of ways like an attempt to round the series off nicely and give it something to tie it all together. I imagine this’ll be McQuarrie’s last time around, and if so, I salute him. The third act of this thing must be seen to be believed. The movie can be a bit slow in the early goings, and I’m not sure all the insane twisty reversals in the plot fully work, but it all builds to the biggest action scene this franchise has ever had and helps cement the Mission: Impossible franchise as arguably the best modern big-budget action series. In a world where we get as many incoherent, poorly made action movies as we do a year, we need people like Ethan Hunt.