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The line between Tom Cruise and Ethan Hunt disappears in the exhilarating Mission: Impossible – Fallout

In the opening scene of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Tom Cruise became the first actor to pull off a HALO (high altitude, low opening) jump, parachuting out the back of a C-17 military plane. That meant an extended free fall at over 7,600 metres, his five-foot-seven body flying through the air at 320 kilometres per hour with only an oxygen mask to protect him.

Cruise and the production team trained for and strategized over how to perform the two-minute stunt for more than a year, with the action star jumping a total of 106 times to get the three takes he and director Christopher McQuarrie wanted, and for which there were only three minutes of available light to shoot per day, giving them a single daily opportunity to get the shot.

It’s the sort of manoeuvre only performed by highly-trained military, and now, Tom Cruise. Naturally.

But the high-flying stunt-work that the Mission: Impossible franchise — and Cruise, as Ethan Hunt — has become known for doesn’t end after the opening sequence. The HALO jump is followed by, in no particular order, grisly bathroom fisticuffs, a heart-pounding and relentless Paris motorcycle chase and a London rooftop jump (in which Cruise infamously broke his ankle leaping from one building to another, making for a rare Cruise injury but a winning take that made the cut).

Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Cruise and Ving Rhames. David James/Paramount Pictures and Skydance via AP

The film climaxes with its most epic yet (if you happen to believe anything can top Ghost Protocol’s Burj Khalifa climb or the original’s silent heist), featuring Cruise hanging off a helicopter above above a mountain range in New Zealand (acting as Kashmir), which had the cast certain he was killed mid-stunt. It’s a long and visually sprawling sequence, with blink-or-you’ll-miss-it deathly swerves. For each unbelievable save throughout the film, there’s multiple precarious consequences that add up in just this one chain of events. Simply laying witness to it will have you burning calories in suspense.

That should be incentive enough to see Fallout. The plot is secondary to the action – and that’s just fine. The storyline has the expected entanglements of double-crosses, close calls and mini twists as we follow Hunt and the IMF team join forces with the CIA to steal a set of plutonium cores that have fallen into the wrong hands: a terrorist group that goes by the name of The Apostles. The baddies intend to set off a nuclear attack in the Middle East. Needless to say, there’s a tight clock on the mission.

It may all sound cliché, as action-movie plots often do, but it’s masterfully handled by McQuarrie, who is the first director to captain more than one M:I film (his last being Rogue Nation). He stays true to the ethos of the original, but raises the momentum. After all, M:I is an action franchise that has managed to reign supreme due to its classic structure, from it’s opening credits and iconic theme song to its seemingly miraculous ability to remain free of plot-holes. 

Cruise and Vanessa Kirby. Chiabella James/Paramount Pictures and Skydance via AP

At 147 minutes, Fallout is the longest film in the series, but it manages to feel like the swiftest ride. That’s no easy feat, but the high-octane action moves along quickly thanks to a cast that features the ever-charming Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett. This instalment also marks the return of Rebecca Ferguson as the beguiling Ilsa Faust, who more than holds her own against a slightly more reckless Hunt. It also features The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby, Hunt’s saucy new foe, and Superman Henry Cavill as CIA assassin August Walker, who serves equal parts body and moustache, his sheer musculature an impressive action set-piece itself. Physically, he makes for a very worthy teammate for Hunt; fortunately, he’s spared much dialogue. 

Nonetheless, the success or failure of the M:I movies always comes back to Cruise. It’s a strange relationship audiences have to the actor and character in which both seem to merge together. Watching Hunt race against Paris traffic and circle a roundabout on a motorcycle without a helmet is exhilarating – partly, because it’s a great action sequence, but also because you know that’s the real Cruise under there, his cheeks gently puffing, his leg kicking out to steady himself. And while we know he will always make it out alive, there’s a degree of breathless disbelief that hangs in the air thanks to the wonderful confusion between actor and character instilled in us.

At April’s CinemaCon, Pegg said, quite seriously, “It’s a daily stress going to work with Cruise. You don’t know if you’ll see him tomorrow.” Until the day comes that we won’t, which is, let’s face it, impossible, Tom Cruise reigns.

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