Mission: Impossible – Fallout completes possibly the most improbable cinematic hat trick in Hollywood history: An unpromising series that began with three patchy, uneven entries has now produced three terrifically entertaining ones. Mission: Impossible 4–6 is not the best trilogy ever, but surely no other sequel trilogy has so handily surpassed the original trilogy?
I’m not convinced that Fallout, directed by Christopher McQuarrie, is better than its two immediate predecessors, Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol or McQuarrie’s own Rogue Nation. Yet it not only feels of a piece with them, it ties them and, in some way, the series as a whole together. It feels both like a final chapter and a springboard for a new beginning.
As different as they were, the first three Mission: Impossible films were all marked by three shared problems. First, colleagues came and went, Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell being the only mainstay, but there was never a sense of an ensemble or a team — an Impossible Missions Force (IMF) — around Tom Cruise’s redoubtable Ethan Hunt.
The filmmakers also repeatedly miscalculated how unpleasant or distasteful things could get while still being fun. (M:I II’s misogynistic mistreatment of Thandie Newton might be the low point here.)
Finally, each of the first three films ended with Hunt ready to walk away from the IMF. It’s like neither he nor the series knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. If he didn’t care more than that, why should we?
The new direction came with Ghost Protocol, which understood the franchise had always been at its best when it was a lark, and adjusted course accordingly. Rogue Nation and now Fallout continue this trajectory (McQuarrie is now the first director of more than one M:I movie).
Taking advantage of Simon Pegg’s rising star, Ghost Protocol promoted his Benji Dunn from a minor deskbound role in M:I III to field agent and full-on comic-relief sidekick. Other players have now stuck around for more than one film: Jeremy Renner was in both Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation, and Rebecca Ferguson and Alec Baldwin, introduced in Rogue Nation, are back in Fallout.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.