Mission: Impossible - Fallout ★★★★★

So. What do they do now?

That was the question I was asking myself months before I had even seen Mission: Impossible - Fallout. It was a question asked under the assumption that this would be at least as good as its two predecessors, despite me having left Rogue Nation (every time I've watched it) wondering how Christopher McQuarrie was supposed to top THAT.

As it turned out, I didn't leave the cinema asking that question. That is perhaps where Fallout has an advantage over Rogue Nation. The fifth installment in the series ended with only one unanswered question - what happens with Solomon Lane now? By leaving him left alive, we knew that we most likely play a key part in Fallout but we didn't really have any other questions.

I left Fallout with several questions left unanswered, one of them once again revolving around Lane, but with several other variables that are built up mostly quietly but extremely believably throughout the entire running time here. McQuarrie hasn't tried to better what he did with Rogue Nation, and Tom Cruise hasn't tried to outdo himself in terms of what lunatic stunt(s) he might try out this time. Instead, the writer / director has shifted the goalposts.

McQuarrie opted for an amalgam of the more spy-based storyline of Brian De Palma's original and the fittingly cartoon-esque action invention and breakneck pace of Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol to create one of the most complete Hollywood blockbusters ever made. A film that was narratively rewarding, emotionally mature and quite breathtaking at its highest speed.

With Fallout, he doesn't seek an amalgam, he looks to split things up. Figuring that he needed time to develop a story that wasn't just 'Solomon Lane escapes and seeks revenge' as it looked set to be as soon as he was left alive at the end of Rogue Nation, McQuarrie takes a bigger leaf out of De Palma's book by robustly focusing on Ethan Hunt's team, the forces revolving around them on the fringes, and even decides to hark back to Mission Impossible III for the germination of a McGuffin.

The introduction of Henry Cavill's bruising and no-nonsense CIA overseer is a masterstroke. His blunt-force tactics and uncompromised machismo, which involve him AUDIBLY LOADING HIS FISTS before pitching in with the best men's restroom brawl since True Lies, are a perfect counter to Hunt's thoughtfulness and often misplaced trust in humanity. We know he's an antagonist but we don't know who for and why.

It could be suggested that he's a male version of Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust but that's not really the case. While we sensed a goodness in her right from her stunning introduction in Rogue Nation, there's a stone-faced unpleasantness to everything Cavill does here, from his amusingly smart-arsed one-liners to drawing a gun ready to execute an injured Parisian cop.

McQuarrie smartly keeps Ferguson on the fringes as well, doesn't just opt for making Alec Baldwin's Alan Hunley 'one of the lads' right off the bat, and also introduces arms dealer Vanessa Kirby in a beguiling performance and character which provides the most satisfying link to earlier movies in the series. The decision to cast her as the daughter to Vanessa Redgrave's Max in the original is an idea that could seem plucked out of leftfield. That is until you see the progression of her character and Kirby's remarkably subtle nod to the mannerisms of her on-screen mum. If Ferguson was the breakout star (and she clearly was) of Rogue Nation then Kirby is the same here, albeit with a lot less to do and a much harder character to be engaged by due to her lack of physical exertion.

If it all makes the first hour or so slow in places, it's justified. The stakes have to be high for a second half which is breathless and twisty, giving us emotional involvement to go with the stunts, spills, brawls, crashes and mayhem that are to follow. If the first half was McQuarrie using a scalpel, the second half is him using a hammer. Which is only fitting as Cruise and Cavill are described as such by new CIA chief Angela Bassett early on.

Cruise takes to hanging from the bottom of a helicopter, pursuing Cavill's chopper despite barely knowing how to pilot one himself, and then deliberately crashes into him in an attempt to bring him down. In Rogue Nation, Hunt is described as a gambler by Lane. In the same film, a government panel says that his successful results were indistinguishable from chance. Fallout looks to continue that theme here, and not just in its amazing final third.

While the elaborate plans are a delight and sometimes a success for Hunt, it's when he's forced to improvise when he's at his very best. At one point he is forced to concede "Uhh.... I'll think of something". He IS a gambler, it's just that the stakes are a lot higher than having a tenner on the 2:15 at Goodwood. He's a gambler who wins when it matters most, but he also loses a lot of times as well.

Rogue Nation was one long succession of defeats until it really mattered. Fallout sees him hit much the same mixed trail but the difference this time is that he seems to believe it himself, nervously commenting to himself at times in the hope things will be ok. Another area where Fallout strengthens one of Rogue Nation's most notable success stories is with Hunt's fallibility.

He barely drags himself through his various scrapes here. There's no skirmish where he doesn't end up on the receiving end of a twatting of some description. He looks tired throughout but still finds it within him to go sprinting across London in pursuit of Cavill, ending with him dangling from the bottom of a moving lift while Cavill taunts him with a picture of the returning Michelle Monaghan.

His energy is impossible to fathom but his real life broken ankle during the aforementioned chase is perhaps life imitating art. Time is catching up with them both and it's the measure of the performer, the greatest and most committed action star of his generation, that he had to drag himself through a lot of scenes here with a broken ankle. And maybe there are the first signs in his character that he's tiring of his place in the world.

McQuarrie one more time feeds back to Rogue Nation and Lane's remark that there really is no difference between what the Syndicate have been doing and what he, Faust and Hunt have been ordered to do by their governments. "The CIA, the Apostles - what's the difference?" Cruise wearily comments as his team are assaulted by another attack and he's asked who they are.

Then there's that McGuffin. We go chasing after a mysterious leader of the splinter group that has formed since Lane's incarceration ("There will always be another Lane," as Faust remarks in Rogue Nation), only to learn that the real target was the one staring us in the face all along and that he, actually, is far less important than the small matter of a couple of nuclear bombs that are set to explode. De Palma may be the premier Hitchcock imitator but McQuarrie has learned from the best and his prodigy, it seems.

It all ends with a lovely but silent moment between Monaghan and Ferguson, in a film where Ving Rhames is close to tears explaining to the former how much Cruise means to him, and a film where Kirby's unrequited pursuit of Ferguson leaves perhaps the most promising avenue for the next installment. It ratchets up the emotion at the expense of a little bit of the humour, and rightly so, especially as Simon Pegg's comic relief is giving way slightly to genuine competence at all aspects of his job.

The build-up to me watching this film has been a long one, with me ducking out of the way of the numerous trailers that have come on during other cinema visits, muting McQuarrie on Twitter, politely declining all of the (very nice!) links that people have sent my way regarding the film. I know that the 5 star rating here will be no surprise to all of those who pay any attention to my slavish devotion to three parts of this series and I guess it's about as predictable as the fact that Cruise does a lot of running in Fallout.

The rating here though was not one I dished out without a moment's thought. I never give full marks out like that. In fact, this is the first film I've given 5 stars to in 2018. It's a deserved rating for a film that answers the one question posed at the end of Rogue Nation, shuffles the deck in terms of the kind of film we get at different points in the running time, introduces a couple more thoroughly engaging new characters, delivers some of the most exceptional action set pieces I've been fortunate enough to witness, and poses two or three questions ahead of the next film - should there be one.

But, most importantly of all, Benji gets to wear a mask. Good things come to those who wait.