At 56, Tom Cruise would seem better fit for a Carnival Cruise than for the high-octane ass-kickery of agent Ethan Hunt.
But in the superb “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” Cruise seems more energetic than he did back when he jumped on Oprah’s couch.
Here, Cruise leaps, parkour-like, across London rooftops. He jumps out of a plane at 25,000 feet. He pilots a helicopter through the mountains. When the 57-year-old Roger Moore starred in “A View to a Kill,” he spent most of that movie in front of a green screen pretending to snowboard.
The actor’s complete willingness to treat his body like a crash-test dummy is part of what makes “Mission: Impossible” the best ongoing action series out there. The other is its simple, high-stakes setups.
“Fallout,” for instance, could have been titled “Mission: Impossible — Find the Nukes.”
Hunt’s mission, which he chooses to accept, is to recover three plutonium cores for sale on the black market. The IMF, his intelligence agency, has learned they’ll be used by a boneheaded scientist to build weapons to forge a new world order. “The greater the suffering, the greater the peace,” the madman says in his wacko manifesto.
Hunt’s geek squad (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) tracks the plutonium to Paris, where it’s to be sold by a broker called the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby).
Kirby, who played Princess Margaret on “The Crown,” is smashing as the Widow, a character whose big, searching eyes betray either genius or lunacy.
Also around is cranky Agent Walker (Henry Cavill), a CIA operative sent along by an agency head (Angela Bassett) who has little faith in Hunt’s abilities. Spies have office politics too!
Together, they try to retrieve the nukes, and save the world.
The access the filmmakers get to certain international locations is jaw-dropping. There is a destructive motorcycle chase through Paris that passes through the Champs-Élysées and around the Arc de Triomphe. Later, Hunt runs on foot through St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Less glam is a helicopter chase through Kashmir, but it’s the film’s most gripping sequence.
Beyond the action, which makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe look cute, the thrills of “Fallout” come from its double-crosses and sinister motives. While some characters are blatantly treasonous jerks, there are a few genuinely shocking revelations.
It’s Cruise’s performance that makes those moments land. Although physically formidable, the guy’s character is naive. He believes in the world at its best, even though he sees its worst. So, whenever Hunt’s betrayed, he acts like a little boy who thought he was going to the pool only to discover he’s actually on the way to the dentist.
Writer and director Christopher McQuarrie borrows just the right amount of familiar spy tropes in his second “M:I” outing, and his film, while intelligent and witty, never becomes too self-serious or chatty. It’s the best night out at the movies so far this summer.
Still, the “Mission: Impossible” franchise would be nothing without Cruise. While younger, more generic action stars pop up every year in paint-by-numbers, explosion-heavy drudgery, it’s Cruise who remains top gun.
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