Fallout spoiler review

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Mission: Impossible – Fallout.)

“The end you’ve always feared is coming,” the villainous Solomon Lane tells Ethan Hunt halfway through Mission: Impossible – Fallout. “The fallout of all your good intentions.” If the Mission: Impossible franchise has one specific problem, it’s this: it took a very long time to tell us who Ethan Hunt was. From the beginning, Hunt, as played by Tom Cruise, was a bit of a cipher.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation changed that. The previous entry in the Mission franchise took a step back and finally asked, “Who is Ethan Hunt?” The answer: he’s kind of a crazy jerk. Someone who will risk everyone’s life just to come out ahead. This was a fascinating development in Ethan’s character trajectory, but perhaps director Christopher McQuarrie – who is the first Mission franchise filmmaker to return for a second time – realized it was a bit too much. That the series couldn’t realistically continue if Ethan Hunt remained a borderline sociopath.

Which brings us to Fallout, the most breathless, exciting, action-packed installment in the series yet. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to call it the best entry in the series – Rogue Nation still holds that distinction, as of now – but I am ready to declare Fallout to be the most thrilling Mission. A film so relentlessly entertaining that it might actually exhaust you. Believe the hype: this really is the best action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road.

Rebecca Ferguson Fallout

A Direct Sequel 

Beyond the big, jaw-dropping action set pieces, Fallout does something very interesting: it rehabilitates Ethan Hunt. It takes steps back from the brink of his Rogue Nation character description, and goes down another path. Here is a film that finally tells us who Ethan Hunt is: he’s someone willing to make a potentially bad choice to help the people he cares about. As IMF Chairman Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) says, Hunt is the type of spy who isn’t willing to sacrifice one life to save thousands (or more). He’s not a big picture person. He’s focused on the smaller picture. Because in Hunt’s view, saving one life is the same exact thing as saving thousands.

It can get a bit heavy-handed. There are several scenes in Fallout where characters stop and give speeches about what a great guy Ethan Hunt is. It works in the context of the film, but one can’t help realize it’s all a bit self-serving. Because when you boil it down, Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt. They’re one in the same. And if everyone in the movie is giving speeches about what a swell fellow Ethan Hunt is, it’s tantamount to the same characters singing the praises of Cruise – who produces this franchise.

But can you blame them? Cruise is one of the last genuine movie stars, and the Mission franchise has given him the opportunity to seriously rehabilitate his image. Around the time of the release of War of the Worlds, Cruise’s persona (and career) took a nosedive, due to some very questionable public appearances. Ever since then, he’s been climbing his way back to the top, one dangerous stunt at a time. Through this series, Cruise has become both actor and stuntman, constantly putting his life in danger for the sake of entertainment. On one hand, it makes for good press – we all want to talk about how entertaining it is to watch Cruise risk certain death for the sake of an action movie. On the other hand, it really is genuinely thrilling. We’re rightfully amazed as we watch Cruise leap from planes, or jump between buildings, or dangle from helicopters. All of this stuff could easily be faked with greenscreens and digital trickery. But it’s really happening, and Cruise is really doing it, and gosh darn it, that’s exciting.

Fallout is the first Mission: Impossible film to serve as a direct sequel. And not just to Rogue Nation, either. Sure, all the Mission films exist within the same universe, but up until now, they’ve all been stand-alone stories. Fallout takes a much different approach. It’s an explicit follow-up to the events in Rogue Nation, but more than that, it’s a film that references the series as a whole. It’s almost as if McQuarrie and Cruise are rewarding the franchise’s fans. They’re saying “Thank you” to everyone who stuck around for six movies, and proving that it was all worth it.

Remember arms-dealer Max, from Mission: Impossible? Well, her daughter – who has the super cool nickname the White Widow – is in this film, played by Vanessa Kirby. Remember when Ethan Hunt did some rock climbing in Mission: Impossible 2? He gets to do that again here too. Ethan got hitched to very nice nurse Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan) in Mission: Impossible III, and ever since then, the franchise has been trying to figure out what to do about that. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol featured a fake-out where the audience was made to believe Julia had been killed, only to have her show up at the end. Rogue Nation didn’t mention her at all. Here, McQuarrie’s script finally gives Julia her due, and directly involves her in the film’s big climax.

At the end of Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt and his team had seemingly foiled the Syndicate, a rogue organization comprised of secret agents from all over the world, fronted by unpleasant weirdo Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Unlike other Mission baddies before, Lane survived the events of Rogue Nation, and ended up in custody. Now, Ethan Hunt is starting to think that might’ve been a mistake. His haunted by nightmares of Lane, and while the Syndicate has been wounded, it’s not dead yet.

