The Mission: Impossible franchise has been around for six films now, one more than the Antoine Doinel series, in which Jean-Pierre Léaud grew from a young boy to a 30-something man. Mapping out a similar progression with Tom Cruise, who’s played Ethan Hunt in all six films, would be largely pointless. He’s the Dorian Grey of cinema, his face practically unlined at 56, his feet pumping like pistons whenever he launches into the busiest sprint in modern film. A portrait might grow hideous in an attic somewhere, but on screen, Cruise ages only infinitesimally.

Still, it’s understandable that Mission: Impossible—Fallout would, in the scattered moments of calm between its expert, undulating action sequences, turn a little nostalgic. Old characters show up, earlier films in the franchise are referenced. Hunt’s ability to deliver just in the nick of time is brought up several times, both as a source of humour and comfort. Ving Rhames, whose Luther has been the other constant over six films, gets more lines to intone in that unhurried baritone of his than he did in the last few outings. This isn’t a psychologically rich series, but that doesn’t mean these characters haven’t grown on us.

Mission: Impossible films were always twisty and spectacular, but something special happened on the fourth, Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol (2011), in particular with the Burj Khalifa sequence. In an era where Hollywood action choreography has become simultaneously more extravagant and less involving, here was a man hanging off the side of a very tall building, like Harold Lloyd in Safety Last. Suddenly, Mission: Impossible wasn’t just the best action money could buy, it was also the most fun you could have at the movies (the addition, with that film, of Simon Pegg to the IMF team helped). This was true of the next film, Rogue Nation (2015), and the latest, both directed by Christopher McQuarrie (who did an uncredited rewrite on Ghost Protocol).

Fallout is so convoluted that I gave up after a while and just accepted each reveal and double-double cross as it came. Hunt loses three plutonium cores sought by a group of terrorists known as The Apostles, led by the shadowy John Lark. There’s a “broker" (Vanessa Kirby, in a witty cameo), a sort of go-between for covert agencies and terror cells, and a minder—in the impossibly buff, incomparably square-jawed form of Henry Cavill—attached to the IMF team by the CIA. And Hunt’s rival/ally from the last film, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), is back to kill some and confuse the rest. These pieces are endlessly realigned as we move from Belfast to Paris to London to Kashmir, but the central reveal is half-hearted, as if it doesn’t really matter who John Lark is as long as it isn’t Hunt.

Thankfully, all the clarity missing in the plot can be found in the pounding set-pieces. It’s become increasingly rare to see well-cut, non-deceptive action in a Hollywood film, so there is some satisfaction in how Fallout keeps us close to Cruise, whether he’s skydiving or flying a helicopter, but not so close that we can’t make out if it’s a stunt double. There’s a close combat scene in a men’s room, with a lithe Asian man (Liang Yang) almost taking out Cavill and Cruise, which is reminiscent of the John Wick films. But the rest is pure M:I, especially the breathless car/boat/foot chase through Paris, and another on the rooftops of London, a signature frantic Hunt run made funny by his receiving instruction from Benji (Pegg), who’s reading the terrain all wrong on his laptop.

Leave aside the fact that he’s a 56-year-old carrying multiple action franchises, there’s something about Tom Cruise that still gets younger viewers excited in a way they aren’t for Dwayne Johnson or Jason Statham. I think it’s because he’s an analog movie star in a digital age. Audiences are fed so much CGI in their films now that the sight of someone performing real feats, making an honest effort, goes a lot further than it used to.

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