Upon watching Mission: Impossible Fallout (2018), I find myself tangled between two opinions. On the one hand, the movie has left me feeling as if I’ve just experienced a masterclass in action cinema, whereas on the other, I’m a little overwhelmed at its narrative execution.
Overall I enjoyed this film, which is why I feel it best to get the negative stuff out of the way first. The problem with these flick is its abundance of twists. This isn’t to say that making a multimillion dollar blockbuster that expects its audiences to keep up with it is a bad thing. This is far from the case. If anything, when a feature film progresses down intricate avenues without spoon feeding audiences, I respect the movie even more. General viewers aren’t as dumb as some Hollywood executives like to think, which is why little exposition and more complexity is a warm welcome in mainstream cinema.
Fallout, on the other hand, manages to make itself difficult to keep up with, without really being all too smart. For a start, there’s a heap of exposition throughout. Plot descriptions are thrown at audiences all the way through. The entire narrative will grind to a halt so that Alec Baldwin or whoever can explain everything that’s taking in as much detail as possible. The film does successfully manage to pull all of this off by dressing the exposition up as a mission briefing, yet the plot clarifications are there nonetheless.
The frustration regarding keeping up with all that’s going on comes from the abundance of twists. Before we continue, it must be stated that I’m not an avid consumer of spy thrillers, nor am I familiar with all the Mission: Impossible movies. The last spy thriller I saw was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), and I was so unaccustomed to these sorts of films, I could barely understand what on earth was happening. It’s clear to most that these sorts of stories are driven by characters double crossing one another, agents secretly working for rival countries and governments with secret agendas. These are the tropes embedded into a genre of storytelling popularised during the Second World War and Cold War eras. Even when it comes to the more popcorn oriented contributions such as the MI series paranoia, falsehood and red herrings are going to be utilised in order to move the plot from point A to B. Perhaps I’m just as dense as a doormat, or perhaps my lack of engagement with the genre is the reason for my inability to keep up with these kinds of movies. Either way, attempting to understand the never-ending tirade of plot changes proved difficult for my sluggish and thriller illiterate brain box.
Nevertheless, this whole “everyone’s lying and nothing can be trusted” mode of storytelling can get pretty disorientating at times. Especially in a film that’s promoted as a big, loud action spectacle. Mission: Impossible is a splashy action vehicle designed for Tom Cruise to flex his stuntman muscles in. This was my impression going in, which didn’t help when I found myself thinking over the plot in my head every ten minutes to make sure I understood what was playing out onscreen. There’s simply too many plot twists, shifting the shape of the story at every opportunity. This in turn makes for a convoluted and confusing feature. Even when I thought I figured out what was happening, I’d either remember another twist that contradicted my summary, or another would come along and render my understanding redundant.
To accuse Fallout of adopting an “and then” mode of storytelling would be unfair and incorrect. It’s not exactly throwing random new ideas into the mix every scene, instead it’s shuffling pre-existing information around at regular intervals. There’s a primary story at its core concerning the Apostles and their desire to reboot civilisation. None of that really changes. What does change is who belongs to this terrorist organisation and how they plan to go about achieving their goal. This is where matters get confusing; not in its decision to bolt on additional information, but in its choice to keep revealing differing motives and antagonists.
Having said all of this, there’s one twist which I feel is hugely affective in this film, and it takes place right before the opening titles. A plutonium core winds up in the hands of the Apostle terrorist organisation, we jump to a scene in which three nukes have been set off in major cities across the globe. It’s a shocking moment in which we as audiences start contemplating the direction this film is headed. Is the franchise headed in a new direction? Will all future stories featuring Ethan Hunt be set in a post-fallout world? It’s as fascinating as it is horrifying. Except we soon learn that the entire situation is a ploy to mine vital information from a terrorist prisoner. The walls quite literally come down and the opening credits kick into gear.
It’s a fantastic twist that ticks all the right boxes. Its purpose serves to shock audiences, it forces us to contemplate the idea that the film (and franchise) is headed in totally new direction, it makes perfect sense within the context of this particular story and is emotionally resonant. This scene allows us to see an alternative version of the Mission: Impossible series – one set in a post-nuclear world – before we get too use to the concept. The moment in which the walls come tumbling down results in both shock as well as a sense of reward. We immediately understand what’s going on; a flood of information smothers our shock and switches our perspective regarding the sort of story we’re watching without it confusing or frustrating us. It’s a fabulous piece of storytelling that understands how twists can be used to enhance our experience of a particular story as opposed to just surprising us.