The remaining members of the Syndicate are now calling themselves the Apostles, and they want to get their hands on some plutonium cores to build nuclear weapons. The Apostles don’t just want to set off some bombs, though. They have a diabolical plan to throw the entire world into anarchy and chaos, with what they believe to be a noble goal. The Apostles believe that if everything is chaos, world powers will have no choice but to work together to fix things. It’s pretty much the same exact plan that Ozymandias has in Watchmen, minus the giant fake squid-alien.

Rebecca Ferguson and Tom Cruise

The Mission (Should You Choose to Accept It)

At Fallout’s start, Ethan’s commitment to caring about one life instead of thousands backfires. While posing as plutonium buyers, Hunt and his team – Ving Rhames as the ever-present Luther Stickell, and Simon Pegg as the nervous Benji Dunn – get made. Luther’s life is in danger, and Ethan could just let Luther die in order to keep the plutonium safe and prevent possible nuclear annihilation. Instead, Ethan shoots Luther – who happens to be wearing a bulletproof vest. In the ensuing chaos, the Apostles make-off with the plutonium, and the IMF is once again under some heavy scrutiny from Washington (how this agency, which has been disavowed several times and is constantly being called out for recklessness, continues to operate is one of the film’s biggest suspension-of-disbelief elements).

Ethan is committed to tracking the plutonium down and stopping the Apostles. How? “We’ll think of something,” he says – a line that becomes Hunt’s mantra in the film. He repeats it several times when pressed for an answer as to how he’s going to solve a big problem.

This answer isn’t good enough for CIA chief Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett), who orders one of her agents – the very handsome, very mustachioed August Walker (Henry Cavill) – accompany Hunt on the mission. Hunt and Hunley don’t like this idea, but they’re stuck with it.

Cavill is a delightful addition to the franchise. It’s clear from the start (and from the trailers) that his character is going to turn out to be a villain, but the actor brings charisma mixed with brutality. If Ethan Hunt is a “scalpel”, as Sloan calls him, Cavill’s Walker is a “hammer.” He barrels through scenes, fists at the ready. Cavill’s work here is more proof of how terribly served he’s been by the DCEU. After the triple threat of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Justice League, I was actually starting to suspect Cavill was just a poor actor. Instead, he just needs to be in a franchise that understands how to use him. Here, he’s holding his own against Tom Freakin’ Cruise, and that’s saying something.

After a thrilling HALO jump sequence, Hunt and Walker end up in Paris, which gives way to a big, brutal, and funny bathroom fight. If this all sounds like a lot of action at once, you haven’t seen anything yet. Fallout never lets up, and McQuarrie knows exactly how to keep it all very thrilling. The action is clear and concise – there’s never a moment where the camera shakes, or the image blurs, and we’re left wondering what is going on. McQuarrie understands that he has to get it all in frame, and make it look real, or else what’s the point? He approaches the big action beats like something from a Buster Keaton movie – it’s thrilling, it’s jaw-dropping, it’s surprisingly amusing. This isn’t dour brutality for the sake of brutality. There’s a playfulness to Fallout’s action.

Hunt and Walker soon cross paths with Rogue Nation breakout character Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Ilsa was out of the game at the end of Rogue Nation, but as she tells Ethan, she could never really be out. Not as long as Solomon Lane is still alive. Her mission, should she choose to accept it: find Lane and kill him, and then she can finally go home.

As fate would have it, Lane ends up playing a big part in the mission Ethan is on. After making contact with the alluring arms dealer the White Widow (a feisty but sadly underused Vanessa Kirby), Ethan, Walker, Luther and Benji get caught up in a scheme to bust Lane out of custody. I won’t sugarcoat things here: this entire set-up is maddeningly convoluted, and even hard to keep track of. As wonderful as Fallout is, its plotting is not nearly as tight as it could be – especially compared to the airtight Rogue Nation.

Part of the confusion is a deliberate obfuscation on McQuarrie’s part. He’s keeping things vague to disguise a twist. Several twists, actually. One is that Walker is one of the Apostles. The other is that Lane has practically orchestrated almost everything going on here in order to get revenge on Ethan Hunt. It doesn’t even add up – just how has Lane, who has been shuffled around in custody from one government to the next – been able to put this very elaborate plan in action? It’s best not to think about it.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer and critic for /Film, and the host of the 21st Century Spielberg podcast. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net