Mission: Impossible: Fallout--Secret agent Tom Cruise is given a retro-looking recorder informing him of his mission, which seems, quite frankly, impossible. The recording then self-destructs after five seconds. When the opening credits start on this sixth installment in the action series, they're accompanied by the image of a burning fuse and a montage of quick glimpses from the film we're about to see, edited to Lalo Schifrin's familiar theme music.
These nods to the format of Bruce Geller's classic TV show, which ran on CBS from 1966 to 1973, are very welcome. We get more: Improbably lifelike latex masks, for instance. Best of all, when Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg are transporting a captive villain through the sewers of Paris, we hear that insistent background music from the show: the snare drum, and that repeated phrase of "Da-DA-dum-da-dum-da-dum-da-dum-DAAAAA...[pause]...Da-da-da-da-DAAAA..."
But of course, these are just trappings. The hugely successful Mission: Impossible flicks long since abandoned the atmosphere of the old show, with its long, suspenseful sequences of minimal dialogue as the then-high-tech spies engineered massively convoluted, Murphy's-Law-defying scams to trick evil despots or gangsters. We very rarely learned anything about the personal lives of the "IMF Team," much less about the shadowy intelligence agency for which they worked. And there was rarely any sustained action.
The movies, by contrast, are all about the tortured personal lives of the characters, especially Cruise's Ethan Hunt. And they're built from one wildly overscaled action sequence to the next. They aren't a bit more ludicrous than the old show's theatrics, they're just ludicrous in a very different way.
Fallout has Cruise and a colleague skydiving right into Paris to infiltrate a soiree at the Grand Palais--one of the more flamboyant approaches to crashing a party we've seen in a while. Within minutes we get a savage martial arts brawl in a pristine men's room, not long after that we get a motorcycle chase around the Arc de Triomphe, and then it's off to London for a foot chase through St. Paul's, and so on. It all has something to do with stolen plutonium and a scheme by an old enemy of Ethan's to create an apocalyptic disaster.
And on its own terms, the movie, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie of The Usual Suspects, is relentlessly watchable. Cruise, absurdly boyish for a man in his mid-fifties, reportedly did much of his own stunt work, and it certainly looks like he did. I generally find it hard to take him seriously in hyper-competent man of action roles, but that's not a defect in a silly action fantasy like this, and there's no doubt that he has the energy and professionalism to carry a movie on this scale.
He's ably supported by Rhames and Pegg, along with juicy, hammy turns by Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby and Sean Harris as the obsessed heavy. Henry Cavill, who makes a somewhat bland Superman for my taste, shows unexpected intensity and sexiness here as an arrogant CIA man assigned to keep an eye on Ethan.
My one complaint about Fallout--again, on its own terms--is the same complaint I've tediously made about one big blockbuster after another over the last decade or so: It's too long, by twenty minutes to a half hour. It ends with an extremely protracted, crosscut scene involving different sets of characters trying to avert disaster. It's amusing in itself, but after well over two hours of shootings and beatings and knifings and crashes, we're so worn down we may want them to give up.
But that, of course, would be impossible.