Tom Cruise is an enigma, but one who is perpetually worth watching. I have no idea how long he can keep it up, but it is always enjoyable being along for the ride. Some day he will be too old to pull off his unending game of one-upsmanship with himself (he has to, right?), but for now the audience cannot but admire his daring, if not his insurance premiums. Such is the case in the latest Mission: Impossible film, as the plot madly and gleefully capers from one hair-raising setpiece to the next. The franchise, much like its lead actor, continues to defy sequel fatigue in a blood-pumping, action-packed missile chase across the globe.
Looking back at the franchise as a whole, what remains memorable is not the various (usually regurgitated) plots, but rather the individual vignettes composed of pure spectacle and adrenaline. Take the vault scene from the first film, the Dubai sequence from “Ghost Protocol,” the plane takeoff from “Rogue Nation.” The list goes on and on. “Fallout” is chock-full of them. Whether it be an uninterrupted automobile chase sequence, helicopter bumper cars, or close-up action shots, “Fallout” is about as close as you come to the perfect summer blockbuster. It is a clever scamper that does not particularly challenge the audience but rather serves up heaping ladlefuls of thrilling and entertaining action.
The plot, as such, is as forgettable as most of the other stories in the franchise, but makes a more concerted effort to draw certain previous storylines together and give it some finality. Of course, there is always a little wiggle room left for a sequel, and I can’t say that I would be disappointed to see another one. The series has been marked by consistency, as even the worse films are at least watchable. “Fallout” does hit a little bit harder than has been customary for the series, however. Sean Harris makes a suitably creepy monologuing villain, Solomon Lane, and Henry Cavill a sinisterly-mustached addition to the team. The beats are predictable and the story almost interchangeable with any other spy film, but it never feels dull, despite the familiarity.
The chink in the fabricated flesh-mask of the movie, if there is one, comes back to the character of Ethan Hunt. Six films in, there is only so much of a character arc he can have, and so Tom Cruise’s character doesn’t end in a discernibly different way than he started. The movie begins with a tantalizing theme, teasing a connection to the tale of Homer’s “Odyssey,” but ultimately falls short of doing anything particularly interesting with it. The main story is as forgettable as most in the series, but perhaps one of the best thing about the movie is that you are more than willing to forgive that just to see what glorious setpiece comes next. A character drama it is not, but to criticise it for that would be like criticising a firework display for not being a five-course dinner.
In short, the movie won’t be a player during Oscar season or even the new blueprint for action movies, but there is nothing better to simply kick back and enjoy for summer blockbuster fare. Another couple decades and we could easily see another reboot or spinoff series, but part of me wants to believe that Tom Cruise would still be doing these twenty years from now, cantankerously refusing to age. If it does come to pass, feel free to use the title “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Aging.” I’ll let myself out now.