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‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout’ lifts Tom Cruise franchise to dizzying heights

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) clings to a mountain in "Mission: Impossible — Fallout." | PARAMOUNT PICTURES

“Hi! Tom Cruise is five years older in ‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout’ than Wilford Brimley was in ‘Cocoon’! I don’t know what to do with this information, and now, neither do you.” – Tweet from Tim Carvell, executive producer of “Last Week Tonight.”

Whoa, that’s crazy! But actually I DO know what do this with that information. I’ll reference it right here in my review of “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” so we can:

  1. Run side-by-side photos of the 51-year-old Brimley in “Cocoon” and the 56-year-old Cruise in “Fallout” as evidence Tom is the one who’s been taking dips in a rejuvenating swimming pool.
  2. Once again marvel at Cruise’s decades-long run as one of the top action stars in the world.
That’s Wilford Brimley on the left.
That’s Wilford Brimley on the left.

We are 22 years and six movies into the “Mission: Impossible” movies. “Fallout” just might be the best of the franchise, and what a rare thing that is for a long-running series.

The “Mission: Impossible” TV show (which ran from 1966-1973), created by Bruce Geller, and to a small extent the first movie in 1996 focused on the Impossible Missions Force (IMF).

But a Tom Cruise action movie is always gonna be a TOM CRUISE action movie, and though Cruise shares screen time with a dozen terrific actors and Ethan Hunt still works with a team and ostensibly takes orders from the IMF secretary (Alec Baldwin), one can’t resist drawing comparisons between “Fallout” and the latter-day James Bond films — and Cruise is up to the task, turning in a big-time movie star performance as a man who goes through life carrying an explosive mix of physicality, world-weary cynicism, loyalty to those loyal to him and an almost suicidal willingness to do anything to defeat evil.’

If the American Ethan Hunt ran into the Brit James Bond in some dive bar in the middle of nowhere, they could drink the night away sharing stories about Life on the Rogue.

Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (who directed “Rogue Nation”) is a talented storyteller with an Oscar on his shelf for his screenplay for “The Usual Suspects.” No surprise “Fallout” is packed with a dizzying array of twists and turns and double- and triple-crosses, some of them genuinely surprising and some you can see coming right down the aisle of your multiplex. (An early “Aha!” moment is loads of fun, but is set up in way that makes it nearly impossible, so to speak, for it NOT to play out the way it plays out.)

This time around, Hunt is tasked with stopping the mysterious anarchist/arms dealer “John Lark” and his team of terrorists, known as the Apostles, before they get their hands on three nuclear devices.

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Whether it’s superhero movies or “real-world” international thrillers, there’s always some megalomaniacal villain who believes blowing things up will somehow lead to a new and better world. Come on, villains. Think it through!

Cruise’s Hunt is rarely off-screen, and the non-action moments are primarily about Ethan’s haunting dreams of his beloved Julia (Michelle Monaghan), but “Fallout” does benefit from a deep and talented cast of supporting players.

Sean Harris returns as the former IMF agent turned anarchist with a thirst for revenge against Ethan. Rebecca Ferguson is back as the assassin Ilsa Faust, who still has feelings for Ethan but is on her own mission that could result in a tragic confrontation.

Ving Rhames adds heart and Simon Pegg provides comic relief as Ethan’s ever-loyal sidekicks. The great Angela Bassett is stuck with a thankless role as the director of the CIA, who apparently hasn’t seen the first five “Mission: Impossible” movies and is deeply suspicious of Hunt. Vanessa Kirby from “The Crown” is dangerous and sexy as “The White Widow,” a high-society arms broker who’s deadly with a butterfly knife.

And then there’s Henry “Superman” Cavill as August Walker, a robotically efficient CIA assassin who becomes Ethan’s partner of sorts, much to their mutual chagrin.

Cavill isn’t the most demonstrative of actors, but I found his style perfectly suited to the role of Walker, who is so utterly and completely able to compartmentalize any trace of humanity, he’s like a deadpan Terminator with a ‘stache. (The moment when Walker “reloads” his arms before re-entering a close-quarters fight is priceless, and has become an Internet meme.)

At times it’s a real challenge to keep track of all the players and their motivations over the two-hour-27-minute running time; even the movie seems to forget about certain characters and plot points that were given prominent play early on.

But there’s nary a dull moment as Hunt’s mission has him racing through the streets of Paris on a BMW motorcycle; jumping from building to building in London in a mad dash that winds up at the top of the Tate Modern; entering a helicopter mid-air (don’t ask) and engaging in an insane dogfight with another copter pilot, and getting mixed up in all manner of close-combat confrontations.

Of course there’s a generous helping of impressive CGI along the way, but kudos to director McQuarrie, the stunt coordinators and stunt players and the adventurous cast for the numerous “practical effects,” which make even the most outlandish sequences more involving and more exciting. (Cruise famously broke his ankle in the London chase sequence, resulting in a two-month production shutdown).

This is one of the most entertaining movies of the summer.

‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout’

★★★1⁄2

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Christopher McQuarrie and written by McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman. Rated PG-13 (for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language). Running time: 147 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.