For its unanimous praise, Fallout has all the tone-deaf insert comic relief moments, underdeveloped characters, recurring goofy Tricked ya! The boys are back in town! routines, and visually ill-defined narrative bridges of a critically derided people’s champion. This suggests either a synchronic moment for critics and audiences, or that action movies are currently in strange shape. If Fallout‘s ticks are Great, then when can we get a reappraisal of Xander Cage? And more importantly if this is ‘a perfect action film,’ then what do we call Fury Road, SPL II, Fast Five (among others, and from this decade alone)? Fallout‘s hybrid school of perfunctory (Nolan) dialogue meets (Vin Diesel) macho schmaltz indicates that both might be the case. If these two contradictory drives are to coexist, then their compromise might as well be Diesel-esque bursts through po-faced Nolan-ish thigh-slappers, particularly if this means gesturing to something stranger and more grandiose than a stunt reel or dully serious thing about anarchists and so on. Opera, myth, sometimes grit. Which is to say that grabbing hold of Diesel so as to avoid the hysterically self-important Bond and Dark Knight outlets is the best idea the franchise had since hiring John Woo for the second one.
One of its many tricks is to make you feel that there are knots when there are not, making stacking and unpacking the threads of deception, of acting and believing (that De Palma hangup) seem all very satisfying. In reality there are like three pieces involved and they’ve been firmly glued in place. Sure, there are different uniforms and cool organisational and family names, people yelling I can’t tell you what my motives are!, but in execution it is very much Let’s fly helicopters into helicopters and fist fight the guy who looks like a Nordic serial killer. This is less Blackhat-ish gravity (the pathos of vulnerable bodies) than it is whisking off the spy mask to unveil the dumb kid who just wants to watch Superman hit people. Cavill’s American accent reveals a missed opportunity for the franchise to kidnap and exploit the British spy institution: for all the words on Craig’s Bond as ‘complicated’ he’s a posh grim bully turned psychopathic government thug whose big innovation is staunchly hating women instead of joking about it- Connery with all the layers of decoration removed. Cavill is English bulk tucked comically into well-tailored trousers, with thick hair he anxiously combs down but which goes fluffy when someone punches him in the neck. With the moustache he’s an inch from yelling Well I say! whenever this happens, and it happens a lot.
The lighting of each and every indoor shot draws attention to the contours of the face, and abruptly cuts off the nose for close inspection. It is a film of noses emerging from shadows into relief, and nose reverse shots with noses. Cavill’s head appears somehow muscular while Cruise, now almost sixty, is finally puffy. Their respective hammer v scalpel labels are applied verbally as Fallout‘s pieces are laid on the table, and the two actors appear similarly manic, unable to be grounded in our shared reality. Cruise is still the best runner in cinematic history, and Cavill, unable to do anything with words, is becoming one of its best punchers. Hunt and Walker as black hole superheroes/villains take shape in these performances, pushing the film towards that Diesel-ish obsession with legends through self-destructive impulse. Toretto bathes in fire through The Fate of the Furious, but he’s only Super as part of the mechanical/familial group assemblage. The myth belongs to the people, the action to the collective. Fallout pays lip service to this being the case with IMF, but Cruise’s Hunt is too morbid to sell it. He darts through oncoming traffic at just the right time, retroactively suggesting some sort of divine purpose whenever there’s an opening, but eventually he gets hit. It’s not interventionist, it’s not necessarily even self-belief.
The team says there’s no plan, and just to play along, which Pegg and Rhames recite as a quirky team joke, but Cruise knows something different. Hunt as superhero is painted as saintly, emphatically a good person, a watcher who can never stop watching. The answer to Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is Hunt, of course, and he knows it too, which is why he flies helicopters into helicopters. There’s no plan: either this will open a window where he could potentially win, or everyone will be eaten alive by fire. Fallout has the feeling of a bludgeoning, hysterically joyless in its joy, and this is Hunt: either he dies or he doesn’t, but either way he’s doing this, and either way he’s happy. ‘I am the storm,’ and all that. Some long takes are masturbatory, and those which aren’t are riveting because of their mortality. There’s ego in the fact that the camera’s still running after a stunt so we can check that yes that’s Cruise’s face, but also critically a continuity of broken bones. John Wick of course has a similar problem, but he also compulsively stays alive. Hunt seems really badly to want to die, and until then all flirtations with annihilation will suffice. This is where Fallout is strangest and most unlike the Fast series: pledges of allegiance to The Cause sentimentalise the mission, rather than having the external mission draw in on the sentimental family unit which is The Cause, the root, the entire deal. Add kisses, hugs, speeches to Mission Impossible and it’s all in the service of Cruise’s Hunt closing his eyes and hurling himself into traffic.