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August 06, 2018

Review: Mission Impossible: Fallout

I've been a fan of the series starting with Mission: Impossible III. The first one was meh, the second one was just bad -- quite bad; I just re-saw it looking for something to like but couldn't find much* -- but starting with M:I 3, all the movies have been solid. Personally I thought Ghost Protocol (the fourth) was a lot more meh than the general consensus had it, but I really liked the real stunts (mostly real, anyway) in the fifth, Rogue Nation. (The one against "The Syndicate" where Tom Cruise hangs outside a plane taking off.)

The latest film features Ethan Hunt going where he's never gone before -- yes, this time he goes rogue, if you can imagine such a thing. He's also accused/suspected of being in league with the terrorists he pretends to oppose.

Woah! All this new stuff! I don't know if fans can accept all these new directions for the franchise in one film!

But put aside the plot, because the screenwriters usually do anyway in these movies.

It's very good. I enjoyed it a lot. There are callbacks to previous films -- even a connection to a major character from the first movie -- as well as the return of Ethan Hunt's married-and-then-forgotten wife from MI:3. The Syndicate is back, or at least a more exxxtreme splinter cell is it, and so is the bad guy from Rogue Nation.

Just a quick word about the plot: I realized while watching it there are two different ways in which one can say a plot makes sense, or does not makes sense.

1. One can say "The plot makes sense" if one understands the short-term goals of the major players (at least once all the masks come off) and one understands what they're trying to do at any particular moment.

Now, I said "short-term goals" instead of "goals." By short-term goals, I mean the things people are trying to physically do. I mean their immediate goals. That's different from their ultimate goals or aims, the stuff they're doing the short-term actions to accomplish.

On that level, the plot to this movie makes sense. You understand what people are doing in all the scenes. You understand their short-term, scene-based goals just fine.

On the other hand, there's the question of why they are doing these things.

2. One can say "The plot makes sense" if one understands why each character is doing the things he's doing, what ultimate goal they're each working towards, and whether or not it makes sense, on a character level, on a psychological level, why they'd be acting to achieve these ultimate goals. Beyond the screenwriter just claiming that X character is working towards Y goal because he needs that for the plot to work and to have these cool action scenes and sudden revelations.

The movie makes almost no sense on that level. Solomon Lane, who had vague goals in the last film, but they seemed to be something like "bring down world governments and especially their often-cruel intelligence agencies," for some reason is now pursuing more of a Blow Up The Damn World sort of plan, just because. The Syndicate splinter cell called "The Apostles" initially are pursuing a militantly atheist terror plot, but then give that up, for no reason I could understand, to just kill a bunch of random people with no particular connection to religion. A character who is shown as ruthless and murderous and eager to sell plutonium to terrorists is suddenly revealed as being... well, kind of a mischievous rogue who's really not a bad egg at all and is mostly working for the good guys.

The good thing, though, is that all of this bullshit is delivered in three or four short segments where people spit baffling and nonsensical plot at each other. It's like the screenwriters realized "This doesn't make any sense, let's just say it really quickly so that no one can really follow it, and then they'll assume it makes sense because they don't want to think they're just too dumb to get it."

But that gambit more or less works, because this is, after all, really just an excuse for some cool stunts and intrigue (even if not all that intrigue really makes too much sense), and the writers are right to just do their Bullshit Dumps quickly, like pulling off a bandaid.

As for the intrigue: Even though it really doesn't make sense if you think about it deeply -- or even think about it superficially -- this movie still keeps you guessing as to people's agendas and alliances, and so while the underlying reasons why people might really be on one side or the other don't make any sense, it is still enjoyable and suspenseful and engaging to try to figure out where everyone stands.

So despite the background for the intrigue basically being Step 2 in the Underpants Gnomes' plot-writing algorithm, the intrigue still has an enjoyable effect, and in the first half of the movie, I thought to myself, "Wow, this really almost feels like a real spy movie with hidden agendas and secret allegiances."

The justifications for the intrigues fail, but the effect of the intrigue is still accomplished.

Then we get to the stunts. If you've seen the ads, you know they look pretty damn good. They look pretty damn good in the film, too, and they're exciting and suspenseful. I think the most hair-raising segment was again the motorcycle chase scene, this time in Paris. The motorcycle chase through Morocco (I think...?) was great in the last one, and this one is just as suspenseful.

The helicopter chase sequence is also great.

Several times in the movie, the protagonists have pretty good plans for achieving a goal, but they fail and everything goes to shit and they have to scramble desperately (sometimes with new plans that have almost no chance of succeeding, but they're really got no better options), and all of that feels kind of realistic (No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy) and the fact that everything's gone sideways makes it dramatic and suspenseful.

The end sequence, where (get this!) several teams have to defuse several nuclear devices simultaneously with a ticking countdown clock, is well-done and tense, even if you're pretty sure it's all going to work out.

Tom Cruise is also pretty good in this movie. He plays the role differently. He's not as cocky as in previous films, and often plays it like he's been so overexposed to adrenaline, stress, and catastrophe in his life he's kind of like one of those long-service guys in Vietnam with the thousand-yard stares and low affect. That doesn't make his portrayal boring, though; I think it works.

Henry Cavil's very good as a CIA "Special Activities" assassin who's just a "hammer," as his controller describes him. Rebecca Fergussen returns as the MI-6 agent that Hunt had an implied, but chaste affair with in the lat movie (they obviously were set up as a romantic couple, but the film hadn't dealt with whether Hunt was still married, so they just acted as if they might have a thing going on, even though they technically didn't). The rest of the cast is pretty good, except for the hammy, well-fed Alec Baldwin.

The film is missing Jeremy Renner. I can see why; Cavil basically fulfills that role of the other physically capable guy on the team, and I don't know what Renner would have done in the movie had he been in it. But I did like that character and I wished he'd had some kind of short cameo, just to say Hi to the audience.

Overall, good movie, lots of excitement, great scenery and five-star locations, great action and stunts, good suspense, even a (little) feeling of "real spy movie" type intrigue in places.

The plot really doesn't make sense beyond the most superficial examination but, honestly, who cares. The plotting is delivered in two or three rapid fire Nonsense Dumps and you can pretty much just ignore it.

At this point I think Mission: Impossible is clearly a stronger franchise than James Bond, and I was, until recently, a huge James Bond geek. Actually The Man from UNCLE is also a stronger franchise than James Bond, though they never actually made that great one-off movie into a franchise.

So, I'd say worth seeing in the theaters, on the big screen and with powerful speakers.

* The only good part in Mission: Impossible II is where Anthony Hopkins (the current, Welsh secretary of the IMF, for whatever reason) tells Ethan Hunt to tell the woman he's just recruited to re-start a sexual relationship with a former lover, to get surveillance on him. Ethan Hunt doesn't want to do that-- because he's just fallen in love with her after sleeping with her once, like all jaded super-spies do-- so he starts making excuses.

He says she can't restart the sexual relationship with the bad guy, "because she hasn't been properly trained."

Anthony Hopkins answers: "To sleep with a man and lie to him? She's a woman. She has all the training she needs."

And besides that great exchange, there is nothing else in the movie worth seeing.

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posted by Ace of Spades at 06:02 PM

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