If the rest of the film manages to execute it’s reveals like this one, we’d be in for a real treat. Unfortunately, beyond this point, the twists don’t really shift perspectives or invigorate us with understanding. Which is why by the mid-point, I opted to just go along with it all and accept that everyone’s probably against everyone in some form or another. It was at this point in which Mission: Impossible Fallout became something else entirely.
Despite the frustrations brought about by the screenplay, Mission: Impossible Fallout’s commitment to practical effects and stunt work is nothing short of phenomenal. In an age where digital sorcery dominates modern movie making, here we’re are treated to bountiful quantities of visual wonder physically crafted from the ground up. Whether it’s our heroes belting through the city of Paris, Tom Cruise Breaking his leg whilst literally throwing himself from building to building, or freefalling sequences filmed right in the midst of an actual skydive; there’s plenty of the wow-factor in here to make audiences gasp at one point or another.
There’s a real weight to practical film making which promotes a blockbuster from a glossy funfair ride to thrilling rollercoaster. The authenticity, depth and feel throw you right into the midst of the action. Human minds can tell when something is fake and when something is real (for the most part at least), which is why when we see a protagonist hanging from a ledge, throwing themselves out of an aircraft, or leaping across tall structures, we feel every stunt as if we’re tumbling alongside our heroes.
Some have queries why a film series such as Mission: Impossible has lasted as long as it has. It’s costly film adaptation of a popular TV series from the 1960s. Surely there can’t be that much longevity in such a string of movies, especially in a world where James Bond and Jason Bourne are competing for audience attention. What is it about the tales of Ethan Hunt that have resulted in six of these darn things getting made over the space of three decades?
The answer, I think, lies in the stunt work these sorts of films showcase. Ever since the first instalment of this particular incarnation, Tom Cruise has been notoriously freaking out his agents by stepping in the shoes of his stunt men. We’ve seen him hang from cliffs, towers, planes and gosh knows what else; a habit that seems to have grown more extreme as time moves forth. It’s like an addiction for Tom, a taste for the extreme he just can’t shake off. People keep buying tickets to see just what absurd lengths our dear Mr Cruise has pushed himself to this time around.
Fallout never ceases to fail in this respect, delivering more outlandish and extreme feats of practical mayhem yet again. Even for a man approaching his 60s, Cruise appears to remain unstoppable here. He dashes about London, hurls himself across skylines as if he’s Peter Parker and takes on helicopters when the day needs saving. If you’re one of those folks who continue paying for these things in the hope of seeing Cruise square up to the dangers of physics, you won’t be disappointed.
To add to all this practical delight, Fallout makes heavy use of the surround visual effects too. It isn’t just Cruise bringing action cinema back to the realm of the physical here, as director Christopher McQuarrie employs a hands-on approach to all the surrounding exploits. CGI is applied from time to time, yet the plentiful quantities of real-world props, sets and pyrotechnics add real weight to the feature.
Some have stated this is The Dark Knight of the action spy thriller. Narratively and stylistically, this statement doesn’t really make sense. It’s a totally different movie. In regards to its application of physical effects, however, there’s certainly some comparisons. Superhero movies often make heavy use of digital trickery these days. The Dark Knight was a return to the good old days of conjuring up spectacle via material methods. Mission: Impossible Fallout is no different in this respect; a glorious return to an age where rollercoaster cinema was made up of more than zeroes and ones.
Mission: Impossible Fallout has a frustrating plot that twists and turns at every opportunity. It’s a real blink and you’ll miss it sort of feature unable to resist the urge to expose someone as a traitor every couple of minutes. If you’re use to these sorts of films, you’ll no doubt be fine with this. If not, however, you might be a little ticked off when it comes to putting all the pieces of this narrative puzzle together.
Despite its obsession with dropping revelations at every moment, this film is a magnificent spectacle. If you like action films that make you gasp in awe, this is definitely worth a watch. In many ways, this is the sort of film that multimillion blockbusters were made to be.