More like Mission: Impressive. It will be hard for any other action movie this year to top the superb staging, extraordinary stunt work and sheer exhilaration marshalled by writer/director Christopher McQuarrie in the sixth astonishing instalment of the Tom Cruise-fronted franchise. Uniquely the only director to return to the fold (after Rogue Nation in 2015), McQuarrie steers the testosterone-drenched, explosive espionage extravaganza into unusually stately recesses, further electrified by a ramping up of narrative depth, absorbing character gravitas and awe-inspiring ambition.
Perhaps the only IMF escapade where you do really need to know your Ethan Hunt history because many past story threads interconnect with major impact on Fallout’s main frame, it’s no accident that the iconic self-destruct tape that usually initiates Hunt’s assignments is here contained within a copy of Homer’s The Odyssey. In an extended pre-credits scene-setter, Hunt (Cruise) and his buddy operatives – laconic Luther (Ving Rhames) and ever-panicky Benji (Simon Pegg) – mess up an undercover purchase of illegal plutonium, putting it back out on the covert market. As Hunt refused to put his friends’ lives at risk during the recovery mission, CIA head honcho Erica Stone (Angela Bassett) insists her agent, August Walker (Henry Cavill), babysits all future operations, which includes Hunt posing as mysterious international terrorist John Lark to buy the plutonium back before a doomsday scenario erupts.
But the new owners of the stolen nuclear material are the Apostles and they don’t want money, just the return of their incarcerated leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). He’s the psycho MI6 agent who migrated to the dark side in Rogue Nation and joined the Syndicate’s crusade to cause global catastrophe and trigger a new world order. So, Hunt must intercept Lane’s armoured car journey before desperate superpowers get to interrogate him and then broker a swap through socialite arms dealer, the White Widow (played by The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby). Add in double-cross, MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) with her own lethal agenda, double-double-cross, IMF champion Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), judicious use of rubber mask disguises, Hunt’s ex-wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) hiding in plain sight, a ticking time-bomb countdown on suspense steroids, and you have another twisty, epic helping of strikingly stylish daredevil delights.
While there are no prizes for guessing exactly who John Lark really is, there’s still a lot going on in McQuarrie’s densely plotted race against time so it’s sometimes hard to keep up with all the myriad assassins and former allies jostling for attention. No matter. What people want to see is Cruise giving his personal insurers yet more heart attacks by throwing himself off buildings, dangling from helicopters and plunging into mountain ravines. Here, the incredibly fit Cruise Halo-jumps through a lightning storm, masterminds a fender-level car chase through congested Paris and a breakneck motorcycle chicken run anti-clockwise around the Arc de Triomphe, super-sprints through St Paul’s Cathedral via Blackfriars Station to the Tate Modern in London and ends the whole kamikaze craziness with what must be one of the most spectacular cliffhanger stunts ever filmed, a sensational helicopter battle over snowy mountainous terrain ratcheting up the nail-biting tension to new stratospheric heights.
Clearly raising the bar for action cinema in the same way as Mad Max: Fury Road, the movie’s eyes-on-stalks amazement is palpable. Nor must one forget the stunning martial arts fight in a gents toilet that proves visceral innovation isn’t only confined to the more grandiose moments. Cruise is exceptional in the derring-do department, of course, going for broke in ways few 56-year-olds would try and now fits his role like a well-worn glove. He did actually end up in hospital with a fractured ankle thanks to one stunt escapade, another example of the total dedication to his craft that earns him kudos few stars of his stature ever receive. There’s a decent amount of backstory to get to grips with, too, especially in the romantic areas where the similarity between Ilsa and Julia becomes ever-more evident.
Not only has Cruise become better with each successive instalment, the actual movies have matched him all the way by pushing their pop culture durability and extreme escapism boundaries with polish and élan. Long may that topping-the-one-before, enthralling knuckle-whitening tradition continue. For now, this fast-moving, engrossing and gripping mega-thrill ride, despite being the longest to date, lays claim to being the best in the series and a transcendent kinetic pleasure you will simply be powerless to resist.
Released in cinemas on Wednesday 25 July