Mission: Impossible - Fallout review - an action movie so great you'll forget to unclench
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Verdict: the biggest spectacle of the year is also its smartest and best. When a routine trade of stolen plutonium goes horribly wrong, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is forced to choose between saving the mission or saving his team. Choosing the latter is what kicks the plot into gear, as it compels CIA director Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett) to intervene in the IMF’s operation: She attaches her operative August Walker to Ethan’s team of Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames). As they chase the extremists who got their hands on the plutonium across continents, the team face old enemies (Solomon Lane, played by Sean Harris), new threats (the White Widow, Vanessa Kirby), and the enigmatic Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). And at every turn, Ethan is pushed to find a better way out of an impossible situation, straining his body under the weight of his immoveable morality. So far, so very Mission: in the grand tradition of spy movies, reveals and reversals are as much a part of the audience attraction as the set-pieces they set off. What makes Fallout exceptional isn’t just the way that these twists careen into bruising fisticuffs or eyeball-meltingly intense pursuits; it’s not the way director-screenwriter Chris McQuarrie is able to weave in the details through dialogue or visual cues that all stack up the tension to unbearable heights; it’s not even the way that McQuarrie, working with editor Eddie Hamilton and cinematographer Rob Hardy are able to match Tom Cruise’s dedication to practicality to the degree that you’ll probably spend every other second of any breathless sequence wondering how no-one died. What makes it exceptional is that every set-piece finds a way to test each character in ways that show us who they are. One beat of Rebecca Ferguson kicking a crate in a climactic fight scene almost made me cheer because of how it proved Ilsa had changed; Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill’s showstopping tag-team bathroom brawl against a terrorist (played by Liang Yang) begins by better establishing just what distinguishes Hunt’s surgical tactics from Agent Walker’s preference for a bullet. As the reveals stack up further, none of these beats are betrayed, but reinforced. None of which is to say that you’re encouraged to notice these details within what is without question the greatest spectacle of the year. The film is bookended by the two sequences most touted in the marketing: a one-take HALO jump into Paris where Ethan chases after the reckless August Walker, and a helicopter chase which begins with Ethan climbing aboard the second copter in mid-air, and which showcases the most vertiginous IMAX photography ever committed to film. These are reason enough to seek Fallout in the biggest screen possible. For any other franchise, either one would have been more than enough effort, yet a Paris motorcycle chase sees Hunt catapulted off his bike, land, and run away in a single take; that bathroom brawl (captured without a score so that every blow thuds harder) destroys enough tile and mirror to build five new ones; even the shot that broke the ankle of the youngest 56-year-old man in the world isn’t the most jaw-dropping part of a deliriously fun foot chase across London.
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