‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ Is a Charming Mission Improbable ✮✮✮

Taken as an average spy thriller, Tom Cruise’s latest addition to the Mission: Impossible series, “Mission: Impossible–Fallout” is fun and funny and gives followers of the series the satisfaction of neatly wrapping up other story lines from previous movies. What it isn’t is faithful to the original series despite the use of the thrilling theme song.

Lalo Schifrin’s theme was originally released in 1967 and the Argentine composer had a jazz background (bebop) and even played jazz piano in Paris and with Astor Piazzolla in 1955 before writing this theme song that begins with the Morse code for M.I.

This sixth addition to the franchise begins in Belfast, where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is in a safe house and received a book (“The Odyssey”) that hides the device with the prerequisite mission details. Three plutonium cores were stolen by a terrorist group The Apostles in a complicated relation with John Lark.

“The Odyssey” is obviously about a journey, a heroic journey told as an epic poem by Homer about Odysseus/Ulysses, king of Ithaca, and his ten-year journey home after the ten-year Trojan War. He is assumed dead and his wife, Penelope (and son), wait faithfully although he is assumed dead. Odysseus must fend off the attentions of Calypso, saves his crew from the Lotus-Eaters, defeats the Cyclopes and dallies with Circe but ultimately loses all his crew (due to their own transgressions against the gods) but does make it back home to Ithaca.

As you can imagine, there is a message in all this. The first film hinged on the Bible, including a quote: Job 3:14 (“with kings and counselors of the earth, who built for themselves places now lying in ruins”). The first movie in this series had the fake deaths of both Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) and his much younger wife, Claire Phelps (Emmanuelle Béart). Béart was 33 at the time and Voight, 58. Ethan Hunt is framed for their deaths the the rest of the team–he is the only survivor and runs to prove his innocence. Recruiting two former IMF agents, Luther Stickwell (Ving Rhames) and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), Hunt exposes the real mole and finds himself betrayed yet again, before escaping and being reinstated as an IMF agent.  Is it possible that one of the apostles will be Judas?

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” takes place 22 years after the first film of the series. Hunt is still working with Stickell (Rhames) but also Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) who joined the franchise in the 2006 third installation, “Mission: Impossible III.” Hunt has a dream of his lost love, Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan) from “Mission: Impossible III” and the 2011 “Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.”

Meade and nurse Hunt were married in “Mission: Impossible III” before she knows his true line of work as a trainer for IMF, but he doesn’t stay retired for long. In “Ghost Protocol,” Hunt “dies” in order to keep her safe. One supposes that you don’t need to divorce a “dead” person if you’re wondering about the legalities here.

With Dunn and Stickwell, Hunt fools a nuclear weapons expert into believing that his cohorts, The Apostles, have successfully built and used three portable nuclear bombs set off at Rome, Jerusalem and Mecca, using fake news broadcasts (yes…this is real #FakeNews). From the intel, this expert provides, they are able to find and almost take the plutonium, but Hunt makes the decision to save Stickwell and the plutonium is gone.

As part of the repercussions/fallout of the failed mission, CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) forces Hunt’s IMF team to accept Special Activities operative August Walker  (Henry Cavill), overruling the new IMF Secretary (and former CIA director, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). One at first questions two things: Should Superman be in this movie and is Walker competent. After a falling incident, Hunt saves Walker, but gratitude isn’t part of the spy game.

Hunt and Walker fall into the nightclub where the mysterious John Lark will meet with arms dealer and sexy socialite The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby). Hunt is showing his age and in the bathroom fight between Lark and these two IMF agents, Walker seems to be doing the most damage, but it is former M16 agent  Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who puts Lark out of commission.

Faust, who was on the IMF team during the 2015 “Rogue Nation,” isn’t working for M16 any more, but she won’t tell Hunt who she’s with. Hunt then replaces Lark, hoping that the White Widow has never seen Lark face-to-face. The White Widow just happens to be the daughter of Max (Vanessa Redgrave), the arms dealing Brit from the first movie, who was arrested due to Hunt’s investigations.

But, remember The Apostles? Their agents are also at the night club–hopefully, they didn’t also parachute down because that would make some busy stormy skies. Hunt, as Lark, helps the White Widow escape, but she’s a business woman and she has a deal: Solomon Lane for the plutonium. Solomon Lane was the bad guy in “Rogue Nation,” a former M16 agent, who went rogue and was captured by Hunt.

So, you probably go to a spy thriller to be surprised so no more spoilers here. Somehow, Lark will be exposed, Hunt’s dead wife will reappear, Hunt will prove himself a better man/agent than Walker and due to Hunt, the world will be safe again.

“Fallout” has more humor than the first movie although perhaps not all of the humor was intended. There’s a scene that made me think of the Cliffs of Insanity and another movie that I previewed (“Alpha”) and the whole last-minute Hunt-saves-the-world really makes this more Mission Improbable.

What the Tom Cruise “Mission: Impossible” film series has done is bring back the superior white man savior genre back and replaced intellectual chess game of spy-versus-spy teamwork of the original series with video game heroism in a live action movie. “Mission: Impossible” originally ran from 1967-1973. It was briefly revived in 1988. During its original run, Peter Graves won a Golden Globe for his role as James “Jim” Phelps. Phelps replaced Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) after the first season.

Hill (1922-2016) is perhaps better known for his role as Adam Schiff on NBC’s “Law & Order.” Due to his religious practices, he was replaced by Graves as the team leader. The rest of the core team included Barbara Bain (1931) as Cinnamon Carter, Greg Morris (1933-1996) as Barnard “Barney” Collier, Peter Lupus (1932) as strongman William “Willy” Armitage and Martin Landau (1928-2017) as Rollin Hand.

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) played the character Paris during season 4 and 5; Lesley Ann Warren (1946) was Dana Lambert during Season 5, Sam Elliott (1944) was Dr. Doug Robert for Season 5, Lynda Day George (1944) as Lisa Casey for Seasons 6 and 7 and Barbara Anderson (1945) played the recurring role of Mimi Davis for Seasons 6 and 7.

Graves and Morris were clear with their disapproval of the first film and it is too seems unfortunate that in this world of technological advances that the “Mission: Impossible” has become about Cruise’s spectacular real-life stunts. Certainly, the Tom Cruise charm still sparkles, but not when he’s running and running and running in the ending chase scene. Perhaps in the future a remake of “Mission: Impossible” will bring back the ensemble teamwork and sly slight of hand and make Graves and Morris proud.

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