'Mission: Impossible – Fallout' Review: Our Greatest Action Franchise Reaches New Heights

About halfway through Mission: Impossible – Fallout, I found myself thinking that I'd happily watch Tom Cruise run for the film's entire duration. In fairness, that's pretty much what he does as he reprises the role of Ethan Hunt, but I mean it literally. Tom Cruise runs with the kind of mania that means it's unsurprising he broke his ankle leaping from building to building while filming Fallout — and then kept running in order to save the take — or that he actually jumped out of a plane at 25,000 feet for another sequence in the movie. He runs so fast that it's impossible not to go along with him. (And he knows it, too. His Twitter and Instagram bios read: "Running in movies since 1981.")

That energy sustains almost the entirety of Fallout. Directed by Rogue Nation's Christopher McQuarrie, Fallout does nothing if not cement Mission: Impossible as the greatest franchise we currently have, and manages it by leaning fully into the near-demented earnestness given tangible shape in Cruise's running. It hurtles along at such a breakneck speed that it might as well combust, and that even talking about it almost feels like spoiling it, as the temptation is to name every insane set piece in simple awe.

Granted, that pacing isn't entirely consistent — following a prologue that pretty neatly encapsulates just how crazy (and great) the franchise is, the film has to pause to set every piece of the game into play. But even then, it's fun, in part due to the easy chemistry of the core team. There's Hunt, and then Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) to round out the crew. The wrench in the works this time around is CIA agent August Walker (Henry Cavill), who's been sent along to ensure that Hunt doesn't once again go rogue.

Walker isn't given quite as much to do as the last film's straight man, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, sitting this one out), which is less a reflection on Cavill, who acquits himself well, and more a symptom of the way that Ethan Hunt has become a force of nature rather than just a man. The Mission: Impossible films aren't superhero movies by the conventional definition of the genre, but they might as well be for how unstoppable Hunt seems to be, and for the way that Hunt's place in the world has gone from "the living manifestation of destiny," as per Rogue Nation, to pretty much the one man keeping the entire world from falling apart.

It's a ridiculous notion, but delivered in such a heartfelt fashion that it's difficult to laugh at it, especially given how Hunt does indeed seem to accomplish the impossible as he pursues the terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). And Harris, for his part, is a fitting counterpart to Cruise, as his intensity as an actor is perhaps the only thing in the film to match Cruise's energy. Unfortunately, he's kept mostly on the sidelines, which is equal parts a result of the plot, the expanding cast, and way that the franchise has essentially set Ethan Hunt up as something of a cosmic entity. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing — I'm under the faint impression that Hunt would probably win in a fight against the sun should he so wish to, but Cruise somehow manages to keep him grounded. Hunt takes a few tumbles; 22 years have passed since the first Mission: Impossible hit theaters, and it's not a stretch of time that the franchise has forgotten about. The key is that he keeps going.

That's become part of the magic of the franchise. Mission: Impossible isn't Game of Thrones, i.e. Ethan Hunt isn't about to be killed off (or is he?), but watching him attempt the impossible is still heart-stopping. There's no other series of films that's been as consistently able to provoke a physical reaction from its audience — as Fallout ramped up, I not only heard laughs, gasps, and cheers, but saw people recoil, jump, and cover their eyes as Hunt's antics grew more and more extreme. It's a complete, delirious delight.

Though, by the end, Fallout is verging on complete fantasy and/or Cruise-centered magical realism, it doesn't require suspension of disbelief as much as it bakes it into the experience. Buying a ticket for a Mission: Impossible movie means surrendering to its specific brand of charm — the same charm to watching Cruise run so fast that it seems he might just take flight.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10