“Mission” accomplished. Again.
The latest chapter in Tom Cruise’s spy franchise is smart, stylish, adrenaline-fueled, and probably the best action film of the summer. And after more than (an astonishing) 20 years, this sixth film clinches the series’ status: It truly is America’s own 007 saga.
And almost all that credit has to go to its star.
Give the boyishly grinning devil his due: On the talk-show circuit, and in the tabloids, Cruise may come off as cocky, even slightly creepy, and more than a bit of a control freak.
But you need that ego and ambition if you’re going to be a movie star, and you need that kind of focus if you’re also going to produce your own huge, slick, big-budget entertainments. And “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” proves Cruise knows exactly what he’s doing.
A direct follow-up to “Rogue Nation,” the sequel has hero Ethan Hunt and his Impossible Mission Force buddies trying to recover three canisters of stolen plutonium. Complicating things? The possible kidnapping of the mad terrorist they caught in the last picture, plus a return of Ilsa Faust, a mysterious on-again, off-again ally.
The film is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who had the same duties on the last “M:I” film, and cut his teeth – and first twisted our minds – on the script for “The Usual Suspects.” So, not surprisingly, things soon get complicated, with double- and triple-crosses, and some motivations I still haven’t figured out.
But like Cruise, McQuarrie knows what makes this franchise, and its star, work.
So there are some spectacular action sequences, starting with a sky-diving leap into Paris and concluding with a beat-the-clock climax. The globe-trotting locales – from Belfast to Kashmir – are eye-catching, and McQuarrie directs with taste and economy. A fight in a bathroom is carefully choreographed, instead of being reduced to quick blurry cuts; a chase through Paris is breathtakingly staged, yet leaves time for human drama.
More important, the movie knows what Cruise does best.
Surprisingly, for a matinee idol, he is not particularly good at erotic passion. (He can convey boyish charm, even chivalrous concern, but has there been a film since “Jerry Maguire” where he actually seemed hot for his co-star?) And this film knows that, and while featuring three separate love interests, avoids the sort of bedroom antics Bond is famous for.
But boy, is Cruise great at being busy.
Racing motorcycles, jumping out of planes, leaping across rooftops, or just running running running, fists pumping – the “Mission: Impossible” movies never give their star a moment’s rest. And that’s smart because Cruise, is, literally an action star. He’s never happier, or more watchable, then when he’s given a chance to drop that carefully controlled persona and just move.
And the story keeps him moving, as it ties up some loose ends from previous installments, plants a few red herrings and provides the enormously appealing pleasure of cheering on the kind of hero who impetuously jumps into complicated situations that have left everyone else helpless, knowing he’ll figure out something. Eventually.
Occasionally, McQuarrie’s script gets a little too complicated. The motivations of one character remained a bit of a mystery, even by the end of the picture. And I never quite believed the quietest way for Cruise’s character to slip into France was to parachute into Paris and land on the roof of the Grand Palais. He couldn’t have just Ubered over from Orly?
But Cruise is charismatic – his sometimes aggressive confidence toned down here to can-do determination – and series regulars Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg return for camaraderie and comic relief. Particularly entrancing is Vanessa Kirby from “The Crown” as a new character, the White Widow – whose moniker makes her sound like she wandered in from “The Avengers,” but provides sophistication and slippery charm.
Every summer brings a new onslaught of action pictures, every one of them asking for your money. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, or simply jaded. But this big-screen re-invention of that old small-screen classic really stands apart. When it hits your local theater and invites your attention, really, you should choose to accept it. Or I may have to disavow any knowledge of your actions.