Pretty much everything is terrible right now, but at least theres some wild, bravura blockbuster filmmaking either clueless or sly enough to try and make us forget that. Mission: Impossible — Fallout (opening July 27) is about anarchists trying to fix the world by destroying it, and yet these dark questions about civilizations survival are met with bright and cracking wit. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie ratchets his movie—and the M:I franchise—up to a mad pitch, then revels in a whirling, controlled-chaos unraveling. In ragged times, the sophisticated derring-do of Fallout is a welcome gift, a slick and studio-polished adventure that nonetheless has the undermining wink of transgression. The movies nerve and moxie successfully make us forget its corporate overlords, and all those other oligarchs grinding millions of American lives into nothing.
Whew! That got a little dark. Which conversations about Fallout shouldnt, really. The movie is a full-tilt blast, a direct sequel to 2015s Rogue Nation that rewards a familiarity with that film but also knows that its plots chief function is to deliver grand set pieces. Which isnt to say the movie is without narrative weight. Its just that whatever details from the last one youve forgotten or never knew to begin with are quickly smoothed away. True to the medium, the movie almost never stops, well, moving—and in that aerodynamic charge a coherent enough plot takes shape, one that has Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) examining the nature of his commitment to all this world-saving, while pretty much everyone around him regards him as the lunatic he is.
But what a dependable lunatic. Who could have guessed that the Mission: Impossible franchise, of all the franchises, would have such staying power, somehow getting better as it aged. In expanding its scope beyond the original films gizmo tradecraft, the series surely should have become too similar to every other bloated, idea-less action spectacular. And yet through canny choices in directors—J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird, now McQuarrie—the franchise has found a surprising creative groove, toying with physics in an amiable game of one-upmanship that has yielded dazzling results. In Fallout, Cruise—whose devotion to stunt work is as crucial to these films as anything else—jumps out of a high-altitude plane and hangs from a helicopter as it whips over the mountains of Kashmir, daring us to consider that his work on these films might only be finished when one of them actually kills him. (This one nearly did.) Cruises crazy gusto dovetails neatly with Ethan Hunts, and Fallout runs swiftly, as the franchise has, on those twin engines of intensity.
The trailers for Fallout have largely showcased the helicopter stuff, which is a beguiling and ludicrous bit of action filmmaking. But Im even more enamored of what comes before, particularly an extended sequence set in sunny, springtime Paris, a long kidnapping and pursuit that is remarkable for how deceptively lo-fi and simple it is. McQuarrie doesnt introduce anything new to the chase scene, exactly, but he stages one with tireless verve, pushing the scene past its seemingly natural ending and then again past that. Were giddy and exhausted by the time the thing has concluded, only to be swept up in the movies next exhilarating clause, which is nothing more or less exciting than Tom Cruise running across the rooftops of London. Hes the best runner in movies, and Fallout is wise to give his tight little stride its proper due.
Theres a sense of Christopher Nolans macro dramatics at work in Fallout. McQuarrie films with a gliding insistence similar to much of The Dark Knights looming urban warfare, and Lorne Balfes score swells and thrums and booms in similarly epic proportions. Hes an acolyte of Nolan familiar Hans Zimmer, a fact you can hear in every chord that approaches “bwaaamp.”
But Balfe does his own thing too, particularly in his use of percussion, snares and bongos that create a jaunty staccato momentum. And McQuarrie keeps his film lighter than Nolan has ever been able to (or interested in). I like the occasional heaviness of Fallout, its moody reveries. But the film is not too steeped in that seriousness, either. Its a movie with stakes, but compartmentalized ones, as if the end of society and the corrosion of personal ethics were merely manageable parts of a problem, rather than all weve been freaking out about for the last 18 months.
Which is a nice, if deluding, idea. Im not that eager to try to pick apart what constitutes politics in Fallout, because Im not sure what Id find beyond a kind of recursive Möbius strip, referencing its own spy logic to justify all its spy action. Im sure one could draw parallels between Fallouts world saviorism and, say, the Avengers version of the same—but could we maybe just enjoy this one thing on its more visceral merits for a bit? I realize thats a lazy, problematic ask these days. But Fallout is such bracing entertainment that Id like to linger in its gleeful rattle a little longer before context comes crashing in.
