It's a rare franchise that increases in quality as it progresses, but Mission: Impossible can well brag that achievement - over an amazing twenty-two years. Yes, it's that long since Tom Cruise dangled like a spider on his first outing as Special Agent Ethan Hunt, a single drop of sweat threatening to set off screaming alarms in the CIA vault he was infiltrating.
Now six adventures down the line he's still immersed in intrigue and double-cross, having his operations shut down but completing them anyway, because dammit it's the only thing to do. And the stories are more dynamic and compelling than ever.
Fallout starts as the other movies (and each episode of the TV show) did, with a mission that you know our hero will choose to accept, even before the tape self-destructs. This time it's a case of retrieving three plutonium cores - a relatively simple operation that develops into something vastly more complex due to a judgement-call gone wrong. Hunt and his associates must surpass themselves in ingenuity and daring, while dealing with the presence of the blunt and brutal August Walker (Henry Cavill), a CIA minder attached to them due to Ethan's screw-up.
For all that the M:I movies have evolved into action juggernauts, this is a notably cerebral episode, at least for the first half. With our team's plans spinning crazily out of control, it's all lightening plot developments stemming from one on-the-hoof mission recalibration after another, and the results are as brain-taxing as they are thrilling. It's worth noting too how strong the links are with the previous films; you don't have to have seen the others to enjoy this latest death-defying insanity, but it will significantly enhance the experience - in terms of understanding as well as sentiment (Fallout does succeed in tugging the heartstrings). Christopher McQuarrie returns to the helm from M:I - Rogue Nation, his writing credit contributing to the sense of continuity.
McQuarrie's direction complements Cruise's preference for lead actors (not least himself) doing their own stunts. The results are literally breath-taking. Fallout's action set-pieces actually outdo those in Rogue Nation - and that movie set the bar formidably high. Whether it's a pulverising fist-fight, a multi-vehicle pursuit around Paris or an unfeasible-looking sequence in military helicopters, the response is heightened by the fact that it was virtually all shot for real, complete with one widely reported on-set injury to the leading man. Everything feels dangerous because it clearly was. It's all filmed with real elegance too; none of your Jason Bourne shaky-cam here, just one precision shot after another, resulting in great visual storytelling and a resultant audience rush. (Even the age-old 'ticking time-bomb' trope has never felt so exhilarating.)
One other aspect these recent M:I films have going for them is the ensemble feel so lacking in the early days of the franchise. So Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg are in place as Luther and Benji to ply their essential skills and provide a true sense of camaraderie, while Rebecca Ferguson returns as MI6's fascinating, deadly Ilsa Faust. It's a team game and all the better for it. Add to that familiar faces both good and evil from the previous films and you have a story that for all its initial plot convolutions will feel truly satisfying to fans of the series.
Gut Reaction: A mental workout in the early stages, followed by a full-on physical one. Lots of clenching and flinching, plus exclamations at particularly outrageous moments.
Where Are the Women?: With Ferguson's take-no-crap Ilsa, a silky femme fatale played by Vanessa Kirby and Angela Bassett's steely CIA boss (to name but three), better represented than ever before.
Ed's Verdict: 9/10. With intelligence, heart and an abundance of stupid-ass hands-on stunt work, Mission: Impossible - Fallout is everything you could hope an action film to be. And then some.