The Mission: Impossible series is the best franchise in Hollywood right now. I realize that maybe, on its face, that sounds like a controversial statement. A hot take, if you will. But it’s not. It’s simply the truth. There is only one correct answer to the question “What is the best action movie franchise in 2018?” And that answer is Mission: Impossible.
With Fallout hitting theatres this week — the sixth installment in a series dedicated to A) spycraft and B) Tom Cruise nearly killing himself in increasingly creative ways (not necessarily in that order) — it’s been a convenient excuse for film fans to revisit the spy franchise. And the general consensus? Uh, yeah, these movies are real good.
Just think about it for a second: the series has all the over-the-top action of the Fast and Furious franchise, only the stunts are real (and the behind-the-scenes drama isn’t). It’s got the statecraft of the Bourne movies, minus their self-serious pretension. Die Hardand the Terminatorstarted out unparalleled, but fell prey to the Law of Diminishing Returns. John Wick is going to need at least another two entries before it reaches official franchise status. The Transformer movies? Ha. The Jack Ryan series was forced to pivot to TV. The X-Men timeline’s a total mess. Marvel’s multi-franchise universe doesn’t count. I’d grant you Bond, because I’m pretty sure I’m contractually obligated to as a writer for a men’s publication, but even Daniel Craig is starting to get tired of those movies. And, unlike Bond, Cruise hasn’t been forced to hand the franchise over to a fresh face (not that they haven’t tried).
Mission: Impossible may not have The Rock, or a single one of the Chrises, but it’s got Cruise. Even at 56, he’s still singlehandedly capable of keeping this franchise running. This is a series that essentially reboots itself with each sequel, pairing Cruise’s Ethan Hunt with a new director, a new bad guy, new teammates, new impossible missions. (Also, not for nothing, but this franchise has wisely continued to surround Cruise with a string of badass female co-stars, from Thandie Newton to Rebecca Ferguson.)
Fallout is the first movie in the franchise to buck that trend, bringing back Rogue Nation’s Christopher McQuarrie to write and direct, along with the movie’s main antagonist (Sean Harris1) and female lead (Ferguson). It also features Henry Cavill as a no-nonsense CIA superman who treats his biceps like reloadable weapons, and knowingly pokes fun at the franchise’s undying love of rubber masks and double- and triple-crosses.2
But there is one constant in these movies, and that constant is Cruise. It’s been 22 years since the first Mission: Impossible, and somehow he hasn’t lost a step. You don’t need me to tell you that Cruise does all his own stunts in Fallout, because he does all his own stunts in all his movies. It’s become this franchise’s thing, overtaking the spy thrills and twists as the main draw.
This time around, Cruise famously broke his ankle leaping between rooftops for a stunt — they kept the take in the movie, just for the added wince factor — and doctors recommended he stay off it for nine months. He was back in six weeks, so they didn’t miss their July release date, doing the majority of Fallout’s stunts on an only partially-healed ankle. As Alec Baldwin monologues in Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt is “the living manifestation of destiny.” He just as easily could’ve been describing Tom Cruise.
But Cruise’s borderline pathological insistence on putting himself in harms’ way for our viewing pleasure isn’t just some Xenu-induced ego trip. It’s because the action hits that much harder when the filmmakers don’t need to cheat with a stunt double or CGI or clever cutaways. Our brains know Mission: Impossible isn’t about to kill off the face of the franchise in the third act, but they also know that’s still a 56-year-old man dangling off a damn helicopter like a crazy person. And that’s more than enough to make our stomachs drop.
It seems a little reductive to say that Mission: Impossible is the best action franchise because it features the best action filmmaking, but it’s true. Fallout is your usual stop-a-madman-from-blowing-up-the-world plot we’ve seen time and time again (including in this franchise). But it ramps your standard-issue blockbuster action up to 11.
You’ve got a HALO jump that took a year’s worth of training and painstaking planning so Cruise didn’t kill himself, helicopter stunts that’d give trained professionals sweaty palms, a motorcycle chase that turns into a car chase that turns into a rooftop-jumping foot chase. A free climbing callback to M:I II, and a two-on-one fight scene that I plan on watching on repeat at least once a month for the next year.
In any other franchise, any one of these would be enough to form the big third-act showstopper. In Fallout, they just move onto the next one. In fact, early cuts of this movie had so much action, McQuarrie had to trim some out. As is, the movie still clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half hours.
Fallout is not a perfect movie — Cavill makes a great sparring partner for Cruise in the action scenes, less so in ones that require dialogue; I still don’t really understand the plot; and the whole thing legitimately ends with the team all laughing together like they’re in an ‘80s-era Saturday morning cartoon — but the cinematography is just plain gorgeous, the character motivations are believable, and McQuarrie has a much better handle on how to shoot car chases the second time around. It’s not better than Ghost Protocol, but that’s only because there arguably hasn’t been a better action movie made in the past decade than Ghost Protocol — a.k.a. the Fast Five of this series, the one that took this franchise from good to Next-Level. And it’s been peerless ever since.
I don’t know how many more of these movies Cruise can crank out, and no one series can stay on top forever. Eventually, even Ethan Hunt is going to slow down. It’s inevitable (at least, I think). But for now, and the foreseeable future, it’s impossible to come up with a franchise that does it better. And that’s just a fact.
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