Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt in another thrilling “Mission: Impossible” movie. (Courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Sixth ‘Mission: Impossible’ more exciting, more touching

“Mission: Impossible-Fallout” is writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s sixth collaboration with Tom Cruise; despite duds like “The Mummy,” it’s the most fruitful partnership of the star’s career.

Following “Valkyrie” and “Edge of Tomorrow” (which McQuarrie co-wrote) and “Jack Reacher” and “Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation,” “Fallout” is a smart, action-based story that travels across the world. And unlike the one-man star turns of Cruise’s early days, it’s a heartfelt ensemble piece.

As this sixth entry in the series begins, Ethan Hunt (Cruise), Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) are charged with retrieving three stolen balls of plutonium which a terrorist group plans to make into bombs.

The meet goes badly, and the plutonium is lost. Ethan must head to Paris to intercept a dealer before he sells the stuff to an international broker, the White Widow (a prickly, bewitching Vanessa Kirby). A burly, mustached watchdog, August Walker (Henry Cavill), is sent along with him.

Then, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), from “Rogue Nation,” turns up with a secret mission of her own.

The team must get its hands on captured bad guy Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), also from “Rogue Nation,” and trade him for the plutonium.

Of course, all of the characters have different motivations. And there’s no way that the plutonium is going to stay stable; it will indeed be transformed into nuclear bombs, timers ticking terrifyingly toward Armageddon.

The silly old “Mission: Impossible” masks return, as well as astounding, gripping, heart-pounding set pieces. Early on, a fight in an all-white Paris men’s room offers ripping choreography and harrowing twists, leading to chases, a daring abduction, betrayals, and a mountaintop fight with fruitless grabs for the precariously dangling detonator.

Both 2011’s “Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol” and “Rogue Nation” had one big sequence that left everyone talking; “Fallout” has high-level suspense throughout.

McQuarrie mixes things up, often staging big scenes without music or pulling his camera way back. There’s no evidence of panicky, amateur camera shaking among the visceral, clear visuals.

And while his complex spy story is layered and puzzling like his Oscar-winning screenplay “The Usual Suspects,” it ultimately makes sense.

Better still, his handling of character has grown. The players feel comfortable together, like old friends, and their shorthand looks and comments imply a welcome trust. Also, the women handle their own business and do not need rescuing.

Based on the TV series that ran from 1966-73, “Fallout” isn’t entirely fresh and has one or two predictable turns.

Still, it’s one of the summer’s best popcorn flicks, ranking with superhero films “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Incredibles 2” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” but more grown-up.

When Ethan sprints across rooftops, jumps through windows, leaps aboard helicopters or clings from the edges of cliffs, it’s easy to feel the long history behind his movements. It’s not just action for action’s sake; it’s human.

REVIEW
Mission: Impossible-Fallout
Three and a half stars
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson
Written and directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hours, 27 minutes

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