Spy-movie plots are such a chore, especially at this late date. Another nut-job villain? Another knotty scheme to flatline the world? Please.
So let's hear it for Christopher McQuarrie, writer-director of the latest Mission: Impossible film, who has finessed the fresh-plot problem by basically laughing in its face. Oh, there's lots going on in this movie – and there are lots of places that it's going on in (London, Paris and Berlin, of course—but Kashmir, too!). However, keeping track of all the narrative permutations—the double crosses, the triple crosses, the face swaps and the falling-outs—would be exhausting. Fortunately, the plot is just a rickety armature upon which the director has hung a one-damn-thing-after-another string of blazing action sequences. There's nothing to think about. You just set your mouth to AGAPE and lean back.
The gimmick that has helped sustain the Mission: Impossible franchise for 22 years now is the well-publicized fact that Tom Cruise—playing Ethan Hunt, of the Impossible Missions Force—does all his own stunts in these films. Which means that the stunts must be ever-wilder. At the New York screening of this movie that I attended, director McQuarrie was on hand to offer prefatory words of praise and awe for his 56-year-old star. Among several other bonkers things, McQuarrie addressed the London roof-leap shot that went wrong (see YouTube) and left Cruise with a fractured ankle bone (the footage remains in the finished film). Cruise was supposed to take nine weeks off to recover, but according to McQuarrie he insisted on returning after just five weeks—and went right into shooting a sequence that required him to do extensive running around Paris. This guy, I tell ya…
The mission that Ethan Hunt chooses to accept this time out involves foiling a nuclear plot that's been cooked up by a mysterious villain called John Lark, leader of a group of international reprobates called the Apostles. Lark is about to score a suitcase full of plutonium from a flirty English arms trader called the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby, of The Crown), so Ethan and his usual team, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), fly to Paris to disrupt the deal. Things are complicated, back in the States, by CIA Director Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett), who dispatches her top assassin, August Walker (Hanry Cavill), to keep an eye on Ethan, who Sloan thinks has gotten soft in a job that requires maximum hard.
Maybe she's right. When Ethan and Walker encounter a snarling Chinese killer (veteran stunt coordinator Liang Yang) in a dance-club men's room, the spectacular mayhem that results isn't going entirely our guy's way before shadowy MI-6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) returns from the last Mission movie to help out. Also on hand again from that film is homicidal anarchist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who used to lead a terror org called the Syndicate, and I think still does; well maybe. (In tangentially related news, CNN news guy Wolf Blitzer is also in this movie—in a pretty clever fake-out scene involving a recalcitrant Norwegian rocket scientist.)
Sorting out the various thugs scowling through this picture isn't easy—they all appear to buy their snug little suits from the same high-end tailor. But who has time to worry about that sort of thing when there's so much mad activity to contemplate—all the racing around from the Tate Modern in London to the Grand Palais in Paris, and then down to the bottom of the Seine for an ultra-queasy scene of subaquatic claustrophobia. There's the usual complement of squealing motorcycle action, of course—some of it going the wrong way against Parisian traffic—and there's a slam-bang elevator battle between Ethan and Walker that will give all future slam-bang elevator battles a new standard to shoot for.
The movie ends in orgasmic spasms of action—a stunning helicopter chase high up in the clouds above Kashmir, a desperate struggle among Ilsa, Benji and Lane down below, and then a frantic two-man battle atop a towering stone mesa, with Ethan and Walker pounding away at each other while the traditional red digits of a bomb detonator click down relentlessly toward doomsday. A shameless cliché of course—this is not a movie of many surprises, genre-wise. But it's big expensive fun, and more power to it.