First real follow up to Second Golden Age of Action

2 years ago, I took a moment to highlight that the action genre and generally action in film was getting the proper treatment it deserved, specifically after a few decades of lazy filmmaking and riding the coattails of the innovative works of the 80’s. While it wasn’t all gloomy for the genre, the few standouts helped shape the landscape ahead. Since writing the piece and declaring we’d entered the second golden age of action, I haven’t felt like a film has taken every lesson and used them to its advantage.

Enter Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

Let’s do a quick rundown of all the other previous candidates. John Wick 2 is the predictable choice. It is, in fact, bigger and better than the first in its ravenous action sequences, but it still carries over the one issue that hindered the first: its story is kind weak. The world around Wick is incredibly fascinating, and getting a deeper glimpse is what we wanted, but the initiating event is simply Wick repaying a debt. The motive behind it all is that this expert assassin, who could take down an army if he wanted to, is afraid of someone killing him? And he sees it coming?

Baby Driver was an easy pick as well, but all it really does is present the action with a musical twist. There’s not much of interest in the rest.

It would be easy to level the same criticisms at Fallout going off the reputation of the Mission: Impossible franchise, but the theme hamfistedly conveyed in the trailer is far more compelling in context. For the last five films, Ethan Hunt has lived a rather episodic life, going from mission to mission with little carryover. Here, we finally see his actions sending ripples, as his choice on a previous mission to spare someone too dangerous to live directly affects this latest entry. On top of that is the Superman-esque conundrum of Hunt trying to save everyone all the time despite the chance that his failure means the death of everyone. The weight of these decisions finally catches up with him, and what we get is the first emotionally weighty entry into the Mission: Impossible franchise. It’s another breath of fresh air from Christopher McQuarrie, who first took the director’s chair for Rogue Nation, and brought physical vulnerability to the character after Brad Bird made Hunt seemingly immortal for Ghost Protocol. In brief: Fallout does what Spectre couldn’t.

McQuarrie brings another level of honesty that has understandably evaded big blockbusters for years: the clumsiness of everyday hardware. There isn’t a heavy reliance on future tech with this entry as like in pre-Rogue Nation installments. The most notable films to do this same thing is the original Bourne trilogy. A compact in a city like Paris isn’t out of the ordinary, so it would make sense that the only vehicle Hunt and team have on hand was that, rather than the latest-and-greatest sports car. The same goes for using a box truck as a first-stage getaway vehicle. It doesn’t have the greatest maneuverability, but the level of skill needed to handle it professionally is appreciably spotlighted.

Which brings us to the meat of the film’s success. Tom Cruise is 56 years old and still pushing himself with every stunt. He deserves all kinds of praise. Other top-tier action stars aren’t making history with the largest filmed halo jump; learning how to fly a helicopter and performing a corkscrew that even experienced pilots avoid; jumping from roof to roof and breaking an ankle without breaking character and finishing the shot. If you’re wondering, yes, it’s very obvious they used that take. Watching him hit the ledge just looks wrong, and as he runs off, you can clearly see that Cruise is limping in pain. Even after a film like Rogue Nation, which I thought was great, I still couldn’t quite get behind the argument for Cruise’s honorary Oscar. But Fallout single-handedly shows Cruise is in a class with Jackie Chan. Exhibit A: the final set piece in Kashmir, proudly shown off in the trailers and depicting Cruise climbing into a helicopter and piloting it to a showdown. Watching Cruise climb under the helicopter just isn’t like anything I’ve seen before, and for one good reason: he fucking did that. The subtle drop in camera quality, due to small mountable equipment, drives the reality that he is alone in this scene. It looks like an extreme episode of Fear Factor minus the safety rigging. The icing on the cake is the score cutting out to let what’s on screen speak for itself. This is mastercraft.

Now, the use of comic relief, something very familiar in the franchise and other blockbusters, fall flatter than previously. It’s hard to say if it’s because of the jokes themselves or because they conflict with the tone. The humor is sparing and kept out of large sequences, usually relegated to a cheesy quip here and there to cap a scene or thought. There aren’t many great wide shots a la John Wick, but the composition and editing keep things clear and focused, and neither the spotty humor or the lack of overtly “cinematic” camera technique detract from the film.

It’s a shame that MoviePass has updated its policies so subscribers aren’t able to use it on new releases, because Mission: Impossible – Fallout begs to be seen on the biggest screen in town. See it. Given its current status at the top of the box office, there’s a good chance you already have. But see it again. I’m going to use this time to my advantage and see this at least once more, probably in IMAX, while I can. You should do the same.