Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, taking on his greatest mission… making audiences forget that The Mummy happened a year ago. Well, mission accomplished. While Mission: Impossible – Fallout left me both giddy and incredulous, I had a great time watching Hunt and his remaining IMF team take on a series of villains with ties to nuclear warheads, hidden lairs, and dozens of henchmen for Hunt to kill.
Things don’t begin well, as the opening scene is quite silly and too on-the-nose. Including Hunt’s living-in-secret wife (played by Michelle Monaghan) this late in the series is a mistake. Then there’s the message that Hunt must listen to (the one that comes with the line, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”) – it’s so long, I wondered why Hunt wasn’t furiously taking notes. Then, the big set pieces start and rarely ever stop. There’s so much action in this, it seems that Cruise and company are aiming for The Greatest Action Movie Ever Made status. As exciting as much of this is, I felt bludgeoned by the non-stop acrobatics, which eventually go from Jason Bourne to Wile E. Coyote. There’s no suspense and, even if you haven’t seen the spoiler-crazy trailer, the surprises are fairly easy to guess.
The supporting cast is stronger than the material, particularly Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley, and especially Henry Cavill (sporting a Snidely Whiplash mustache and looking more alive than he ever did playing Superman). There’s a Keyser Soze level bad guy named John Lark whose identity isn’t revealed until midway but many of the subplots are lazily discarded in the final scenes.
When the movie (and Cruise) stops running and tries to invest in our emotions, it doesn’t work. Not only because the Mr. and Mrs. Hunt’s love story is so three movies ago, but because it’s hard to genuinely care about a movie that seems to exist mostly for the shot of Cruise dangling beneath a helicopter. In many ways, that’s more than enough reason for there to be a sixth Mission: Impossible and just one of ten-or-so great sequences that make this a must-see on the big screen. Still, the formula is starting to show its age, even if its star isn’t.
I won’t give it away with explanation, but at one point in this latest entry, a big mano a mano fight scene takes place, while threat of a viral outbreak looms. I know it’s been sixteen years but did everyone forget that Mission: Impossible II had an almost identical sequence?
There was a point where Paramount Pictures executives were unhappy with the box office of the third installment and almost replaced Cruise with Brad Pitt for Ghost Protocol. I’m not saying this series needs less Cruise (if anything, Cruise barely seems to need co-stars). However, the element of surprise that the first three had are missing.
The business model initially created by Cruise, the film’s hands-on producer, is long gone. In print, Cruise expressed a desire to see each installment helmed by a filmmaker of distinct directorial vision. With Brian De Palma and John Woo (who helmed the first two films), he got that. Then came Mission: Impossible III, a so-so episode helmed by J.J. Abrams who, like Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith, is a stronger writer than director. Brad Bird’s vivacious fourth entry re-started and course-corrected the formula, while Christopher McQuarrie has impressively handled the last two entries. That said, McQuarrie makes this one especially stylish but can’t balance the human element with gigantic set pieces like James Cameron can. I still miss the idea of these movies having an insanely different filmmaker for each new episode (just imagine the possibilities if Tim Burton or Ridley Scott made one of these).
While they vary in quality, the Daniel Craig-starring 007 thrillers have an emotional center that added surprising depths to the lore of James Bond. On the other hand, the Mission: Impossible films of late are best at securing Cruise as a Jackie Chan-level action star, who will put himself into great pain and peril in exchange for our admission and a bucket of popcorn. If anything, the levels to which Cruise puts himself into danger for our entertainment and the way we’re supposed to take any of this seriously, makes this Mission: Ridiculous.
Rated PG-13/147 min.
Photo courtesy IMDB