***/**** Image A- Sound A Extras A-
starring Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin
written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie
by Walter Chaw As the title flatly states, Mission: Impossible: Fallout (hereafter Fallout), the sixth instalment in our very own Jackie Chan's signature series, will be about Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) emotional baggage, earned over twenty-plus years of saving the world from threats foreign, domestic, and auteur. The main personal casualty for Hunt is the disintegration of his marriage to Julia (Michelle Monaghan), who must remain a "ghost" so that she doesn't suffer the, yes, fallout from Ethan's hero work. She checks in every once in a while, Hunt's teammate Luther (Ving Rhames) tells Ethan's new flame, former MI6 agent Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). It's what keeps Ethan going. Accordingly, Fallout starts with an apocalyptic dream of Julia in the hands of maddog terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris)--the type of dream James Cameron used so effectively in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where everyone turns to charcoal and flies apart. It's important to focus in on all of this because Fallout is about a very specific element of the myth of masculinity, this romanticizing of sacrifice and suffering that men must go through in order to protect the women in their lives. The best part of Martin Campbell's extremely good Casino Royale is when fatale Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) brings Bond (Daniel Craig) back from the dead and his first sentence is spent asking if she's okay. There's a scene like that at the end of Fallout as well when Hunt, back from the dead, apologizes to Julia for everything. It's the sentiment and the situation that makes men in the audience spring a manly leak. Hunt--even his name is a primordial gender assignation--is the avatar for male expectation, which casts his heroics in an odd light, I think: fantasies of male heroism played against grandiose, extravagant, paranoid delusions. I don't know now if I'm talking about Cruise or Hunt. Same, same.
Fallout is focused in on Ethan's devotion to his ex-wife and to his team. Hunt decides early on to save Luther at the expense of losing three balls of plutonium, thus triggering a recovery mission in which CIA muscle Walker (Henry Cavill) tags along to make sure Ethan behaves. The nuclear threat is the MacGuffin of the piece--a particularly uninteresting one, as it happens. Good thing the action sequences, especially a close-quarters bathroom brawl with ace stuntman and martial artist Yang Liang, are so skilfully-staged. There's something bracing, too, about the knowledge that Cruise, to the extent possible, has again performed his own stunts. You get the same charge out of Jackie Chan's pictures during his prime; it's just better knowing that it's "real." I also enjoyed the sequence where a man--Hunt's other longstanding teammate, Benji (Simon Pegg)--is in terrible peril and the audience has been set up to root for a woman, Ilsa, to free herself in time to help him. Whatever Cruise's personal proclivities, these last two Mission: Impossible films have been extraordinarily progressive in their treatment of women. Ilsa is a landmark character in American mainstream cinema, as progressive and interesting as Rey. This is not to absolve Cruise of anything, but to say that Ilsa is one of the best things this popular culture has ever produced, and I'm grateful to witness it.
If we take that as a given, then, it makes her ultimate capitulation to Hunt's heroics (he "frees" her from her contract) feel absolutely incongruous to the character and the film, unless it's read as another of Hunt's--and, by extension, our--hero projections/fantasies. The major movements of Fallout are introduced by Hunt's nightmares. He wakes from one in the back of a truck to the curious looks of his friends and enemies. It's a device that highlights the Impressionism of the piece: this thought that everything that happens in the picture is shifts of light and colour. Indeed, it's very much like a Debussy to Rogue Nation's "Turandot" (the opera a reference to the trials a suitor must undertake in order to 'win' an unattainable woman), Impressionism being the representation of motion at odds with structure and narrative. A pity that Fallout still feels beholden to what are now conventions in this universe: the rubber masks and the Rube Goldberg plot, all of betrayals and counter-betrayals. I wonder what it would've been like as just movement, stitched together on a beat. Whenever the movie brakes, it's boring. Whenever it's moving, it's nothing short of amazing.
