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On a dangerous assignment to recover stolen plutonium, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) chooses to save his friends over the mission, allowing it to fall into the hands of a deadly network of highly skilled operatives intent on destroying civilization. Now, with the world at risk, Ethan and his IMF team (Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson) are forced to work with a hard-hitting CIA agent (Henry Cavill) as they race against time to stop the nuclear threat. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)

 Mission: Impossible – Fallout
When I reviewed the previous film in the Mission: Impossible series I wrote:

“If there ever was a franchise that succeeded through the sheer will of its producer and star, it is Mission: Impossible. The series survived a clunker of a first sequel, a six-year hiatus, an under-performing second sequel, and Tom Cruise’s (the aforementioned producer and star) very public meltdown. But the franchise soldiered on into a fourth entry, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), that revitalized worldwide interests, including my own. The only problem was that the fifth movie, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, had a new high standard to live up to. Fortunately for Cruise and the small army that keeps making Mission: Impossible films, Rogue Nation is (arguably, of course) the best one yet.”

The franchise’s continued endurance and improvement continues unabated, because now the sixth film, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, has arguably surpassed the high bar set by its predecessors yet again. Beyond that, if, for some unforeseen reason (maybe Cruise finally irreparably injures himself doing a wild, ill-advised stunt?), this was the last Mission: Impossible movie they ever made, Fallout would also serve as a fantastic capper – one that brings together disparate plot points and themes spread throughout all six movies in a satisfying manner.

It was easy to be skeptical of writer/director Christopher McQuarrie returning for a second movie, not because he did anything wrong during his last time at bat, but because Cruise had set a precedent in which every movie was ushered by a different creative lead. This helped to keep the series fresh, despite the shared character histories and increasingly formulaic plotting. No one was going to mistake Brian DePalma’s Mission: Impossible from John Woo’s Mission: Impossible. Fortunately, be it the strength of this version of the formula or the fact that McQuarrie isn’t as intensively stylistically as any other director working on the series, everything worked out just fine. At worst, Fallout feels a bit too much like Rogue Nation, Part Two, rather than Mission: Impossible, Part Six, but this type of meta-detail complaint seems petty, given the quality of the content.

 Mission: Impossible – Fallout
At the risk of downplaying McQuarrie’s skill as a director, I think his strengths are tied more to his skills as a writer than as a technical wizard. His screenplay is so impressively tight and efficient that it makes Rogue Nation seem almost disorganized. There’s no space wasted on unnecessary exposition, despite the sheer quantity of exposition required for these movies, the pieces of the narrative puzzle fit snugly, and the mystery is gratifying without dumbing down the specifics or fumbling through convoluted hoops. I found that I got more out of a second viewing than anticipated, due to the sly clues are peppered through the first two acts. McQuarrie also solved the bland villain issue the permeates through the previous two movies, in part by building more into his own returning villain; though the real strength is found in that villain’s “partner,” whose identity I’ll keep secret, despite the trailers giving it away. The storytelling weaknesses are almost exactly the same as they were last time, mostly consisting of repeated themes and tropes. This criticism should be taken with a grain of salt, however, because these are and have always been formulaic movies, based on an even more formulaic television series (I went into this more during my Rogue One review, if you’re interested). The execution of the formula is what is important and McQuarrie has managed to wring a lot of character and thematic weight out of that formula. He also remembers to crack a few jokes along the way.

Again, not to minimize the quality of technical expertise on display, but, action-wise, I assuming the second unit and stunt teams basically direct themselves at this point. McQuarrie isn’t interested in the same brand of impressionistic flash that John Woo and Brad Bird were. He’s content to capture actors and stuntpeople doing what they do using clean, simple shots and he doesn’t ask editor Eddie Hamilton to chop set-pieces to ribbons, like J.J. Abrams did with his otherwise competent entry in the series. This comes in particularly handy during the climactic helicopter chase, which could’ve easily turned into shaky-cam, CG mush in lesser hands. Rogue One still has a slight edge in terms of the execution of this brand of old-fashioned (not antiquated), but Fallout achieves stomach-churning levels of suspense – the kind we haven’t seen since DePalma’s original film.

 Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Video


Mission: Impossible – Fallout was shot using a series of cameras and footage types, including 35mm film and digital, as well as standard and large format lenses. Cinematographer Rob Hardy, who did great work on Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018), generally aims for a consistent look, but it’s not too difficult to notice the differences between formats from scene to scene. While details are similar, particularly in close-up, the lack of grain during digital shots and the IMAX-ready scenes is notable. Do note that the 2.40:1 frame expands to about 1.85:1 during these IMAX scenes to better serve the additional background detail and foreground texture. The overall palette is a bit warmer and rosier than I recall the film looking in theaters, but it’s easy enough to assume that this was the intended look. Levels are a bit dark as well, which can create possibly unintended crushing in the deepest blacks. The bigger issue is the slight edge enhancement that this darkness can cause during the definitively film-based sequences.

Audio


Mission: Impossible – Fallout is presented in Dolby Atmos sound, though this review will pertain to the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix. These movies have cultivated a reputation for tight effects work that emphasize dynamic range over sheer volume and this is no exception. I’d normally list some highlights here, but, frankly, the entire scope of the mix is pretty impressive, even during dialogue-heavy downtime. Composer Lorne Balfe replaced Rogue Nation’s Joe Kraemer to make his first Mission: Impossible score. Given how difficult it is to make a memorable Mission: Impossible soundtrack in the face of Lalo Schifrin's original theme, it’s impressive to note how standout some of Balfe’s motifs are, especially the action cues that build on simple descending scales. The heavy strings, horns, and choral arrangements are given a wide berth throughout the stereo and surround channels, often being mixed above effects during action sequences. In fact, I believe this is the most music-heavy of any of the Mission: Impossible movies – whereas other films in the series tend to drop music during major set-pieces to make room for effects, this one cranks the music up (the big exception being the second car chase through Paris).

 Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Extras


Disc One:
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  • Commentary with director Christopher McQuarrie and star/producer Tom Cruise – The extras are led by this strong, content-filled commentary. The director and star focus on the bigger pictures of storytelling, the visual style, staging stunts, themes, and developing characters.
  • Commentary with McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton – McQuarrie takes the chance to get more technical for this second commentary. Obviously, given Hamilton’s expertise, the greatest emphasis is placed on editing, but the two also cover special effects and additional production design details. There is some overlap between what I sampled from the two tracks, though repeated concepts tend to compliment each other.
  • Commentary with composer Lorne Balfe – Balfe doesn’t quite have the content to fill all two hours and twenty minutes, but he does his best and is quite charming.
  • Isolated score

Disc Two:
    • Behind the Fallout (53:22, HD) – An extensive behind-the-scenes documentary that includes on-set footage and cast & crew interviews. It is broken into seven chapters with a play-all option:[list]
    • Light the Fuse – An introduction to the story and characters
    • Top of the World – Concerning the planning and filming of the HALO jump stunt
    • The Big Swing – A breakdown of a mostly deleted sequence in which Cruise descends from the ceiling of the Paris’ Grand Palais
    • Rendezvous in Paris – A look at the logistics of the various Paris-set car/foot/motorcycle chases
    • The Fall – On the locations, inspirations, and terrifying reality of the falling-from-a-helicopter stunt
    • The Hunt is On – A further look at the New Zealand location and the challenges of the helicopter dogfight, including the training Cruise required
    • Cliffside Clash – The doc ends with footage from the filming of the final stunt, in which Cruise literally hangs from a cliff
  • Deleted scenes montage with optional commentary by McQuarrie and Hamilton (3:41, HD)
  • Balfe offers a further breakdown of musical elements during the foot chase sequence (4:50, HD)
  • The Ultimate Mission (2:51, HD) – Essentially, a making-of EPK
  • Storyboards
  • Trailer


 Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Overall


I assume that this film was a big enough hit that we’re guaranteed another Mission: Impossible every 3 or 4 years until Tom Cruise puts himself in traction. That said, Fallout is a strong enough entry that I’d be satisfied with it marking the end to this iteration of the franchise. It requires the audience to have knowledge of the previous movies in a way not seen in this series before, but does so in a rewarding fashion that doesn’t get in the way of the base requirements, namely killer stunts and tightly edited action. The Blu-ray features a very good HD transfer, a demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and more extras than a studio has put into a new release for some time.

 Mission: Impossible – Fallout
 Mission: Impossible – Fallout
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.



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