Impossibly Not Getting Old

Tom Cruise and his action franchise remain sharp in ‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout.’

The first Mission: Impossible movie came out in 1996, and its athletic star is now 56 years old. The numbers tell us this franchise really ought to be out of gas.

It seems Tom Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie are not good at math, because the tank is full in Mission: Impossible — Fallout, the sixth installment of the series. This hellzapoppin’ sequel delivers a string of unlikely but wonderfully executed stunts; it’s a summer movie that knows exactly what it’s doing.

Our old pal Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and teammates Luther and Benjy (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) are on the lookout for three big balls of plutonium. Actually, they had the plutonium in their hands, but lost it, which adds a layer of personal urgency to the mission. The story revives the villain from the previous M:I film (Mission: Impossible — Rouge Nation), Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), whose crime syndicate is messed up in the nuke plot. Also returning are Ilsa (the excellent Rebecca Ferguson) and Julia (Michelle Monaghan), Ethan’s wife in previous installments, whose presence here is more than a throwback. The minor roles for Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett remain in place, and there’s a new co-starring gig for Superman (aka Henry Cavill), who tags along with Ethan and the team.

The story travels from Berlin to Paris to London, then takes a wide turn for the spot in middle Asia where a particular water source dictates the future of China and India. Because that’d be the last place you’d want a nuke to go off. The stunts are a useful reminder that most movies don’t have a clue about how to stage action sequences, which often go by in a blur of alleged excitement. Here, you know where things are, and who’s who, and that Tom Cruise is undeniably hanging from that helicopter as it races over a glacier with the Himalayas in the background.

There’s some cheese, of course. We still get scenes where hero and villain hang from a cliff, while others are figuring out how to cut the green wires (but not the red wires) in a ticking bomb. The original Mission: Impossible TV series was built on that stuff, and you wouldn’t want to be without it. But McQuarrie, who also worked with Cruise on Rogue Nation and the cracking Jack Reacher, has made a smart thriller. There’s an underlying theme about Ethan’s unwillingness to sacrifice one person’s life for the sake of many, an idea that carries its share of political weight. Even the film’s title has meaning—it doesn’t just refer to the atomic storyline, but to Lane’s assertion that the Impossible Mission Force’s international meddling has led directly to the dire situation at hand.

With some dandy fake-outs and punchy dialogue, you can recognize the style of the screenwriter of The Usual Suspects. When Ethan is confronted with a likely disaster in mid-mission, he says, “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.” Practically a statement of philosophy for this series.

Cruise and McQuarrie don’t settle for less. If a scene calls for people to parachute onto a building from 30,000 feet, why not throw in a lightning storm? The entire film has that kind of giddy freefall spirit, and it’s infectious.

Mission Impossible – Fallout

Now Playing | Rated PG-13