So begins a frantic global chase, a non-stop world tour that stretches from London to Kashmir, and was shot from Norway to New Zealand. Along the way, Hunt encounters old friends like Ilsa Faust and Alan Hunley (Rebecca Ferguson and Alec Baldwin), familiar enemies like the sniveling troublemaker Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), and even a few new faces for good measure. One of them is a femme fatale weapons broker known as the White Widow (played to perfection by “The Crown” star Vanessa Kirby), and another is a CIA assassin named August Walker (a sublime Henry Cavill, whose much-discussed mustache inflects his character with the mundane banality of middle-management). At this point, it should go without saying that everyone’s ulterior motive has an ulterior motive, and that Cruise is so good at running that — on a moment-by-moment basis — it doesn’t really matter who’s chasing him. All that matters is that Ethan Hunt got himself into this mess, and now the rest of the world could suffer from the fallout(!) of his good intentions.
From there, the movie basically feels like watching the most intense man on Earth compete in a relentless footrace against his own demons, as “Fallout” manages to combine the gobsmacked majesty of “Ghost Protocol” with the sheer velocity of “Mission: Impossible — III.” It’s not just that the HALO jump literally allows Cruise to top the saga’s famous Burj Khalifa setpiece, or that climactic helicopter duel — a conspicuous nod to the series’ first installment — offers some of the most stomach-churning photography the IMAX format has ever made possible. It’s also that McQuarrie weaves all of these various astonishments into the franchise’s most coherent ride, and does so with nary a single wasted shot.
Nothing is perfunctory. Even the tiniest moments are impeccably arranged; even the cutaways are striped with interesting shadows or stimulated by Lorne Balfe’s percussive score. When Solomon Lane’s truck sinks into the Seine, it doesn’t just fill with water. No, that would be too basic. Instead, the truck rolls over as it drops to the bottom of the river, confronting the straitjacketed villain with a vertical wall of suffocating blue death. After Ethan Hunt clings to the bottom of a freight elevator as it climbs the Tate Modern, he doesn’t just hurl himself onto the roof, he sends the elevator back down so he can hop on top of it like Crash Bandicoot.
Other than Stanley Kubrick (whose “Eyes Wide Shut” is referenced in one of the film’s many brilliant flourishes), McQuarrie might be the only collaborator who’s ever given a shit the way that Tom Cruise gives a shit. From top to bottom, “Fallout” rewards its leading man’s superhuman dedication to cheating death for our amusement, every detail calibrated to convey the full extent of his psychotic effort.
In a way, that’s what makes Tom Cruise such a perfect mask for Ethan Hunt, and Ethan Hunt such a perfect mask for Tom Cruise (and there are some A+ mask shenanigans in this one). Neither one of them knows how to stop. Neither one of them knows how to compromise. They both keep risking their lives because they’d sooner die than let anyone down, or concede to the idea that they have no other choice. These are two completely irrational human beings, but “Fallout” makes the case for them both. It captures the almost unfathomable burden of being able to do something that nobody else can, even if you’re only just pretending to save the world.
We’ve always taken for granted that Ethan will choose to accept whatever missions he’s assigned, but this film puts that choice in clear perspective. Our world only works — in whatever limited capacity it does — because someone, somewhere, is crazy enough to think that it can. Because their own life is the only one they’re willing to lose for logic’s sake. Ethan Hunt risks a nuclear catastrophe in order to save Luther Stickell because the fate of the world always rests on the shoulders of those who refuse to make that sacrifice. Likewise, Tom Cruise flies a helicopter upside down just for some (extremely) sick aerial shots in a summer blockbuster because any other actor who could finance a movie like this would be happy to fake it. He’s only Tom Cruise because nobody else is willing to be — or maybe he’s only Tom Cruise so that nobody else has to be. Either way, “Fallout” is the film he’s always promised us, and it is worth the wait.
“Mission: Impossible — Fallout” opens in theaters on July 27th.