Tom Cruise Is His Own Worst Enemy in the Glossy, Convoluted, Entertaining ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’

“I got to hand it to you Hunt when they told me you were your own worst enemy I thought it was a metaphor.” – I.M.F. Director Hunley

Tom Cruise is my favourite actor. His best roles are usually the ones which subvert his squeaky clean image. P.T. Anderson shaped Cruise’s early appeal as a lady’s man and made it a trap in Magnolia. He was Oscar-nominated for playing a reformed asshole in Jerry Maguire. Another memorable turn in Collateral channeled his focus into a refined killer. He portrayed a similar invincible pathos as a studio executive in Tropic Thunder. That pathos inverted in his two Spielberg films: Minority Report and War of the Worlds. The latter was the final film before he went into Hollywood exile, never to portray a human being again. Through it all I ask where does his most famous role as Ethan Hunt fit into this?

Cruise has portrayed Ethan Hunt for a long time and it is amusing how undefined the character is. Pointed out in an AV Club review of Ghost Protocol. IMF Agent Hunt has ping-pong’d in vulnerability with Cruise’s charisma the only constant. A rotating chair of directors have been able to keep things fresh. Brian De Palma in 1996, John Woo in 2000, J.J. Abrams in 2006, Brad Bird in 2011, and Christopher McQuarrie in 2015. Three years later and career worst films in-between Cruise bet big on this one. McQuarrie returns while the age/ price factor for stunts has gone up. His injury halted filming for eight weeks and added $10 million dollars to the record budget. All to please the audience he says. Commercial-wise it seems to have paid off.

But what does this film gain or lose in comparison to the franchise? Let’s start with the good. McQuarrie has staged more confident and elaborate set pieces this time around. An IMAX skydiving sequence leading to a nightclub and a bathroom brawl are standouts. He doesn’t offer the cartoon physics of Ghost Protocol’s Brad Bird but has a clearer visual eye than J.J. Abrams. Cinematographer Rob Hardy (Annihilation, Ex Machina) follows Oscar-winner Robert Elswitt. He offers a dark and glossy look. Pretty, but I do not care for lens flare. Composer Lorne Balfe follows Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer (his mentor), and Michael Giacchino. His score is memorable but intrusive. The impressive stunt work underlies the few spotty special effects. So what’s the big problem?

The franchise’s best asset here becomes its greatest heel. In previous films Hunt was somewhat different to Cruise and without personal baggage. McQuarrie serializes the franchise and drops the Cruise/ Hunt ratio down one to one. Like his worst films, the recent Jack Reacher 2 & The Mummy, Fallout requires little acting. Cruise focuses a little more on trying to look cool and doesn’t always succeed. A complicated script doesn’t help. Characters are marginalized depending on their relation to Ethan. Fallout, thanks to a returning director is the Tom Cruise show and unlike M:I-2 doesn’t have the ego to back it up. Should a weathered, non-sexualized Ethan Hunt have three somewhat young love interests? Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Fergusson) is back. As usual for returning breakout characters she’s given nothing to do. I like Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) but he benefits from his friend J.J. Abrams producing. There are some characterizations, but the only one with a meaningful arc is Ethan. Walker (Henry Cavill), a CIA Agent with the same mission as IMF is a great new addition. His brash style hinders and helps creating good drama that stays most of the two and a half hours.

M:I remains impressive after 22 years though Fallout might be a victim of hype. I love the title actor but I’m not as fooled by his eternal glow as everyone else. His face, rounder with some grey scruff belies his age defying antics. Like Fast & Furious‘ Vin Diesel without someone to counterbalance his ego. It helps that Cruise is something of a Bond. He’s been around forever. Dependable, high skilled and world-renowned, resists blending in, is likeable but socially awkward. Achieving his goals yet determined to try to top himself. He needs to play a dad again in a role more down to earth. Unlikely with Top Gun: Maverick on the horizon. To get the last movie star in the superhero age to play human again might prove the most impossible mission of all.

Rating: B-

Mission: Impossible Ranking:
1. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
2. Mission: Impossible
3. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
4. M:I-2
5. M:I-III
6. Mission Impossible: Fallout 

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