Above all else, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is an action movie. It has nothing particularly cogent to say about espionage, politics, or human interaction but it has a lot to show in the way of action sequences. Three immediately stand out and there at least another three that threaten to rival them. One standout is a very straightforward chase scene. Our hero, Tom Cruise’s secret agent Ethan Hunt, is on a motorcycle pursued by dozens of police in cars at every corner. The chase seems to go on forever and ends with a riveting bang. But for good measure we’re also given a car vs motorcycle standoff, a helicopter showdown, and a three person bathroom fight. None of these sequences is extraneous or perfunctory. Instead, they are thoughtfully and expertly rendered with technical proficiency. Film, we’re often reminded, is a visual medium but it’s the precision of the sound effects and the smoothness of the sound mixing that turn these action sequences from good to excellent.

Listen for the rev of the engine as a stationary motorcycle finally takes off. The screech as a car skids off . The dizzying sound of a fist connecting with muscle. The cacophony of a vehicle hitting into a truck hitting into another vehicle. Those incidents are par for the course in this genre, but the immersive soundscape of Fallout is not just coasting on the familiar but offering a dizzying, sometimes disorienting aural trip for the audience. A trip that deepens when the sound mixing opts for moments of silence in between key points. Or to let that catchy Mission Impossible theme seep into the narrative. This movie sounds better than most, if not all, 2018 releases, even when what it’s actually saying becomes ridiculous.

The initial mission of Fallout is compromised early on when Hunt botches a job because he opts to save a member of his team and allows some valuable weapons to be stolen. And so he must now hunt down some missing plutonium that could create anarchy in the world via the nuclear weapons made from it. This early decision is key to the view Fallout has of Hunt as the action hero who cares about the individual life of one as much as the collective lives of many. It’s meant to represent his nobility, but Fallout works worst when it tries to argue for Hunt as a moral arbiter of excellence. Cruise is a reliable action star—the series would not work without his tenacity—but Hunt is strangely hard to root for as a character who is not near as charming or emotionally compelling as the film makes him out to be.

This is an action movie, so naturally Hunt’s task of stopping a terrorist group from carrying out a deadly mission with nuclear bombs ends up being more complicated than we anticipated. It’s a strange set-up as beyond the abstract worry of world destruction, there’s little real suspense as to what becomes of this mythical contemporary world that the series represents. But geopolitical verisimilitude is not on the menu here. It doesn’t need to be. What we do have is Ethan Hunt on a breathless new adventure with a number of complications thrown in. He has the new director of the CIA breathing down his neck (an underused Angela Bassett enunciating as if her life depended on it), a beleaguered boss (a beleaguered Alec Baldwin), his trustworthy sidekicks (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, who do fair work but often feel thrown in to prop Hunt up which becomes slightly annoying), a former co-worker and potential adversary in the form of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa (decisive and compelling even when the film gives her little to do) and a more direct foil in the figure of the CIA assassin he’s forced to work alongside in the figure of Henry Cavill’s Agent Walker. Cavill is my favourite in the cast by a mile even though his role, as large as it is, still feels underdeveloped. Cavill nails the tonal shifts between full-blown action and reluctant comedy with panache. It’s a confident performance that is just the right note of ironic to become subversive.

But Fallout is not a film for actors to show their chops, especially if their name is not Tom Cruise. Like any film in the series, it is ultimately only Cruise who is provided with a real platform for much depth. The emotional stakes when they come late in the film make me shrug even though they are meant to be emotionally profound. Ethan Hunt just is not that compelling, and the film’s almost sycophantic view of him (of course, a new female character must find him so beguiling she must make out with him in a heated moment) does not help the situation. It doesn’t really matter, though, because Christopher McQuarrie with his direction (more than his screenplay) has injected Fallout with enough technical finesse that this action movie thrills enough. And so, even the most ridiculous of situations make you gasp from the spectacle of the action rather than strain credulity at the levels to which you must suspend your disbelief for it to make sense. More style than substance. But what style!

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is now playing at Caribbean Cinemas and Princess Movie Theaters Guyana.

(Email your questions or comments to Andrew at almasydk@gmail.com)

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