Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Movie review: Mission: Impossible - Fallout, dir Christopher McQuarrie (2018)

A long movie that finishes with a jaw-grinding helicopter chase over the mountains of Kashmir, this latest action thriller starring a mature Tom Cruise has its high points, its not-so-strong elements, and a heavily underlined message that is practically engraved in stone just to make sure that you get the point in the end. Casting a stocky and less-than-limber Alec Baldwin as Alan Hunley, chief of the Impossible Missions Force Ethan Hunt belongs to, was a good move because the bags under Baldwin’s eyes are even bigger than those under Cruise’s.

The story is convoluted and hard to follow even if you pay close attention, with plenty of double agents and doubles (with handy prosthetics applied over faces as occasion warrants) but it revolves around a diabolical psychopath named Solomon Lane (played by a dour-looking Sean Harris who turns out to be good with his fists at close quarters, despite the fact that he’s a prisoner for much of the time) who believes that the only way to restore peace in the world is to cause suffering to the largest possible number of people. To do this, he wants to use two nuclear devices stolen from a source that wasn’t clearly named (or not clearly enough to make it stick in memory).

Luther Stickel (a wistful Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (a perky Simon Pegg) make up Ethan Hunt’s team as usual but there’s also another assist who enters the frame. This is Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an alert MI6 operative who wants to make sure that the property they are trying to secure (the nuclear warheads) gets to where it’s supposed to go. Faust is good with a gun and knows how to handle a motorcycle, and there is a pretty chase sequence that takes place on the streets of Paris that ends in typical MI style, with an escape deftly carried out just as Ethan is fairly caught in the teeth of the enemy.

The chase sequence in London that follows with Ethan on foot negotiating landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral and the roof of a bridge spanning the Thames is less successful, mainly because Cruise did a lot of his own scenes and he’s just not as nimble as he used to be. He gives it everything he’s got but he looks a bit desperate, pumping his arms furiously and lifting his knees up as energetically as he can for the entertainment of his faithful audience. The director worked hard to distract the audience’s attention from Cruise’s gallant but almost comical exertions by getting Benji to crack a few jokes as the action unfolds.

Looking much fitter and arguably more lethal is the tall August Walker (Henry Cavill), who at the outset is identified as a CIA operative but who turns out to have other allegiances. Walker is in the game from the beginning and makes Hunt work hard, and much of the narrative substructure hinges on what he says and does. Also active is CIA head Erika Sloane (Angela Basset), who appears to hold an animus against Hunley’s operation and who plays a significant if peripheral role in the unfolding drama right to the end. She has a severe face that is suitably authoritative in its bearing and she’s not an old white guy like Hunley. A crucial if secondary part is played by a broker named the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) who with her working-class English accent adds a dash of colour at critical moments just as you think the spectacle is fading.

The filmmakers also tried to give a bit of depth to the character of Hunt by introducing an old flame into the narrative at the end but the scene where she comes up to him and explains her feelings about their relationship are stilted and unconvincing. So much of the sentimental signification that underpins the entire franchise hangs on her words in this scene she was always going to fail the credibility test. The scene had the same sort of strained, musty, overburdened appearance that the scenes between Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa had in 2017’s ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (another profitable franchise being milked for all it’s worth by a cynical Hollywood studio). I imagine that partly McQuarrie attempted this ploy because Cruise is so obviously unsuited to this sort of role now that he’s in his 60s, but I was left feeling disappointed in the hollow notes that the conversation between the two characters sounded in my imagination.

Another thing that was overused in the film was the running gag that you see in other MI movies as well, the “we’re working on it” line that different characters, notably Hunt himself, use when they are confronted by particularly sticky problems that need to be solved in order for the mission to be a success. It appears time after time in the movie and the material that it’s made from is quite threadbare by the end.

The message of the whole movie also had to be enunciated ponderously in order to cut through in a work where people get killed at random in all sorts of different ways. It is that a single life is as valuable as a million lives, with this tenet given as fundamental to Hunt’s beliefs. The theme plays out at different times in the movie, notably where the question is whether police should be killed. You never know how Americans, with their strange religious beliefs, are likely to take such messages, but I imagine that the pro-life faction there would take some comfort from it.

For me the whole “lone-ranger” style malarkey the movie relies on heavily was less than vivid, and I ask myself if the Americans will ever tire of these stories of rugged and flawed individuals who are the only ones in the end who can save the world. You wonder if they are even aware that they keep foisting their stale narratives on a market that has long become so used to their dominant tropes (including the clearly deranged, like Solomon Lane, who are the antithetical corollary of an Ethan Hunt; you can’t have one without the other according to the rigid logic of the machinery involved in the production and creation of this type of movie, it seems).

Odds-on that this is Cruise’s last MI vehicle, although given the ability of the franchise to generate income, I might be wrong. The movie grossed just under A$500,000 on the weekend and Wikipedia says it was the franchise's most successful movie so far. It came in well behind ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ (dir Jon M. Chu) which grossed just over A$4 million on the same weekend in Australia.

Bidding farewell for sure however at some point in the not-so-distant future will be the Event Cinema in George Street, Sydney, where I saw this film. The session I sat in was the final one for the evening and there were very few people in the theatre watching, though earlier sessions had been well-patronised. The photo below shows an optimistic message put on a construction site hoarding near the cinema by the state government (which is funding the new light rail line being built along the street) despite the fact that it was announced in the media recently that the building where the cinema is located will be pulled down to make way for an apartment block.

No comments: