The most thrilling action entry in the series is actually an elaborate attempt to cut loose a dangling thread.
There is no question of Tom Cruise‘s dominance as a physical specimen. He is at such peak form that we’re willing to dismiss whatever crazy he might actually be up to in the real world. From Scientology to couch jumping, we do not care as long as he’s willing to risk his life for our entertainment.
The journey to our undying adulation has been long. 37 years in the making. We’ve accepted more than a few duds in his filmography, but once Cruise started cranking out Mission: Impossible sequels, our eagerness to worship his feats of strength quadrupled. Enduring the occasional The Mummy stumble, a lackluster American Made, or even an embarrassing Jack Reacher: Never Go Back ain’t no thing as long as we know he’ll propel himself off a cliff in the next M: I segment.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’
For the first time in the 20-year-old franchise, a director returns to the series to weave together the threads he initially stitched in the previous entry. Christopher McQuarrie finally gave Ethan Hunt a worthy adversary in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and he was determined to seal the deal for Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is the shadowy, MI-6 double to Ethan Hunt’s supreme American badass.
Sure, there are multiple madmen constantly threatening global devastation, and theoretically, these two agents have the same goal, but duplicitous government control keeps the other in their crosshairs. With murky motivations comes a moral mystery that only aggravates the sexual chemistry. Steely, silent expressions shared over the scopes of their rifles elicits heavy breathing from the audience. After decades of eclectic lovers with varying degrees in butt-kickery, Hunt has finally found an equal in Faust, elevating the McQuarrie chapters to new heights of action foreplay.
There’s only just one problem. Ethan Hunt is married.
Poor Michelle Monaghan. Inserted into the third film as an effort by J.J. Abrams to add a little humanity to Tom Cruise’s absurd 00-wannabe, Monaghan’s cheerful fiancé brought a fresh level of personal stakes to the proceedings. Abrams concluded that picture on an honest-to-goodness freeze frame of pure bliss. Another megalomaniac terrorist in the ground. Phew. Roll credits.
Hunt could save the world and experience the domestic fantasy. “Sorry, honey, I’ll be late to dinner because the President just declared DEFCON 1.” Yet, that domesticity does not make for thrilling action set-pieces (unless you’re going to fully commit to The Americans). Brad Bird was left to push Monaghan to the sidelines in Ghost Protocol, but he had the good taste not to simply eradicate her with a bullet.
Then McQuarrie goes ahead and creates Ethan Hunt’s most formidable opponent in Isla Faust. However, the undeniable attraction between the characters is made rather creepy knowing Hunt’s heart belongs to another. Rogue Nation could leave the romance unspoken, but if McQuarrie was coming back for Fallout, he was damn well determined to return Faust along with him. The super spy chemistry would have to be addressed, and as such, Fallout is pretty much constructed with the sole purpose of pulling Monaghan permanently out of the proceedings.
During the climax of Fallout, Ethan Hunt, Ilsa Faust, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) follow Syndicate mastermind Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and his number one henchman/CIA double agent John Lark (Henry Cavill) to a medical camp in Kashmir. There the doomsday terrorists aim to detonate two nuclear devices in an effort to poison the water supply of Pakistan, India, and China, which in turn will starve a third of the world’s population bringing a Thanos-like balance to the Earth.
Why the medical camp? Hunt doesn’t have time to question. While in mid-countdown, he must track down the remote detonator, and remove the firing key so his comrades can cut the appropriate wires on the explosive devices. Before the action can commence, Monaghan’s Julia steps forth from one of the tents.
Lane is not only determined to fulfill his catastrophic prophecy; he wants to rob Hunt of everything he holds dear. He barely has a moment to process the potential loss when Julia reveals that she has remarried and to Wes Bentley no less! Hunt has literally saved the world from all manner of cataclysm, and as he’s been fighting the good fight in her name, his Ex has been doing her part by bringing humanitarian aid to any and all in desperate need.
With the remote on his person, Lark takes to the skies via helicopter, and Hunt follows in hot pursuit. While Hunt attempts to jump from his bird to another, his comrades find one bomb atop an antennae array and another sitting comfortably within Solomon Lane’s country cabin. McQuarrie cuts rapidly back and forth between the aerial dogfight, Luther and Julia playing doctor on bomb one, and Faust combatting Lane hand-to-hand.
If Hunt can’t hop aboard Lark’s helicopter, he’s going to ram his vessel out of the skies. The two vehicles collide midair and come toppling down a mountainside. The fight continues on the cliffs, mano a mano, each one tearing chunks of flesh from the other. As the remote dangles on the edge of oblivion, the two rivals slide off the cliff and onto a thin wire that’s barely holding Hunt’s helicopter to the surface of the mountain.
Hunt channels his muscle memory from Mission: Impossible II, free climbs the mountain wall and shakes the wire loose from the surface. The helicopter plummets as does the hook that once held it in place, and that nasty hunk of metal claws into Lark’s skull. Hunt pulls himself to the top, removes the firing key, and crosses his fingers that his teammates have found and secured the two bombs.
After a brief bout of captivity under Lane, Faust subdues the madman rather than choking his evil ass out, and partners with Benji to deactivate the final device. It was another close call for the IMF agents, but no closer than their usual adventures. Thumbs up, everyone.
Hunt awakens in a hospital bed with Wes Bentley standing over him. Hunt can barely say a word of apology before Julia takes over the conversation. She explains that he has nothing to be sorry for. The world is always on the brink, and his purpose is to be there to save it. She doesn’t regret her station in life; she loves it. Without him she would never have reached out into the world, she would never have found her new husband, and she would not be contributing to the human cause.
Julia releases Hunt from the prison of their once-upon-a-time-love. Here is Hunt’s hall pass to pursue Ilsa Faust, or at the very least, not make their undeniable attraction creepy for the audience. Huh. How do you feel about that?
Taken back-to-back, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossible – Fallout are masterpieces of brutal, unwavering action. After 22 years, the franchise has reached hyperbolic comparisons to the very best of James Bond. The stunts Tom Cruise commits to are insane and seem genuinely life-threatening. He’s already shattered his bones for us. What more could he possibly do to gain our enthusiasm?
Finding himself married halfway through the franchise was a unique, and obviously problematic hurdle for the genre Cruise was chasing. Rebecca Ferguson was a revelatory addition to the series, and their rapport was irrefutable. Seeing them smash their way through faceless goons was a pure delight and whatever keeps that dynamic going seems to make sense.
The impulse to excise Julia from Mission: Impossible is understandable, and doing so without a bullet is appreciated. Still, the convenience of her happy life grates a little on the nerves and may be just as creepy as the sexual tension between badasses on display in Rogue Nation. The next entry in the series, and how the Hunt and Faust relationship develops, will ultimately determine if Fallout’s climax was a successful one.