482. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

★★★½

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is smart, fiercely enjoyable, and save for some slowdown in its third act, keeps our attention and intrigue at unshakable highs. None of that is surprising, though, since this franchise is remarkably consistent in entertainment output (ignoring the second entry that really didn’t Woo audiences.)

But what is an unexpected delight about “Fallout” is that it effectively makes the “Mission: Impossible” universe feel like a habitable place, a locale where Ethan Hunt and his crew of  mask-wearing, bomb-disarming misfits actually reside in-between their globe-trotting, terrorist-thwarting assignments. “Fallout” not only borrows the challenging level of espionage quality from the 1996 film, but makes story and character connections across all flicks in the wide, “Impossible” landscape.

But “Fallout” takes its first bold leap into greatness by starting off with failure. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is scheduled to rendezvous with some plutonium salesmen in your conventional, nondescript, dark European alleyway. The sale gets botched, with Ethan choosing to protect the lives of his buddy Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) while losing track of the nuclear material. Now with the plutonium in the wrong hands, the American government doesn’t quite trust Ethan to handle things on his own, sending their brute operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) to step up Ethan’s game.

Naturally, things go awry, with Ethan combing through every unfamiliar face and mustache to spot a potential threat. There’s White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), an eloquent British arms broker heavily implied to be the daughter of Max from the first film; Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a deadly operative with her gun carefully aimed at Ethan’s head and her hand firmly gripped on his heart; Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett), a no-bullshit CIA senior who’s love for Patriot Act politics is met with skepticism from all sides; and Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the malevolent maestro of doom from the last “Mission: Impossible” movie with even more hazy, destructive intentions.

It all amounts to an impressive exhibit of  action with Olympic-level shooting and car chases at the same speed of  “The Italian Job.” “Fallout” also places a significant amount of trust in its viewers’ ability to handle and decipher the challenging material. Even with explicit exposition, it’s easy to get lost in the film’s cascading waves of character intentions, double-crosses, and just why everyone is doing the things that they do overall. You will get lost at some point watching this movie, even if you correctly predicted everything that was going to happen 15 minutes ahead of time.

But when “Fallout” builds up to its perennial moments of explosive release, they deliver on an unprecedented level. The opening sequence is something so zany and out of left field that even if we don’t buy into it’s reality, we still must appreciate the film for having the balls to try a blitz that early into the game. Christopher McQuarrie’s direction doesn’t always capture the thrill of the chase, but it never fails to capitalize on the moment of collision. Solomon Lane proclaims in the movie that there must be a great suffering before peace. But for viewers, no pain is needed to access “Fallout’s” ample amounts of speeding, volatile bliss.

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