He’s the Man who quite literally achieved the ‘Impossible’ and made M:I-FALLOUT the standout hit blockbuster of 2018. Readers: give a warm round of appreciation to the amazing Christopher McQuarrie…THE man of 2018
It has been a mixed year in movies. Some surprises (Black Klansman; Avengers: Infinity War, The Commuter, Darkest Hour), some so-so just fines (SOLO, DEADPOOL 2); an occasional curiosity of the so bad it’s good variety (SKYSCRAPER; ROBIN HOOD). And at least one standout insult to all things creative and beautiful in film (JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM; not only worst film of the year but possibly, the decade/century..). Amidst that mixed bag and even alongside all the independent and intellectual gems of the year (see Nick Clement’s excellent review of the year for examples in that canon)..one could not have predicted that there would come a movie which united all strands of the cinematic craft. But there was such a gem. MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE-FALLOUT.
A Blockbuster; fuelled by the taste of popcorn and the appetite for action .adventure /star studded escapism. And yet..SO much more. This movie was a love letter to Cinema itself, whilst existing as a self contained thriller. And, whilst much of that is down to Tom Cruise and his crew; the central credit rests with Christopher McQuarrie as Director. MAN OF THE YEAR! It’s been a long time coming, to be fair. Usual Suspects; Way of the Gun; Jack Reacher; Rogue Nation..but M:I- FALLOUT is his masterpiece and was THE Platform that exhibited his many, many talents and qualities.
Why were we all so surprised? ROGUE NATION had been a success. And the ‘mission’ franchise had gone from strength to strength, save occasional prolonged absences while Tom Cruise was busied on other projects. And yet? It’s not QUITE up there with the 007s or the Star Wars variety of guaranteed success. These things take a LOT of work to pitch, hone, craft and map out, before even thinking about pre-production! Granted, some of that is down to the fact that, aside form a television show (occasionally referenced and its basic tropes mined but rarely used as the film series Bible), there is little if any source material to draw upon.
No canon of comics. No ‘must do’ storyline from books or games or stage plays. It’s also impossible (!) to paste something direct from the news headlines, given that the brand is born from paying lip service to reality; acknowledging the world’s problems yet also escaping those, via rapid fire stunt-work. Above all? The piece MUST play to the strengths of Tom Cruise as both Actor and Producer. That’s not to say it’s an ego-trip (far from it; Tom works harder than most) but the film will work only to the extent that his ideas fuse with the correct collaborator. And boy does he have an asset in Christopher McQuarrie!
‘McQ’/minor variations thereon hereafter (for brevity’s sake) knew the odds would be against them for MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE-FALLOUT. Where did they all stand in the era of the super-hero comic book franchise and so on? Is it not just a latte James Bond with Tom in it? Etc. And yes, those sceptics and cynics WERE on the sidelines. Til THAT trailer dropped. It set the internet fuse alight: and that was just a teaser! The TONE was so clear. Strong. Visceral. Urgent. Hip. And yet? Still a ‘mission’ movie. Yes, things looked a tad edgier but never did one get ANY sense that this was yet another lazy sojourn to the ‘dark and gritty’ tone that now defines at least one episode of every other franchise (clue: usually a part two filler film that lacks an actual..plot?!).
EVERYTHING looked NEW. Yet comfortingly familiar. A balance, a third way and yet never bland.
The movie itself did not disappoint. HUGE hit. Critics loved it, unanimously! I was slightly more critical. I felt the team dynamic was less credible this time, especially without a Renner or a Patton or a someone? This is basically now Ethan Hunt plus two tech guys and an occasional visit from Rebecca Ferguson? The plot is at once over-complicated and all too slim and consequently one feels drained by that awkward fusion, especially given many 180 degree turns by villains old and new. Vanessa Kirby simply does not work here; same way poor Emily Blunt appears to have been made to stage a VERY SLOW RP accent for Mary Poppins and Lilly James is now overworked because she’s in EVERYTHING (Translation: Hollywood does not ‘get’ what an English accent is and when they think they do..they tend to overuse certain personnel in the wrong roles). Shame, as McQ and co directed the definitive Hitchcock blonde style English muse, Rosamund Pike so brilliantly for Jack Reacher (hint: stick her in the next Mission movie?).
