The Mission Impossible series has been a bit of a mixed bag. For all the emphasis the franchise puts into its action sequences, its primary strength has always been its sense of intrigue and suspense. That is what defined the TV series in both the 60s and the 80s, the latter of which I pretty much grew up on before the X-Files showed up. In that sense, Mission Impossible Fallout, the sixth in the series, delivers in spades. Where it excels however, is in upping the ante in the action department. Considering how high a bar that was to begin with, that is saying something.

The movie sees Tom Cruise and the rest of the cast reprise their roles as members of the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) a crack team of super agents that specialize in deep covert missions. This usually entails employing unorthodox methodology that frequently goes into “over the top” territory. That trend continues here. The plot revolves around recovering certain plutonium cores that have fallen into the wrong hands. With the threat of a nuclear attack on unsuspecting civilians and the presence of potential traitors embedded within the global intelligence community, this makes for a thrilling, albeit unnecessarily convoluted plot. Even so, it is full of nail-biting moments even if some of the tricks and twists carry with them an air of familiarity. The same extends to the now trademark back and forth comic relief that Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames provide.

I did miss Jeremy Renner though. He was just beginning to find his place on the team and had a certain understated presence that worked within the team dynamic. It doesn’t help that Henry Cavill is utterly disappointing. His performance left much to be desired and it came across as wooden and uninspired. So much so that he made even well written lines sound cliched and cringey. He might be an OK Superman but ironically, playing a plain old human seems like it might be asking too much. His role was undoubtedly the weakest point in the whole film.

Come to think of it, the lack of truly compelling villains is a bit of a weak point in the franchise as a whole. Especially when compared to its closest competition, ie, the James Bond series. As far as bad guys go, even Sean Harris’ performance in Rogue Nation (the last movie in the series) left me unimpressed. It was a pleasant surprise then, that Harris’ reprisal as Solomon Lane had quite the opposite effect on me this time around. Whether it be due to having a fleshed out back story (shaky as that was) or his personal connection to Hunt, Lane’s character seemed more compelling. This is especially impressive considering the limited screen time the actor even got. Or it could just be that the pacing of the movie was so good that I didn’t really care. Either way, Harris picks up Cavill’s slack and the movie is richer for it.

These are minor complaints though, as overall, Fallout is spectacular. Much has been said about the expensive and risky action sequences (Cruise actually hurt himself in one of the stunts) and the hard work put in by director Christopher McQuarrie certainly shows. This is an action masterpiece full of terrific chase sequences both on the ground and in the air. Not since Trinity decided to take that Ducati against highway traffic in Matrix Reloaded have I been impressed by a vehicular chase like this. And Rebecca Ferguson occasionally gives even Cruise a run for his money (heh, geddit? A “run” for… oh never mind) in the fight sequences. I’m glad she’s back and kicking ass. As for the finale involving two helicopters, you have to see it to believe it. That alone was worth the price of the ticket for me. It is riveting stuff. Expect to leave the hall with an extra grey hair or two.

Thematically, there is no one thing that defines this movie, though there is an obvious utilitarianism vs deontology vein here. Ethan Hunt (Cruise’s character) is often torn between having to choose between a single life or the success of the mission, the failure of which would condemn potentially millions. The fact that he is compelled to save everyone is his biggest strength and also his biggest weakness. It is an interesting conflict and one that Cruise has exhibited with conviction for over two decades. This brings me to one depressing acknowledgment.

The original film came out in 1996. Fallout comes 22 years later. That is a hell of a run for any franchise but there is no denying that these guys have aged. It really stood out here. But goddamn if Cruise doesn’t still sprint like a young buck. Maybe there is something to this whole Scientology thing. Still, I do wonder how long this can continue. Given the critical acclaim and commercial success of Fallout so far (movie has grossed over 205 million as I write this) there will likely be a seventh but beyond that? The torch will have to be handed over at some point, I’d prefer that to a reboot.

The music deserves special mention too. Lorne Balfe’s work as the composer is one of the biggest highlights here. The soundtrack is excellent and by far the best the series has to offer. Almost every frame was accentuated just right by the accompanying music. I’ve seen some online chatter about it being too “Nolan-esque” in that there are some strong parallels to the Dark Knight trilogy. Though I do hear the similarities, how this is a “criticism” is beyond me. I particularly loved the many different takes on the iconic Mission Impossible theme. Definitely getting the soundtrack for this one.

The brilliance of the movie sometimes works against it too. Whether it be Cavill’s unimpressive performance, the occasionally lazy editing or the rare shot where the camera lingers on Cruise just a second too long, when the faults do show, they really stick out. Even so, this is me nitpicking. Minor editing faults notwithstanding the movie cannot be faulted for wasting the audience’s time. It is excellently paced, full of thrills, fantastic music and barring one notable exception, excellent acting.

Mission Impossible Fallout is probably the best movie in the series and if it wasn’t for some unfortunate editing mishaps, possibly one of the best actions films ever made. Hold on to your popcorn folks, this is one wild ride.