Our film critic David Edelstein reviews the latest in the unstoppable espionage franchise:
The sixth “Mission: Impossible” feature starring Tom Cruise is getting rave reviews, and I must pose the question: Why is this ridiculous series so potent? Is it the premise? Or is it the annoying but amazingly can-do star?
There are a few clues in the original TV incarnation, which ran on CBS from 1966 to 1973 and was so dull it had a strange kind of power. It had two great elements: the team of poker-faced good guys functioning as high-tech con artists, donning life-like masks to impersonate marks and coordinating stings with clockwork precision; and the theme by Lalo Schifrin, the musical equivalent of that fuse under the credits, supplying the illusion of momentum even when there’s nothing, nada, going on:
When Tom Cruise seized control of that title in 1996, he kept Schifrin’s theme but threw out the teamwork concept, so his character, Ethan Hunt, ended up a lone wolf.
The director was the great, but Cruise was the muscle.
And for the second film he hired Hong Kong hotshot John Woo to turn him into a super-cool kung fu hunk. He looked like an ass, but the movie did well.
For J.J. Abrams’ “Mission: Impossible III,” Cruise went back to the team idea. Ving Rhames had been aboard from the start, but now there was Simon Pegg as a comic chatterbox, which helped.
But it was number 4, “Ghost Protocol,” that turned “Mission: Impossible” into an event. The director was animator Brad Bird of “The Incredibles,” a genius at showing how best-laid plans could become worst-case scenarios.
Christopher McQuarrie’s Number 5, “Rogue Nation,” was nearly as good, bringing in Swedish-born actress Rebecca Ferguson, who stole the movie. But that was okay, because the goal was different now. People had started to dislike Cruise after his couch-jumping antics with Oprah and public affiliation with the Church of Scientology. Suddenly, the aim of “Mission: Impossible” was to make him vulnerable.
That’s also the theme of the newest film, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” again with McQuarrie directing. The script is “Mission: Impossible to Follow,” but the movie is great fun anyway, with whiplash action and a lively ensemble, including Ferguson (hooray!) and Henry Cavill as a rival agent who flaunts his handsomeness.
As Cruise battles an apocalyptic organization called the Apostles, we register again how he has suffered for us and will suffer more, feeling every punch, finally heaving himself up the face of a cliff after a helicopter crash that would have killed a lesser-paid actor.
I admit I don’t find Cruise especially appealing, but I have no doubt why he’s a star, and why this new film is so smashingly well-done: No one hustles harder, or signals in so many ways, that nothing is impossible.
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Story produced by Aria Shavelson.
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