So I was objective, definitely. Even rather harsh. And YET..
I STILL LOVED THIS FILM.
I have watched it, on repeat. Sometimes just in the background when I’m doing something else (working out, filing, tidying). Other times? With total immersion, including the copious special features. Watching Mission:Impossible-FALLOUT puts me in mind of truly great action /suspense directors, from Hitchcock to Spielberg. The shots of Paris and London are breathtakingly beautiful. THAT bike chase! THAT foot-chase! The score (Lorne Balfe: and yes it sounds like Zimmer a bit because Lorne works with Hans a lot) knows PRECISELY when to crescendo vs when to settle down and make us think / feel (it’s also AWESOME for improving your run times: stick it on a playlist, now!). The sound effects, editing, lighting, grading, stunt-work: all immaculate.
The acting is masterful. Just WATCH the subtle yet clear evolution of Henry Cavill in each of his scenes, alongside all the distinctive action cues (THAT improvised ‘reloading’ of the arms is just one moment, among many). And yes, this IS Tom’s film. He’s looking his age but GREAT for it; more weathered, yet still in possession of that schoolboy charm on which his star power was founded at first. Aware that these movies are an entertainment, our leading man has little if anything to prove. He KNOWS we KNOW he can ‘do’ serious acting and so he allows us to enjoy the sheer danger and skill of the action and the comedic punctuation, whilst selling us, completely, on the emotional core of the film. Genius. He just gets better and better and largely because he just keeps WORKING, harder and harder. And then starts again. On repeat. Ad infinitum.
But a lead actor, even of Tom’s calibre is only as good as their Director. So the REASON this is such great work from ALL concerned? Once again, down to DIRECTION. Down to ‘McQ’: man of the match, the movies and the YEAR. He has reminded us that a fun movie is LEAN: not ONCE do I look at my watch or wish it all over. This has heart, wit, punch, purpose. And in that sense? A definitive blockbuster, not only of 2018, but I suspect it’s among the all time greats.
One gets the KIND of feeling in watching this as a Raiders of the Lost Ark/Die Hard/Speed/Casino Royale. And most are agreed that FALLOUT is a contender for the best ‘Mission’ so far, at least as much as the first/fourth/fifth ones. Who made the fifth? Oh yes: McQ! So I presume he will take on Mission-7. I do hope so. And yes, we want some more nods to the tv show (inc Phelps!) and more ‘stuff’ for Ethan and his TEAM to ‘do’. New locations? Washington maybe? Oxford? Africa? South America? Space..(yep it CAN be done and with realism). Hugh Grant as a baddie, maybe? Henry Czerny back on boss duties? I;m stopping my suggestions there. Why?..
..Coz McQ told me to! Seriously. We have interacted on Twitter…
..And he made it politely yet accessibly and firmly clear that pitching him sequel ideas was futile, as even his OWN ideas sometimes don’t get a hearing in Hollywood. In an act of absurdly generous, gentlemanly behaviour, the director included Mr Cruise in the tweet and thanked me for my interest. But that’s just indicative of his exemplary behaviour, generally. Like Tom Cruise, McQ is unfailingly polite, polished and professional. That said? It comes with an evangelical passion for film, the genuine desire to interact with fans and dissect the process of story-telling. It’s pastoral as much as professional (notice how accessible this guy is: podcasts, lectures..hours and hours of the things, voluntarily, too!). But he’s diplomatic and firm and knows EXACTLY when to just STOP and can shut down the trolls without making a hysterical fuss.
Notice how McQ cut himself away from a Twitter thread where people were bullying Rian Johnson. Pure class. So this is an ambassador for film and an inspiration to fans and professionals alike. It is as much for THAT reason as anything to do with the excellence of his own craftsmanship this year that I crown CHRISTOPHER MCQUARRIE our man of the year. Because he models and thereby invites the very best of WORK: in all, from the mighty Tom Cruise (they are now working on TOP GUN 2) to the devoted film franchise fan..to the speculative tweeter. He’s the most important man in the Hollywood room at the moment and in part, because he makes everyone else feel that they are, too.
MR MCQUARRIE: THANK YOU! HAPPY NEW YEAR. AND KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK.