' ' Cinema Romantico: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Monday, August 06, 2018

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

In the movie’s biggest twist, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” forgoes opening with a slam bang. I would not dream of giving it away but suffice to say the lengthy prologue is revealed as something akin to a shaggy dog story, brought home in a delicious celebrity cameo where somber topicality is just a ruse. It’s not that writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is utilizing reality in the name of a joke, but that he’s reminding us – or presuming to – that what’s at stake is sheer entertainment. What’s weird, then, is that McQuarrie not only proceeds to resurrect a particular ghost of Missions Impossible past, but that he employs this ghost to try and inject a little levity amidst so much mind-blowing mindlessness. The pivotal speech in “Fallout’s” glorious antecedent, “Rogue Nation”, comically equated Tom Cruise’s IMF agent Ethan with the living manifestation of destiny; the pivotal speech in “Fallout” stops the movie dead in its track to explain that Ethan is, like, a really good guy. It doesn’t ruin the movie, because too much of it is too good, some of it great, but it mellows the buzz.

“Fallout’s” plot boils down to plutonium, a word repeated throughout the traditional self-destructing message Ethan receives, that repetition being all we need to understand the global stakes. Three plutonium cores must be prevented from winding up in the wrong hands, and though Ethan’s team is tasked to retrieve them, his choice early on to save fellow IMF agent Luther (Ving Rhames) when the cores are within reach arouses questions of loyalty from the CIA. As such, they assign August Walker (Henry Cavill), he of the flowing 1940s movie star mustache, as an accompanying observer, and who comes to suspect Ethan has gone rogue, such an obvious faint you wish it would have been written out. The actual villain, meanwhile, fronting a terrorist group billed as The Apostles, is ultimately disappointing not because his identity might be obvious but because absolutely none of his ostensible anarchist streak comes across in the buttoned-up performance. Lame.

The real villain is, or should be, the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), a black market arms dealer working as the go-between for an undercover Ethan and The Apostles. In a scene where Ethan coolly maintains his covert persona by casually dismissing the sanctity of life, Kirby has the White Widow respond with an indelible turned-on trembly twinkle, the sort of theatrical relish the real villain decidedly lacks. Indeed, bowing to time-honored Hollywood tradition, Kirby’s character is moved aside much too soon, dousing the tantalizing possibility of a love triangle between she, Ethan, and Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), back from “Rogue Nation” and still skirting about the story’s periphery, intervening to aid or thwart Ethan, with her own conflicting, unknowable motives.

Kirby is moved aside to pave the way for Michelle Monaghan, returning as Ethan’s fiancé, Julia, from J.J. Abrams’s third “Mission: Impossible.” Why she is here, I don’t know, unless there was an edict from on high, because she never appeared in “Rogue Nation”, a smart move given that McQuarrie’s universe is wholly different from the one created by Abrams. Then again, the character is much gentler than the White Widow, and that gentility connects back to not only Ethan needing to presented as all-around valorous but, worse, to Cruise’s eternal leading man flaw – that is, sexlessness. Seriously, you see it when the White Widow suddenly grabs Ethan and plants one right on his lips, which Cruise has his character receive like he’s out of practice. C’mon, Tom! Go for the gusto! No, a Cruise a love scene has always been better filtered through a stunt, like his martial arts meet cute with Ilsa in “Rogue Nation”, or, in a sly bit of Maverick/Iceman-ish, uh, camaraderie in a Grand Palais lavatory in “Fallout.”

That last one kicks off with the HALO jump, subject of so much breathless pre-release discourse, which Cruise performed himself, jumping from a plane at 25,000 feet, though his stunt work is ultimately less the point than the scene’s overall conception and execution, beginning with the way Lorne Balfe’s score connotes the paradoxical dread and exhilaration that must come moments before a breakneck freefall through storm clouds to earth. The mid-air rescue, meanwhile, in which Ethan must aid an unconscious August, while inherently dramatic, foreshadows in its movements the gala at the Grand Palais down below which the two IMF agents are infiltrating where they move about so many partygoers busting a swank move.

In other words, Ethan and August are – and I simply must take this moment to stress how wonderful what I am about to say is – HALO jumping into the club. One minute they are wearing pressure suits in the sky, the next they are sporting suits and ties. For a second, you yearn for Agent 007 who would have paused for a martini post-HALO. Still, what follows, Ethan and August’s confrontation with John Lark (Liang Yang), supposed Apostles mastermind, in a stark white bathroom with thumping bass deliberately left present on the soundtrack gloriously, improbably merges Studio 54 with the Octagon in a sequence so brutal the characters have to pause to huff and puff yet with choreography so precise that they seem to be floating on air.

If their rollicking showdown is the movie’s high point, the ensuing action scenes are nevertheless lit, like a Paris motorcycle chase where every time Ethan makes a move to put down his foot for balance I felt myself clutching my seat or the concluding spectacle of a roaring chopper chase through Kashmir. There Ethan figures how to pilot a chopper on the fly, which is absurd but also right on brand. And yet, even as he threads the needle of majestic valleys and snowy mountaintops, so too does “Fallout” itself try to thread the needle of absurdity and gravity. McQuarrie can’t pull it off, which is not a fatal flaw, just an “eh, whatever”, but still. It’s not critical overthinking; if anything, it’s gut-level acceptance. I enjoyed “Fallout” even if I wish the whole movie could have been made in the image of that bathroom melee, three dancing queens shutting out the noise of the world, having the time of their lives.

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