Remember when Tom Cruise could do no wrong—on top of the media world, as opposed to the top of Oprah Winfrey’s couch? At his ’80s best, a single Cruise wink-and-smile could melt the hearts of just about any watcher of shameless, crowd-pleasing films like and .
has the distilled feeling of a classic Cruise wink, stretched out over a feature-length film.
It’s been a while since a PG-13 movie has delivered so much something-for-everyone magic—and it’s right up there with 2008’s .
Brief relief before the insanity
The series’ film revival has somehow survived Cruise’s weirdest Scientology-related disclosures, and that’s probably due to the films’ solid ensemble casts and dramatic worldwide romps receiving higher billing than Cruise himself. His portrayal of Ethan Hunt has largely been a stoic combination of running, fighting, driving, and staring down megalomaniacs, and those qualities served Cruise quite well in the last two entries, and .
Like other Cruise-fueled features, this one works under the assumption that the previous films’ histories self-destructed five seconds after you last saw them. Hunt and his dark-ops IMF team must save the world, and a minutes-long dossier, handed off in a Belfast hideout, breaks the primary bad stuff down from the get-go: three nuclear weapons; a terrorist organization hell-bent on unleashing them; and a sympathetic researcher who wants to watch the world burn.
The up-to-speed intro is good, and not just because of its obvious good-versus-evil catch-up. More importantly, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie nails two key get-into-the-action parts of the series: an impressively snappy re-introduction of the primary IMF players (with Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg flexing their comic-relief and coworker-friendship muscles admirably), a winking-at-everyone subplot. The latter is resolved before the opening credits roll. This lets the audience enjoy a sigh of relief early on, before the film sticks its foot on the gas pedal, and it’s a masterful reminder that first appearances are never what they seem in an film.
What’s more, this sequence shows its hand in smile-worthy fashion (gosh, I’d love to spoil it), so that viewers can sink their teeth into the dramatic irony well before the scene’s stooge wises up. McQuarrie clearly wants viewers to stay on their toes through the entire film, and this scene sets an incredible tone for the rest of ‘s trust-no-one antics.
Less tech, more oomph
With this tone and comfort level established, McQuarrie and crew could have spent some of the film’s energy on wild, high-tech mash-ups of technology and espionage. But you won’t find any startling future-tech stuff (beyond the face-swapping gizmos that have appeared in past films), nor does the film bother with trends like IoT devices, cryptocurrencies, or even city-scanning cameras up the wazoo.
Instead, uses the spare energy afforded by its likable cast and easily trackable plot to focus on incredible, practical-effect action sequences. That’s actually Tom Cruise in free-fall, trying to fly to his teammate to attach an oxygen valve to the blacked-out guy’s suit. That’s actually Tom Cruise piloting a helicopter over snowy mountains in Kashmir. And that’s Tom Cruise driving against traffic through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
All three of those scenes, along with the shootouts, car chases, and fist fights, benefit from lean, long shots and handsome action-movie framing—the kind of camerawork that lingers over intense moments long enough to distract viewers from the inevitable “why aren’t they all attacking Ethan at once” questions. And the major set pieces of London, Paris, and Kashmir afford McQuarrie some incredible scenery in which to plant his actors, particularly in a tense “one of us might kill the other” stare-down between Hunt and ‘s Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).
Some of the film’s bandwidth is spent on past-film callbacks, and this requires Cruise to step up as a bit more than the blank-slate action hero of films past. If you’d like to keep on disliking Cruise over his sketchy public appearances in recent years, you may want to steer clear of . Cruise does an incredible job hiding his character’s heart of gold beneath necessary, double-life evil, and he reveals his best intentions just enough for viewers to latch on as fans.
This isn’t -era Cruise by any stretch, but it’s also a big step up from his wooden, “I swear I’m funny” missteps in . This increased emphasis on Cruise, and on Hunt’s history catching up to him, means Pegg and Rhames take a comic-relief backseat in this installment, though they pop up often enough to break the tension in textbook fashion. Henry Cavill leans heavily into his role as a heel within the CIA—and relishes his character’s cheesy moments—while returning co-star Rebecca Ferguson and new cast member Vanessa Kirby dominate their scenes with equal parts butt-kicking and likability.
abides by an action-film formula to some extent, and it won’t blow viewers away for taking giant risks. But it does a masterful job making viewers feel smart by letting them solve little mysteries and cons along the way. Time and time again, McQuarrie leads savvy viewers to obvious conclusions—then lets them sit back and enjoy the payoff of those coming true in masterfully directed fashion.
The result is a sugary sweet action film that exceeds two hours yet never overstays its welcome. Go ahead: fall into .