“It’s called the Impossible Mission Force for a reason.”
I imagine this is how it happened. It’s January of 2019, and Tom Cruise has just popped into the bathroom to shave. He opens up that can of Barbasol just to make sure there isn’t any dinosaur DNA left in the can, but as he takes off the cap, an authoritative voice begins to speak: “Good morning, Mr. Cruise. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to make a two part film of the Mission Impossible franchise. It won’t be easy. That’s why only the IMF team can be counted on to complete this task. There are agents out to stop you before you even get started. In China there is a virus code-name: Wuhan, and this virus will spread to pandemic levels just as you’re starting to get your production crew together. Elements within our own government will take measures to shut you down. Delays will cost an extra $100 million and necessitate crucial cast changes. They’ll be serious injuries, and your release date will be July of 2021 … I mean November of 2021 … Would you believe May of 2022? … Let’s shoot for July 14, 2023. You will have to deal with nefarious crew members who will attempt to sabotage the project by standing closer than two meters apart. You may use over-the-top rants in an attempt to intimidate these factions into compliance. Beware that said rants don’t end up released by the press to the world. Somehow through all of these challenges you must create a Mission Impossible film that will be bigger and better than anything that came before. And remember, Tom, if your film fails to bring in a billion or more dollars, the studio will disavow your team, and your movie will go straight to streaming … or worse, get shelved as a tax write-off. Good luck, Tom. This message will self-destruct in 10 seconds.” There’s a swoosh of fog, and Tom Cruise is sitting in his bathroom with no shaving cream to complete his original task. I figure that’s how it must have gone.
“The key is only the beginning.”
The film starts with the crew of a new Russian submarine bragging about how a new device makes it completely undetectable, the perfect war killing machine. They’ve spent months taunting the naval bases of the world’s powers. It’s all controlled by a key that is assembled from two parts to activate the top-secret device. Unfortunately, something goes wrong. They should have listened when Kenny Rogers told them not to count their winnings while they’re still sittin’ at the table. The sub is destroyed. The next thing we know, Kittridge (Czerny) is warning Ethan Hunt (Cruise) about a rogue faction in the government. This element is very different than the bad agents we’ve seen which could have, at times, included Kittridge himself. But this is something very different. It’s being called The Entity, and there are many players out there who want to control this force, which is actually a new powerful form of Artificial Intelligence, or A.I. as we’ve come to fear a little in our own world. The A.I. is controlled by that two-part key we were introduced to in the Russian sub. Hunt’s mission isn’t really to get the key before it can fall into the wrong hands, which he eventually realizes is anyone, but to allow the key to change hands and follow whoever possesses the key to discover where and what it really is.
The old gang is soon assembled. We have Simon Pegg returning as Benji, who works his magic with gear and those cool masks the franchise has become famous for. Ving Rhames is back as strong-man and computer wiz Luther. Rebecca Ferguson returns as Ilsa, who we first meet in a big desert shootout. But this movie is much bigger than all of that. There are some familiar faces trying to stop Hunt for pretty much being Hunt and are more than likely going to just muck things up, and they’re led by Briggs, played by Shea Whigham. If you know the previous films, you know he has a chip on his shoulder about Hunt and his team. But the real surprise here is that we learn there are a few big players in the hunt for the key, and at least one of them knows what it really is, and that’s one of the best bad guys in the franchise, Gabriel, played by Esai Morales. Fans might also like that the field also includes The White Queen played gracefully by Vanessa Kirby. They all have parts to play in an intricate game that usually allows for odd pairings and confrontations that kind of serve as an anthology of , giving everyone various fights and screen time with various other cast members.
It’s a rather unique blend of encounters that changes the storytelling in such a way that it manages to serve a large ensemble while still keeping the main players engaged at all times. One of the reasons all of this works is that there’s another new player here, and we never know for sure which side she’s playing onI’m talking about Captain America’s main squeeze, Hayley Atwell as Grace. She is compelling throughout. Tom Cruise is always going to be a huge presence, and that often makes life for his acting partners hard. Atwell has the best chemistry with Cruise I’ve ever seen. That includes Nicole Kidman. She is a powerful force to contend with, both as an actress and a character. She steals every scene she’s in, and that includes ole’ Tommy himself. This was brilliant casting. If nothing else, just watch those eyes.
The film trots the globe just as we might expect, making full use of the locations to tell the story. In one Rome car chase, I don’t think it was an accident that the ancient Coliseum happens to dominate the background no matter how much driving they do. The car chase is one of the best you’ll see and completely blows away that Fast and Furious group. It’s out there but rooted more in real physics and reality but still far more exhilarating. It’s so realistic that there’s a disclaimer late in the credits. You know, where they tell you no animals were harmed. They assure us that the Spanish Steps in Rome were not really damaged to make the scene. Is that great or what?
There are many character moments, and some are tragic. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling your experience by even hinting who gets it, but no one is safe. We visit some nice locations, and director Christopher McQuarrie always has his eye on the ball and the nearly-three-hour film, which is merely Part 1, never drags. The time flies like you wouldn’t believe. The film’s climax happens aboard the iconic Orient Express, and it is the most awesome bit of action and stunts and f/x I have ever seen. I don’t usually feel a lot of the tension these films try to create, but I was literally on the edge of my seat here. Because so much of this film is practical and so much less is from a computer, you really get drawn into this thing hook, line ,and sinker. I dare you to look away. The Grace character brings us back to the film franchise’s beginning in many ways. There’s a lot of talk about that “choice”, and she’s almost where Hunt was then. There’s a lot of heart to go with the action. They’re also not afraid to laugh at themselves. It seems a running gag in the film centers on those silly masks.
For over three years this was the big film that couldn’t. It became far more famous for the Tom Cruise rants and endless delays that the film’s production will likely one day be the subject of a film itself. Not since The Godfather has a film struggled so much so often to get out of the gate. Usually that spells disaster for the final product, but somehow Cruise and McQuarrie managed to keep focused even with all of the tempting distractions. This might well be the best action film I’ve ever seen. Next year we see the second part, but this film will stand alone just fine until then. “While we wait, let me tell you a little story…”