An astonishing bit of trivia began bouncing around Twitter last week: At age 56, Tom Cruise released Mission: Impossible — Fallout, making him five years older than Wilford Brimley when he starred in Cocoon.
Wilford Brimley, the Quaker Oats and diabetes guy.
Despite being born during the Kennedy administration, Cruise is more than just passably ageless for a blockbuster frontman; he’s still one of America’s most compelling action stars. His compulsive-seeming daredevil stuntwork alone qualifies him as the Travis Pastrana of Hollywood A-listers. (I’d ask, “What’s his secret?” but there seem to be several.)
The Mission: Impossible series is the ideal deployment of Cruise the action hero. His intense Tom Cruiseyness can overwhelm movies that require more variance in tone—The Mummy, Valkyrie—but he’s perfectly utilized as a physical dynamo who can triumph against overwhelming odds through sheer force of will. Kinda like getting big-budget practical special effects movies made in 2018.
Cruise’s Ethan Hunt returns along with partners Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) as well as his on-again off-again spy ally Isla (Rebecca Ferguson). This installment’s MacGuffin is, somewhat unimaginatively, a suitcase full of nuclear warheads. To retrieve them before the sinister Syndicate uses the bombs to reshape modern society, Ethan will have to go undercover as a globe-trotting terrorist and enter into a labyrinthine intersection of conflicting international interests.
It’s so labyrinthine, in fact, that it occasionally renders the plot somewhat arbitrary. The double-crosses pile up so fast you never have time to care much about anyone’s momentary allegiance.
Most intriguing is Hunt’s relationship with rival American agent August Walker (the Man of Steel himself, Henry Cavill). A brief acknowledgement of Ethan’s superspy seniority comes during a motorcycle chase with the younger man, when Cruise’s hog takes a little longer to get started.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout ’s boilerplate story is secondary to the incredible precision of its execution. Writer and director Christopher McQuarrie has constructed another Swiss watch of an action movie, where every element—from the plot twists to the action beats—work in perfect time. Its powerful, compact efficiency befits the star himself.
The real draw anyway is watching Cruise scramble through dazzling action setpieces like a muscled mouse through a Rube Goldberg contraption. Until the final reel, Fallout lacks any stunt sequences quite as flabbergasting as the Burj Khalifa skyscraper heist in Ghost Protocol or Rogue Nation’s one-two punch of airplane stuntwork and the sublime opera house fight. Fallout does feature a dizzying car-and-motorcycle chase through Paris that turns the French cityscape into a beautiful blur, as well as a slam-bang climax that really does save the best for last.
Look close during a rooftop chase scene and you can actually see Cruise break his leg leaping from one ledge to another. He injured himself doing the jump, and McQuarrie kept the footage in the film. After landing, Cruise gets up and hobbles forward. This gritty dedication to practical effects and real stuntwork not only makes the Mission: Impossible series stand among the titans of Western action cinema like The Fast and the Furious and the Marvel Universe movies, but proves a necessary antidote to their cartoony thrills.
You wonder if Cruise will again return as Ethan Hunt, more than 22 years after he first played the character. It’s Tom Cruise, so it’s possible.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson
Theater: Opens Thursday, area theaters