Review: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT (2018)

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Don’t leave your blood pressure meds at home!

The obvious, and heavily promoted, hook for the Mission: Impossible franchise is that its star, the legendary Tom Cruise, is constantly putting his body on the line for the stunt-reliant films. The first two films were essentially spy thrillers with twists and turns and some outlandish (let’s face it, ridiculous) action set-pieces, but starting with the third installment the series went darker and developed a formula for the rest of the films to follow:

  1. Ethan Hunt screws up an assignment…
  2. Devises a plan to correct the mistake outside of IMF protocol…
  3. Corrects the mistake but in turn is thrown into a larger conundrum…
  4. Gets double-crossed and, usually, disavowed…
  5. Assembles a small team, as by this time he can’t trust anyone…
  6. Comes up with a new plan involving an extraordinary, death-defying stunt…
  7. Saves the world…
  8. Rinse, repeat

Usually following a formula is a death sentence for a film, especially one with multiple installments. But this series manages to use the formula and circumvent the familiarity of the plot by ratcheting up the tension to near fatal levels.

This is where Mission: Impossible – Fallout slams it home. When I say my heart was beating out of my chest at the end, I’m only slightly exaggerating. I had to turn to my girlfriend during the third act and comment on my pulse, which was unlike anything I’ve ever felt in the cinema. And I’m not saying the film is the greatest thing because it generated this kind of primal reaction from me, but it is a testament to the pacing, editing, staging, and direction of a film whose paramount goal is to thrill you. I’m also not exaggerating when I say the third act of this film is the most thrilling (and terrifying) thing I’ve ever experienced in a theater in my life. No bullshit.

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The man has two loaded guns dangling off his shoulders….and now he gets this??

The twists and turns of a film do not usually excite me. The obsession with plot twists is boring and hopefully something that diminishes sooner rather than later. But, for a spy-thriller, plot twists are essential and this movie is rife with them. It doesn’t take a genius to guess fairly early on that some people will turn out to be something other than what they seem to be. It’s an unavoidable cliche and a staple of spy films. But this film doesn’t necessarily try to hide these twists in order to pull the rug out from under you. There’s a subtle touch of Hitchcock in allowing your audience to be aware of the imminence of something bad about to happen, but letting the narrative play out until the tension is at a fever-pitch. The film doesn’t try to assault your expectations with plot gimmicks, it follows the formula so succinctly that it allows the audience to be in on the conspiracy without detracting from the experience.

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Conspiracy…..?

There is a discussion to be had about the politics of the film, involving government agents and assassins who seemingly stand on opposite sides of an invisible divide. The protagonist is a good-intentioned, albeit occasionally insolent, agent with several miles on the odometer and a sense of what needs to be done in order to preserve his beliefs. The antagonist is an anarchist who believes in the destruction of social, economic, and political structures as a way of resetting the world clock. Through suffering, there can be peace. This should sound familiar as it has become a common theme in recent cinema, e.g Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.

The only thing I can say is, this franchise has grown into something more than we ever thought it could be and survives in a landscape riddled with CGI superheroes and villains. I’m the first person to buy a ticket to the next MCU movie, but there is a disconnect in knowing that, not only are the characters unnatural, but they are not actually doing the things we are seeing. Watch a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of a Marvel movie and you can see the green screen photography being used to insert the characters into a world that isn’t there.

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This is proof that Tom Cruise has gained the ability to fly

Mission: Impossible is not that kind of movie. There is an indexical relationship to reality through the use of practical stunts; there is no magic or trickery, aside from digitally erasing a safety harness or stabilizing cable. The actors and props exist in real time and are not digitally inserted into the frame. Tom Cruise is flying a real freaking helicopter! Tom Cruise was dangling off the side of a mountain! This sublimation of action and actors together is what sets the Mission: Impossible series apart from the current slate of action films.

Cock your damn arm-guns and go see the movie!

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