There’s a scene in Mission: Impossible – Fallout that’s so good I teared up a little, and it’s not even an action sequence.
During the opening minutes of Fallout, there was a part of me that feared Christopher McQuarrie was going in too grim a direction. I had heard comparisons to The Dark Knight going in, and while that’s obviously intended as a compliment, would that mean that McQuarrie had taken a franchise that was always light fun and turned it Dark and Gritty, with a bit of pretentious moral philosophy to boot? The very beginning seemed to suggest we might be heading there.
My fears were assuaged as we got into the first main sequence, which had plenty of moments of levity and the kind of banter between Ethan’s team that we’ve come to expect. But then, I was absolutely shocked when Ethan fails and we cut to a hospital, where it is revealed that three nuclear explosions have gone off. For the first time in the series, the mission laid out to Ethan at the start of the movie had completely failed. Thousands of people, including the Pope, are dead.
Although it seems obvious in retrospect that this couldn’t have been true, to be honest, I totally believed it. This must have been what those Dark Knight comparisons were referring to, I thought to myself; this was going to be a movie that made the consequences real and forced Ethan to deal with complete, abject failure. But the whole appeal of these films has been watching as Ethan and his crew pull off the impossible, and I felt a pit in my stomach as it dawned on me that this could be a real shark-jumping moment for the series.
As a quick aside, I had also spent the first 15 minutes or so wondering where the heck the opening titles were. That was always a staple of this series, and we need the new version of the theme song to really kick us into gear and get our blood pumping. But so much time had gone by at a certain point that I assumed that McQuarrie had dropped them for the purposes of fitting the more dark and realistic tone. This was another thing I was worried about.
But then the walls of the hospital collapse to reveal that it’s all a facade. The bombs never went off, and Wolf Blitzer himself walks into the room, pulling off a mask to reveal that it’s Benji. There’s no better feeling in a movie than having the rug pulled out from under you and realizing you have been completely and utterly fooled, and that’s exactly what happened here. In this case, it was all the more satisfying because we’re presented with the worst possible scenario, only to be ripped out of it back into a place of pure joy. They — as in Ethan and the gang but also McQuarrie and Cruise — had things under control the whole time. “We’re done when we say we’re done,” Ethan declares as McQuarrie smash cuts into one of the best renditions of the theme in this series to date.
Such a mix of relief and wonder went through my body all in this moment that it was genuinely kind of emotional. This might be my very favorite movie moment of 2018 so far.
Fallout is so good, by the way, that this wouldn’t even be the last time it made me smile with a trick like this. Later on, there wasn’t one second that I didn’t buy into the fact that Hunley had turned on Ethan and that Ethan was forced to go rogue, so when it is revealed that Walker was talking to a masked Benji the whole time and that the preceding five minutes or so have all been an act, I couldn’t believe that not only had I been fooled again, but it was just as effective the second time.
All in all, Fallout makes the very best use of masks in the whole series. In Mission: Impossible II, characters pulling off masks to be revealed as someone else happened far too often and usually elicited a feeling of bewilderment because it was so random. But in Fallout, it’s used just often enough to still be effective, and each time, we’re delighted because although we didn’t see it coming, in retrospect, the reveal was foreshadowed and built up to flawlessly. Ironically, the movie that makes fun of the goofiness of the masks understands how to use them the best.
Some additional thoughts on Fallout:
-One disappointment in the movie is that there isn’t ever a scene where an impossible mission is really laid out. The best part of all of these films is always when several minutes are spent explaining the complicated ways that this mission can’t possibly be accomplished, only for Ethan and his crew to figure out a way to do it. The closest we come in Fallout is the description of the two bombs and what needs to be done to disarm them, but this doesn’t really hit the spot and is not even all that complicated.
-The HALO jump sequence is so insane I totally assumed while I was watching it that this was the one stunt that Tom Cruise didn’t do himself. But nope, he really did jump from 25,000 feet, and he did it over 100 different times.
-I loved the way this movie is able to feel both like the sixth film in a franchise while also being completely standalone. There’s plenty here that will be especially effective for those of us who are hardcore fans and have watched all of these movies many times (including the callback to Ethan’s rock climbing!), but you could also just walk into this as your first Mission: Impossible and enjoy it perfectly fine.
-It’s understandable that the trailers had to spoil a lot of the big action sequences in order to sell the movie, but I just wish they didn’t give away that Henry Cavill’s character is the villain, especially since that reveal doesn’t happen until like an hour in.
-The one shortcoming in this series is still that we don’t have as good of a sense of who Ethan is as a character as we could, but this movie does work hard to flesh him out as much as possible with the Julia subplot, and I really appreciated it for that. It would be a shame if this was the last film in the series, but if it is, that final scene with Julia would totally work as a note to go out on.