Mission: Impossible - Fallout ★★★★

Let's get this out of the way early: the text here is largely nonsense; completely thin, unremarkable cloak-and-daggers plotting with half-realized gestures towards severely underwritten characterizations. Kinda blows my mind that more people aren't talking about how the morality play stuff in here is almost entirely dreadful, and how every supporting character including the unforgivably underused Rebecca Ferguson in non-action scenes operate almost exclusively as Ethan Hunt hype men rather than people—there to watch Cruise do amazing things and then talk about how amazing he is, seriously, that Rhames monologue and final scene in particular are truly embarrassing. That being said, I absolutely loved this movie, warts and all for its deliciously metatextual value as a monument to one of cinema's foremost megalomaniacs.

Reading Keith Uhlich's lone dissenting take on the film (a brave soul), a take I mostly agree with, one point stood out to me: "[all this] in service of…what exactly?" Keith is of course referring to Cruise's inarguably awesome (in the purest definition of the word), seemingly impetuous stunt show that director Christopher McQuarrie and Cruise together craft here with immaculate camera moves, stunning location work, clean compositions and even cleaner editing all working in tandem to make us see and feel every expression of Cruise's body in motion. The answer... I'm not totally certain. Clearly the rapturous response to the film indicates its appeal to our lizard brain desire to see something astounding (and see it for real), but none of the film's appeals to sentiment, serialization or to Crui—I mean Hunt's—Lone-Good-Guy-in-a-scary-world work beyond keeping things vaguely afloat before the next massive setpiece, maintaining beat-to-beat momentum of McQuarrie's monotonous screenplay while the formal framework signals almost zero meaning behind any of them. I do know, however, that there's something here worth investigating; a primal cinematic power to the unnecessarily relentless Rube Goldberg machine that's been constructed in Cruise's image and while Keith is right to be critical of the lack of skepticism surrounding that image by both the filmmakers and spectators (and what it means in conjunction with the star's troubled past), I also think that to ignore the deeply instinctual bombast that could only exist in service of it is to avert your eyes from something truly fascinating.

A few portent passages that get us into the headspace of a paranoid Cruise feel special, a brief interlude into what a nuclear attack in 2018 might look like or what a movie star being pushed to cold-blooded murder might feel like, whether it's vicious close-quarters combat in richly shadowed interiors or colossal kinetics framed against bright vistas the violence here weighs perhaps the heaviest it has in this franchise since De Palma mercilessly killed a young Emilio Estevez by driving his face through spikes in an elevator shaft. McQuarrie's screenplay also has a sly sense of humor with regards to espionage and is maybe the most playful entry since John Woo's, the big twisty reveal scene features like eight double-crosses in the span of a few minutes, and I can't speak enough about the value of Henry Cavill whose preposterously huge physic and charm are the only true foil Cruise has ever met on screen in this decade-spanning franchise. (Props to McQuarrie for fitting in not one, not two but three IMAX shots of his crotch too.) Ultimately, however, its the ferociously-paced, grandiose spectacle that bring Fallout into the realm of the sublime. Combining Cruise's expertly-staged displays of physical mania and Mcquarrie's sleek packaging with the blunt-force filmmaking of Christopher Nolan, this is a testament on how to say absolutely nothing with so much conviction that it overpowers thought. Late in the film an elongated chase sequence with Cruise sprinting and jumping on rooftops (looking more weary and vulnerable than ever) is capped off by a reveal that someone he purportedly loves is in danger—one giant IMAX sweep of Paris followed by a close-up of Cruise's exhausted face makes this moment feel so huge it makes you forget that no one involved bothered to remind you why you should actually care. That so much of the ostensible emotion of this hinges on us caring about J.J. Abrams' lackluster entry is genuinely perverse. I digress.

This attitude extends to three (technically four?) all-timer setpieces of such breathtaking physicality and verisimilitude that, though driven by a nigh meaningless framework, overwhelm the senses. The first is a halo jump that if you haven't seen the b-roll footage of, uh, get on that. To include the film's very heavily marketed production in an analysis of its final form might seem biased but the means with which these setpieces are possible are inseparable from how they work, and not to acknowledge that the only way they could exist (both in terms of budget and risk) is through Cruise's very broadly marketable charm and ego-driven deathwish is to miss the integral pleasure of Fallout. The fundamental truth that Kieth's piece reached for me is that for better or worse Cruise and Hunt are indissociable, and to accept McQuarrie's lovingly crafted and ham-fisted arguments for his decency without question is a problem (which much of the euphoric praise of this film is doing), but there's also a perverse, innate satisfaction in seeing, and really seeing, one of the biggest stars in the world briefly touch death purely for our entertainment, whether that be by riding a motorcycle at senseless speeds through the heavily-trafficked Arc de Triomphe in r e v e r s e, or learning to pilot a helicopter and really flying it dangerously close to Norwegian mountains, while acting and operating the IMAX camera himself. It's one of the most ludicrous physical performances ever committed to celluloid and while Cruise may not contain even an ounce of the generosity that other cinematic athletes like Jackie Chan would extend to uplifting other performers in his productions (this is and always has been the Cruise show with Tommy Cruise), he does however extend it to us. Whether those reasons are altruistic or not is unclear, but what is clear is—and what Fallout is a near-religious confirmation of—is that Tom is going to die on screen one day for me and I'm going to buy a ticket to see it. Try and sell us on all the faux-morality and intellectualism (Homer? really?) you want. The real reason we’re gonna show up is deeply primitive and depraved.

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