Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Full Review)

The Mission: Impossible franchise has been one of the best in the spy genre for over twenty years. From Ethan Hunt dangling from a wire in the 1996 film to hanging from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai for 2011’s Ghost Protocol, the character has given us some of the most intense and jaw dropping action sequences in the genre. And just when I thought Tom Cruise’s stunts couldn’t get more outrageous… he ups the ante like never before for Mission: Impossible Fallout.

MI_–_FalloutFallout begins by placing IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his usual allies Benji (Simon Pegg), and Luther (Ving Rhames) on a mission to keep the last remnants of the terrorist organization, The Sindicate, from getting plutonium for nuclear weapons. When Hunt is forced to give up the plutonium for his friend’s life, the head of the IMF (Alec Baldwin), sends his team on a mission to meet with a shady arms dealer (Vanessa Kirby), in hopes of extracting and interrogating the leader of the Sindicate, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). But Hunt and his team aren’t alone this time. Determined to fix Hunt’s mistake, CIA head Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) sends her top agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) along for the ride.

The story can certainly get convoluted at times, especially for anyone who isn’t familiar with the franchise. It also doesn’t help that not all of the plot twists land. But story isn’t as important to these films as the obstacles for the protagonist. And Fallout has plenty of obstacles for Ethan Hunt. Tom Cruise brings his all and seems to operate with the sole mission to bring more incredible stunts to Fallout than any action film that came before it. And he absolutely succeeds. There is hardly a dull moment, with each action sequence bringing vigor whether it be via stakes or the captivating camera angles.

Director Christopher McQuarrie also manages to bring the same touch of character charm that was felt in Rogue Nation. It helps that Fallout brings back its best character from its predecessor. Rebecca Ferguson’s returns as the English double agent, Ilsa, with the same stunning femme fatale energy. The supporting characters, both old and new, all bring charisma and well timed comedic flare. Combining that with the sheer passionate, recklessness of both Tom Cruise and his character, means that while there might be better spy films and perhaps smarter Mission: Impossible movies, you’d be hard pressed to find one more entertaining than Fallout.

FINAL GRADE: A

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Star Trek Beyond (Full Review)

I was never a Trekky before J.J. Abrams reinvigorated the Star Trek franchise with his sensational 2009 reboot. 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, while divisive among purists, was an equally exciting adventure for me. So needless to say my expectations were set high for this third installment about the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Even with Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) taking over for Abrams in the Director’s chair there was little for me to believe that Star Trek Beyond wouldn’t be another exciting entry.

STAR-TREK-BEYOND-5Beyond follows up with the crew of the Enterprise as they are knee deep in a five year expedition across space. Ship captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) contemplates stepping down as life becomes mundane aboard the ship, while his first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto) juggles his faltering relationship with shipmate Uhura (Zoe Saldana) along with the thought of also leaving the Enterprise to lead his home world. After a pit stop at a state of the art space colony brings them into contact with an alien (Lydia Wilson) who has lost her ship and crew, the Enterprise sets out to help her only to fall into a trap set by a mysterious villain named Krall (Idris Elba). The encounter leaves the Enterprise destroyed and its crew (Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and the late Anton Yelchin) kidnapped or stranded on an alien world. Kirk’s only hope of rescuing his friends lies in a orphaned alien warrior named Jayla (Sofia Boutella).

The film’s biggest issue is that it struggles to live up to the heights of its predecessors thanks to a script that makes the plot feel like a one off television episode more than a third installment in a film franchise. The stakes don’t feel nearly as high as in Into Darkness and the individual characters aren’t highlighted as well as they were in the 2009 installment. Throw in a relatively goofy ending featuring a song by the Beastie Boys and Elba’s stock adversary who simply grumbles and growls for most of the movie and it all feels like a step down.

But if you’re a fan of Star Trek in general, or just a fan of Abrams’ previous movies, then there is still plenty to love in Beyond. While some characters don’t get much of anything to do (Cho and Saldana), others have phenomenal dynamics that add social context and humor. The relationship between Pegg’s Montgomery Scott (Pegg) and Jayla is an endearing one and the dynamic between Spock and Dr. McCoy (Urban) is one of the film’s biggest highlights. Also, unsurprisingly, Pine is once again sensational as Captain Kirk, a leader so witty and brave that it’d be hard not to run through a brick wall for him.

The visuals are also stunning which should come as no shock. So even though Star Trek Beyond isn’t quite a classic, it’s still time well spent. It’s hard to blame any of the pieces directly involved when the story simply isn’t pertinent enough, so there’s nothing wrong with just sitting back and enjoying this one and hoping for a little more the next time around.

FINAL GRADE: B

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (Full Review)

Mission_Impossible_Rogue_Nation_posterThere’s nothing like a good spy movie. Fist fights, car chases, gadgets, and a cool, charismatic lead to bring it all together. Since it was first adapted from a 1960’s television series in 1996, the Mission: Impossible film franchise has been one of the best in the genre thanks to great stories, greater action sequences, and a strong lead in veteran action star Tom Cruise. As one of my personal favorites genres, I was more than excited to see if the newest installment could continue the franchise’s upward momentum created by 2011’s stellar Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.

Mission: Impossible has become a de facto American James Bond franchise with every film offering up a different female lead and sinister villain. But Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is always the glue that holds the films together. Hunt is no James Bond and his recklessness and unpolished nature are always what add tension to these films. This time around his chaotic methods have caught up to him and he and the rest of the IMF (Impossible Mission Force). While CIA head Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) seeks to find him and shut him down, Ethan goes rogue and searches for a secret terrorist organization that seems to know his every move.

From a narrative standpoint, Director Christopher McQuarrie’s film doesn’t quite flow as well as Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol or reach the tension of J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III. But in McQuarrie’s defense, the plot of Rogue Nation isn’t as interesting as Ghost Protocol’s nor are the stakes as high as they are in M:I 3. Where this film tops its predecessors however, is in its characters. As always, Simon Pegg is witty, comedic gold as tech expert, Benji. Other returning characters, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther (Ving Rhames) are at their suave, snarky best throughout. Sean Harris also provides a worthy adversary as Solomon Lane, although that is probably attributed to the script rather than Harris’ actual performance.

But the character who undoubtedly steals the show is Rebecca Ferguoson as double agent, Ilsa Foust. There are femme fatales, and then there’s Ilsa. Ferguson caries out each scene with a calm, collected swagger that is both sexy and menacing. She not only holds her own around Cruise, but after the credits role you may find yourself wishing for her character to get her own set of on-screen adventures. Ilsa is not only the best female role in a Mission: Impossible movie, she may very well be the most exhilarating female lead in any spy movie to date.

The fights, chases, and gadgets are all incredible although the action sequences in the film never top the Burj Khalifa scene in Ghost Protocol. Several scenes, including a motorcycle chase and an underwater heist, certainly come close. It’s amazing that almost 20 years after the film franchise began, the films are getting more and more interesting. Sure, the spy genre can certainly be a bit monotonous and their stories convoluted, but Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is proof that as long as you’ve got good action and interesting characters, we don’t mind sequel after sequel. You’re move 007.

FINAL GRADE: B+