Late in the film, just before an already legendary closing sequence that deserves every single inevitable plaudit, Ilsa overhears something that Julia says and mutters, "Oh, I like her." It made me emotional. I'm not entirely certain why that is. I think it has something to do with the conversation about male fantasies. Not the sexual sort of fantasy, but the empowerment fantasy that young men, prepubescent or right on the cusp, tend to entertain: You're the knight errant, you brave unimaginable hardships for your lady fair, and as you lie bloodied and dying at her feet, you apologize for not doing more in response to her lamentations. I don't know that men ever entirely outgrow the desire to be a martyr to their immortal beloveds. It's the root of all our problems. It speaks volumes to what we are as a species that it's also so much fun to watch it play out this way in an expertly-crafted action film. I think Ilsa's approval of--maybe recognition of herself in--Julia hits at the kind of understanding men are looking for from the women they love and want to protect. Ilsa, who absolutely doesn't need Ethan's protection, in this moment acknowledges that Julia is like her in some way--that it's possible for Ethan himself, perhaps, to be saved by a woman who doesn't need him. There's a Harlan Ellison story called "The Other Eye of Polyphemus" that ends with its protagonist being offered help for the first time. Fallout is about a broken man with delusions of grandeur who moves away from a woman who sees salvation in him to a woman who doesn't. This is a good conversation to have. Originally published: July 18, 2018.
THE 4K UHD DISC
by Bill Chambers Paramount's 4K UHD presentation of Mission: Impossible - Fallout is something of an acquired taste. Nearly a quarter of the film, I'd wager, takes place in underground tunnels and cavernous hideaways, and the 2.39:1, 2160p transfer on this disc could prove controversial for how it renders grain in these scenes, which look gritty both in the sand-painting sense and in the Watergate noir sense. Sourced from a native 4K master, the image generally boasts a taut, healthy grain structure that speaks to its filmic origins (Fallout was photographed primarily in 35mm, with the exception of two IMAX sequences shot digitally using the Panavision DXL, an 8K camera), though thankfully there's no attempt to match the IMAX footage with artificial grain. I don't quite know what to make of those noisy spikes--the movie maxes out a high-capacity BD-100--but the eye does adapt and quickly learns to see beyond them. My gut tells me that HDR is pushing some already-pushed film stock well past what it's capable of giving. Conversely, however, HDR makes for any number of advances on the 1080p version, starting with the twilit introduction of Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett's characters: In HDR, a soft and subtle violet overlay persuasively evokes dusk, whereas in SDR, it looks like a hot-pink filter's been slapped on the lens--Terminator POV if the Terminator were Elle Woods. I also caught myself admiring the cobalt-blue skies of Paris between vehicular pile-ups. Highlights specular and otherwise are relatively tame, although compared to the Blu-ray the bathroom gleams brighter, the lens flares are glintier, and the avalanches of snow are more palpably authentic. (I'm viewing in HDR10 but there's additionally a Dolby Vision option, and I'm curious to know if the latter improves on the slightly muddy flesh tones during those same problematic interiors.) For what it's worth, the IMAX scenes, for which the aspect ratio flamboyantly opens up to 1.90:1, almost justify a purchase by themselves. They're astoundingly sharp and vivid; the difference is apparent on Blu-ray, too, but not as striking.
