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Mission: Impossible—Fallout

(2018) *** 1/2 Unrated
147 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Christopher McQuarrie. Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan, Vanessa Kirby, Wes Bentley.

/content/films/5120/1.jpg“Know when you’re beat.” This advice to Tom Cruise’s superspy character Ethan Hunt goes unheeded (of course) in Mission: Impossible—Fallout, the sixth in a series of action extravaganzas based on the 1960s TV show. Hunt’s can-do spirit in the face of seemingly impossible odds becomes a prominent motif this time out, his improvisations—and those of the team he leads by example—underscored by lines like “I’ll figure it out” and “I’m working on it.”

It’s also part of the design by writer-director Christopher McQuarrie to let Mission: Impossible be Mission: Impossible in an old-school sense, with elaborate long cons perpetrated on clueless bad guys (with the occasional wrench in the works) and, in the new-school sense, with bad guys pulling the rug out from under our heroes. Fallout proves deliberately dizzying, not just with its oft-vertiginous action, but in its outrageous plotting, its deliriously absurd entanglements of double agents, double crosses, and just plain doubles (wearing those masks that, this time, earn the Impossible Missions Force a derisive comparison to Halloween).

Because those twists drive the picture, it wouldn’t be fair to spoil them. Suffice it to say that McQuarrie also wrote and directed the previous entry, Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, and Fallout follows directly from it, retaining most of that film’s key characters, including Rebecca Ferguson’s British spy Ilsa Faust, Sean Harris’ anarchist antagonist Solomon Lane, and Alec Baldwin’s IMF boss-man Alan Hunley. This unusual continuity underscores the happy oddity of McQuarrie being the only director to return to the job; previously, a new helmer put his stamp on the franchise every time, from Brian De Palma to Brad Bird. (While unnecessary, a knowledge of the previous films, going all the way back to the first, enhances the experience of Fallout.)

McQuarrie and Cruise are obviously simpatico in planning and executing these giant-scale action films, which finally cracked the code of the hugely successful James Bond franchise. Hunt is the American Bond, a little more cocky than cool, a little more flappable than not. Fallout considers, once again, the risks and the costs of what Hunt does, but it also lionizes him as a man who cares as much about one life as about hundreds of millions. Like Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk, Hunt recklessly refuses to believe in the no-win scenario, which makes him just the man to accept “impossible” missions—while also serving as a more appealing hero than those who kill first, ask questions later.

A la the Bond films, Fallout travels the world, maximizing fabulous locations (this is a production with the clout to shut down major thoroughfares in Paris) and staging astonishing stunt sequences: hand-to-hand pummelings, shootouts, vehicular mayhem, and the sky-high thrills that literalize the title. Franchises this big swiftly become their own worst enemy as they scratch holes in their proverbial heads trying to figure out how to top what's come before. McQuarrie gives it all he's got, and he has enough talent (and, perhaps more importantly, budget) behind him to get audiences to swallow scenarios that are, at their core, as familiar as our first cup of coffee in the morning: the cliffhanger, the car chase, the bathroom brawl, the ticking-time-bomb climax. Seen-it-all audiences will still marvel at the clever staging, the startlingly effective execution.

The whole cast commits (from core team members Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames to newcomers Henry Cavill, Vanessa Kirby, and Angela Bassett), but none more so than Cruise, worth every penny he earns as star and producer in his audience-pleasing instincts and his willingness to push his body to its limits. It’s anyone’s guess if Cruise himself will know when he’s beat, but when he’s truly in the driver’s seat, we’re in no hurry to find out.

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