See Tom run. See Tom jump. See Tom standing still, experiencing rare moments of introspection, even regret.
Yes, it is that time again, time for Tom Cruise to become tireless secret agent Ethan Hunt, a man whose mission, should he choose to accept it (as if he had a choice) is to be the implacable enemy of all things evil in the world, our last line of defense against the apocalypse.
“Mission Impossible — Fallout” is the sixth “MI” adventure for Cruise since the film was first spun off from the Bruce Geller-created TV series in 1996.
And this latest entertaining iteration, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, returning from the previous “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” is shrewd enough to take advantage of that longevity, and not just by replaying the celebrated Lalo Schifrin theme at key moments.
McQuarrie has brought back numerous familiar characters from the entire range of previous films, including Ving Rhames, sidekick Luther since the 1996 original, wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) from “Mission: Impossible III” and more recent “Rogue Nation” additions such as fellow secret agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and implacable anarchist threat Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).
Though it seems like an odd analogy for such an action-heavy film, these familiar faces, and the emotional connections we’ve formed with their characters over the years, make “Mission Impossible — Fallout” the thriller version of comfort film. It’s something we can return to with complete confidence in what we’re getting into.
However, as McQuarrie, Cruise and veteran stunt coordinator and second unit director Wade Eastwood well know, it is the action set pieces even more than the familiar faces that keep fans returning to the franchise, and the desire to always one-up the previous installment has clearly been on everyone’s mind.
In fact, as Cruise ages (he turned 56 on July 3), his ability to continue to do all his own stunts becomes remarkable, even if it leads to mishaps such as a production-stopping broken foot while “Fallout” was being filmed.
This time around, the focus is not on a single show-stopper like the climbing of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” but rather what director McQuarrie accurately describes as a sequence of stunts. These include:
- racing like a mad person through the picturesque streets of Paris on a BMW R nine T motorcycle, including a scene of Cruise going the wrong way around the Arc de Triomphe against 70 stunt drivers heading in the other direction;
- getting onto an open helicopter in midflight, taking the controls, chasing another chopper and seguing to a battle on a towering cliff, a sequence shot in both New Zealand and Norway to make it all the more harrowing;
- running so long and jumping so hard through London that just watching it is exhausting, ending up on the tiny top of the stark 300-foot chimney of the Tate Modern;
- executing a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) parachute jump, and becoming, to quote the impressed press material, “the first actor in a major motion picture to jump out of a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III from a height of 25,000 feet,” close to five miles up.
“Mission: Impossible — Fallout” does have a plot, and such a complex one that the film’s running time is a hefty two hours and 27 minutes.
But what the presence of all those stunts indicates is that the storyline’s essential function is to serve as an action sequence delivery system.
This is a film that wants you to live in the moment, to enjoy what is on screen when it is there in front of you and not worry how it fits into a plot that can be confusing but clears up in time for the inevitably rousing conclusion.
“Fallout” opens with Hunt receiving the usual self-destructing message, this time warning of a shadowy group called the Apostles, a syndicate of rogue anarchists who want to get hold of a trio of stolen plutonium cores so they can blow up a chunk of the globe and cause as much chaos as possible.
Hunt and his posse of Luther and Benji (Simon Pegg) try to get their hands on said plutonium, but a choice he makes doesn’t end well. It’s the fallout from that, as well as the nuclear kind, that gives the film its title.
Getting involved in a variety of ways are Hunt’s boss Alan Hunley (Alex Baldwin), CIA director Erika Sloane (Angela Bassett) and her assassin of choice, August Walker (Henry Cavill) — a hammer, she says, to Hunt’s scalpel.
And lest we forget, there’s the beautiful but deadly Ilsa, and a new character, the evocatively named but amoral White Widow, engagingly played by Vanessa Kirby, fresh from being Princess Margaret on “The Crown.”
Though the Apostles get a lot of early ink, “Fallout’s” bad guys turn out to be the returning Lane and the mysterious John Lark, who wrote a nihilistic manifesto paradoxically insisting, “the greater the suffering, the greater the peace.”
All this end-of-the-world talk is somehow soothing if we know Ethan Hunt is around to keep the peace, and we well understand the frustration of a bad guy who hisses at him, “Why won’t you just die.” He just won’t, that’s why, and 2018’s summer movie season is the better for it.
‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout’
Rating: PG-13, for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language
Running time: 2 hours, 27 minutes
Playing: Opens July 27 in general release