Mission: Impossible

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In one sense the new “Mission: Impossible” follows a familiar pattern. The action is dance, and the plot is semi-comprehensible: Who’s dead or alive, up or down, turning or turned, in or out, friend or foe? Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is back to saving the world from nuclear devastation—he did it almost seven years ago in “Ghost Protocol,” so you can bet on him succeeding again. Still, this episode is something special, because the dance is so gorgeous.

One example is a helicopter pas de deux in the Himalayas. It starts with Ethan figuring out on the spot how to fly a chopper, which is fairly complicated, but a running joke is the hero saying “I’ll figure it out” whenever events seem to be spiraling fatally out of control. By now chopper chases are a familiar trope, but not the way it’s done here. The organizing principle of all these action sequences is that the moment they seem to be over and done with is when they restart with a vengeance. The choppers lose power, altitude, rotors and airworthiness, but that’s no impediment to their expanding function in a cliffhanging sequence that’s hugely pleasurable in IMAX, that plays out on some of the planet’s highest cliffs, and that pays homage to the whole cliffhanger tradition in motion picture history.

All sorts of pleasures turn up in the film, which was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. (He did the previous one as well.) One of them is being totally snookered by a hoary device that goes back to the beginnings of the original TV series. Another considerable pleasure is the way Rebecca Ferguson combines a runway walk with chop-socky chops as Ilsa Faust, the alluring operative with adjustable loyalties.

But the action is the thing. One chase through the streets of Paris is gleefully absurd in the way every move has been planned—or, as they say on TV news, pre-planned, which means worked out in advance really carefully. But you’re glad to accept the contrivance, because the trucks and motorcycles swirl so spectacularly.

A skydiving extravaganza above Paris is astonishingly beautiful, and a pleasant surprise for its restraint; vast expanses of Grand Palais glass that could have been shattered were not.

Another dazzling set piece is a choreographed battle in the white-walled confines of a men’s room. Near the start of that one the camera catches an “I’m getting too old for this stuff” expression on Ethan’s face. That’s intentional, of course. A little self-comment doesn’t detract from Cruise’s dedication to perpetual motion. To the contrary, it heightens the spectacle of what might seem like runaway fanaticism in a lesser striver. The day may come when he finally is too old for this impossibly Impossible stuff, but it hasn’t, and he still isn’t. Neither, quite remarkably, are we.

I’m Joe Morgenstern. I’ll be back on KCRW in a couple of weeks with more reviews.