The Dolby 7.1 TrueHD core of the attendant Dolby Atmos audio is immersive and robust. There's a startling moment where a pop of lightning causes the soundtrack to go dead silent. For a scary few seconds, I thought my speakers were toast. I did notice plenty of opportunities to utilize the height channels and felt unusually deprived of them without a proper Atmos set-up. Three (three!) commentary tracks, mercifully subtitled for the hard-of-hearing and the overextended critic (sometimes one and the same), grace the platter, the first pairing writer-director Christopher McQuarrie with Tom Cruise, who habitually refers to his frequent collaborator as "McQ." This is where you go if you want to hear about Cruise breaking his foot, which seems, not unlike Harrison Ford's set injury on The Force Awakens, to have had a positive outcome in giving the filmmakers a rare chance to change course before committing some underdeveloped ideas to celluloid. Cruise, by the way, did not stay in bed convalescing for six weeks, and the two point out shots where just below the frameline he's propped up on one leg because the show must go on. McQ returns in the second yakker with editor Eddie Hamilton; the subject of pacing asserts a gravitational pull on their conversation, perhaps inevitably. Interestingly, the colour grading in the aforementioned scene where we meet Walker and Erika is singled out for praise--I wonder whether they were watching it in HDR or not. Lastly, composer Lorne Balfe struggles valiantly to fill a solo yakker that really should have been combined with his isolated music score, presented on a separate track in lossy DD 5.1. He's simply not seasoned or idiosyncratic enough to man the comm, so to speak, although his ongoing dissection of Lalo Schifrin's oft-quoted TV theme is not without merit.
Extras are otherwise relegated to the second disc of the enclosed Blu-ray edition. Futuretime Pictures' "Behind the Fallout" (54 mins.) comprises six segments--"Light the Fuse," "Top of the World," "The Big Swing," "Rendezvous in Paris," "The Fall," "The Hunt is On," "Cliffside Crash"--that embellish a lot of what we just heard with B-roll and other voices. In an odd echo of the movie itself, there's a great deal of prologue before it narrows its focus to a topic, i.e., the HALO sequence, a complicated endeavour that began with rehearsals in a wind tunnel, not merely for the actors but for the camera operator as well. The actual shooting of it was done in Abu Dhabi, for the predictability of the weather. A special helmet was built for Cruise to provide him with a steady stream of oxygen while also lighting his face for an audience that paid to see him risk his life. (Typically, concentrated oxygen and light bulbs are not a great mix.) Other set-pieces--Tom's Tarzan swing through the Grand Palais (a cutting-room casualty), the car chase on the streets of Paris, the aerial climax--get their due, always with technical advisors on the sidelines giving mad props to Cruise's athleticism. "Behind the Fallout" has no desire to make a fool out of those people by bringing up his injury again, although the omission of the rooftop jump(s) from this stunts overview is a conspicuous one. The hagiography is strong in this, essentially elevating Cruise to hero of legend (as opposed to hero of Legend), so it's nice to glimpse an unguarded yet perhaps self-conscious Cruise touching noses with a Maori chief in gratitude for blessing the New Zealand leg of the production. I liked, too, hearing about all the little details they had to consider during the planning of the helicopter chase, such as the number of helicopters that would be needed to surround the main two, including at the very least a MEDVAC in case anything went horribly awry. There's not much here if you're in it for the supporting players (who are mostly deployed to spread the gospel of Cruise in talking heads) or virtually anything other than the globetrotting action, but I imagine those fans of the Mission: Impossible franchise are in the minority.
A "Deleted Scenes Montage" (4 mins.) features a running monologue from McQ, who says he doesn't believe in director's cuts or even, as a general rule, showing his outtakes, but in this case "there were particular sequences...which we thought were really fantastic and we wanted to include them, not as scenes but just to show you the work and effort that goes into developing sequences like [that one of Cruise soaring through the Grand Palais on a makeshift vine]." One elision furnishes the only real look at the impressive glass building that portrayed CIA headquarters, while another contains bits and pieces of dialogue from other scenes to demonstrate the evolving nature of the screenplay. In "Foot Chase Musical Breakdown" (5 mins.), a returning Balfe pulls apart his score for the titular sequence by unyoking each instrumental group from the whole. It's a neat lesson in orchestral literacy. Going it alone, Cruise narrates "The Ultimate Mission" (3 mins.), taking the opportunity to gloat about having survived his many ill-advised stunts and to express something like gratitude for the series' bedrock role in his life as an aging starlet. Rounding out the supplements are an old-fashioned storyboard gallery you can page through, plus Fallout's theatrical trailer. A digital copy of the film comes with every purchase.