That seems to be how Cruise most successfully operates these days, when hes relegated himself to the trusted stuff that works, far away from whatever we do or dont know about his personal life. Hes aces in the film, half cocked and half confident, letting us see some sweat and desperation to offset—and complement, really—his ropey competence. Hes supported ably by Henry Cavill in arch-hunk mode and series mainstay Ving Rhames, who gets to do some genuine emoting in a pair of scenes that have a poignant charge. (Fallout finds an emotional core underneath its sleek shell, one just gooey enough—when underscored by Balfes surging strings—to prove sincerely affecting.) Rebecca Ferguson returns as British assassin Ilsa Faust, getting a little less to do this go-around, but still acting as a sturdy foil for Cruise. Hes also paired with a slinking Vanessa Kirby, as an upscale arms broker, in a few crackling scenes. One hopes Kirby will be asked back for the next outing.
For surely there will be a next outing. Though Fallout has some definitive conclusions, it leaves Ethans world open enough to invite in whatever other new criminal catastrophe might await. If the antics are as dizzyingly high-grade as Fallouts, I eagerly welcome the next installment. McQuarries film is the most fun youre likely to have at the movies this season, a riot mounted with precision, a melee in which every punch and crunch is considered. I worry for Cruises safety should he continue to make these films, but he at least seems to be in the best possible hands. What a thrill to watch our old movie-star hero tossed around willy-nilly—but carefully. And all in service of showing us a good time! That generosity is more than appreciated.
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:The Most Surprising Celebrity Friendships
Alexander Skarsgård and Jack McBrayer
This duo made a splash at the 2018 Screen Actors Guild Awards, where the 30 Rock star could be seen grinning at the table next to Skarsgård, who won yet another trophy for his role in Big Little Lies. What were the origins of this seemingly unlikely friendship, between the comedian and the former True Blood hunk? Twitter pondered. The pair have actually been photographed together for several years now (as early as 2013), and even teamed up with Funny or Die to shoot a nine-day comedy series for Greenpeaces “Save the Arctic” campaign in 2015. “Were you guys friends before making this?,” Esquire asked then. “Nope. Still arent,” McBrayer joked.Photo: By Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.
John Mayer and Dave Chappelle
The two have had a connection since Mayer appeared on multiple episodes of Chappelles Show in 2004. Comedy Central has them posted for posterity here and here. Theyve continued their friendship in public over the years, with a pop-up jam session in 2016, and an April 2017 tribute to the late Charlie Murphy during an Ohio concert.Photo: By Kevin Mazur/WireImage.
Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart
When Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg announced their new show, Martha & Snoops Dinner Party, the most novel element of the news was that these two had transformed Snoops amusing guest spots on Stewarts show into a genuine friendship. And when the first trailer for the show was released, showing the two dancing (with a plate of brownies!), the match, however strange, was finally fully realized for the public.Photo: By Christopher Polk/Getty Images.
Helen Mirren and Russell Brand
Dame Helen Mirren and Russell Brands friendship dates back to 2010s The Tempest. “Russells obviously never done Shakespeare before,” Mirren told Jonathan Ross during a 2009 interview. But while that might sound like a slight, the dame was nothing but impressed with the brash comedian and has had high praise since then. Their working relationship clearly developed into a friendship, seen here in a video interview about their work in 2011s Arthur. Mirren even shared in the interview with Ross that Brand gave her a pair of his underwear as a parting gift.Photo: By Dave Allocca/StarPix/Rex/Shutterstock.
Ed Sheeran and Courteney Cox
Surprisingly enough, Ed Sheeran introduced Courteney Cox to her fiancé, Johnny McDaid, in 2013. The two split up at the end of 2015, but they have since reconciled. Regardless of the apparent ups and downs, they have their friend Sheeran to thank.Photo: By Todd Williamson/Getty Images.
Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett
This pair collaborated on an album (2014s “Cheek to Cheek”) and performed together on numerous occasions. Gaga has said that Bennetts friendship “liberates” her from what has been a mostly controlled existence. “I love to rowboat with you and your wife in Central Park Lake,” Gaga sings in their duet of “The Lady is a Tramp.” What an image.Photo: By Douglas Gorenstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images.
Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning
Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart, who co-starred in the The Runaways and three installments of The Twilight Saga, like to talk about anything besides movies, the former told Glamour (per E!) in 2013. And in an interview with Andy Cohen in October 2016, Fanning called Stewart her best friend—noting that she wouldnt go into details about her relationship with Robert Pattinson.Photo: By Joe Schildhorn/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock.PreviousNext
Richard LawsonRichard Lawson is a columnist for Vanity Fair's Hollywood, reviewing film and television and covering entertainment news and gossip. He lives in New York City.