The Mission: Impossible movies have become something akin to mid-tier Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals. All it takes are a few stunning dance sequences to elevate a film that might otherwise be marked by thin characterization or perfunctory plot.
For the record, Fred and Ginger also managed a straight-out masterpiece with Swing Time. While some are hailing Mission: Impossible — Fallout as something truly special, I wouldn’t go quite that far. It does, however, offer as many thrilling dance numbers—I mean, action sequences—as any of the other installments. These include a stomach-churning parachuting scene, a bathroom fight that plays like three bulls in a china shop, and a climactic chase in which Tom Cruise scales a rope and breathtakingly shimmies onto the landing gear of a flying helicopter. (Watching it, you’ll wonder if you can ever respect CGI-assisted stunt work again.)
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie returns from the very good Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, and while he’s brought Rebecca Ferguson back with him, her part is a bit too hapless this time around. An entirely new foil arrives in the form of Henry Cavill (Superman to those of you who have braved the recent run of DC films). As a shady CIA operative, Cavill is a slab of granite in the dialogue scenes; Cruise’s quips bounce off him with hardly a hint of recognition. But he’s perfect as an action figure—an immovable object against which Cruise can project his unstoppable force. A final showdown between them appropriately takes place against a rocky cliff, and it’s exactly Cruise’s use of perpetual motion that ultimately prevails over Cavill’s stolid strength.
Personally, the comic strains of Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg have worn out their welcome (like Fred and Ginger, it might be time for Cruise to shake up the supporting cast). But I’m still a sucker for the soundtrack’s sly variations on Lalo Schifrin’s original Mission: Impossible theme (this time, the interpreter is composer Lorne Balfe). Tweaked just enough for the needs of certain scenes, such musical riffing is one of the movie’s minor delights. So far, I haven’t tired of watching Tom Cruise dance to it.