Mission: Impossible – Fallout is insipid because the whole plot is designed to deliver set pieces to the audience and most of these set pieces are either dull or just imitations of ones we have seen before.
There are rules and conventions to any Mission: Impossible film that every viewer should use when anticipating, watching and evaluating each installment in the series. These include suspending disbelief regarding the possibility of the action sequences; it is expected, for example, that the characters are crack shots who never miss, unless the plot demands that suddenly in this one instance they need to miss. A second crucial rule is that the plot is there to shepherd the characters from one action set piece to the next as efficiently as possible, rather than to develop the characters or cohere to logic. These rules are not exclusive to Mission: Impossible films, either, and have become a standard component of any film viewer’s experience of the mainstream cinema.
In other words, it is unfair to argue that Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the most recent addition to the series, is not a good movie solely because the action sequences are over the top or the characters are closer to plot devices than to convincing people. That is just par for the course with these films and expecting otherwise is the fault of the viewer, not the film. No, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is overrated (an incredible 97% on Rotten Tomatoes!) because it is boring, it screws up too many details and has its (deliberately ludicrous) story predicated on a very stupid deus ex machina.
What keeps the action of the film moving forward is a too-elaborate plot of double crosses, fake double crosses and overlapping conspiracies. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team are attempting to recover three plutonium cores that can be used as nuclear devices. But the cores are only lost because Hunt made a major fuck-up in the film’s opening moments to lose them (this is the very stupid deus ex machina that serves as the premise), which, because it was such a monumental mistake, has brought Hunt under suspicion by the other powers-that-be in the weird shadowy government world in which he operates. Did he steal the cores?
Not only is the resultant plot that ensues from this premise overwrought and full of half-baked schemes (which can be fun in a film but is not here), but it is complicated further by Hunt’s team possessing a device that allows them to replicate the faces of other people and wear them as masks. Rather than make the film exciting, this face-sharing technology is groan-inducing and only used to help the script overcome the constant culs-de-sac it writes itself into with all of the intertwined crosses and double crosses. It is a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for overwrought writing rather than an exciting addition to the film.
But this is not what makes the film boring. No, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is insipid because the whole plot is designed to deliver set pieces to the audience and most of these set pieces are either dull or just imitations of ones we have seen before. Not all of the set pieces are snore-inducing; the bathroom fight scene at the Grand Palais is truly outstanding. But the rest? Yet another car chase sequence in Paris? Cruise running through London and all the drama comes because his team is so bad at their jobs that they fail to recognize St. Paul’s on a map? Look, London is arguably the most recognizable city in the world and its major landmarks are both known to everyone and imminently obvious on a map, yet Hunt’s crack team of superspies (one of whom has a fucking British accent, no less) let the nukes get away (again) because they cannot read a map of London! Incompetence, especially from a group of individuals whose whole existence is predicated on their being super competent, is not a recipe for scintillating action.
The marketing for the film is basically that Tom Cruise is an incredible action junkie (and a fair number of cinephiles are calling Fallout a return to the daredevil acts of Buster Keaton and his peers) and the culmination of this is the climactic helicopter sequence in Kashmir featuring parallel editing between Hunt chasing his nemesis while the rest of his team hunts down the ticking time bomb. Rather than holding the viewer’s attention, however, the whole episode barely registers. Not only does the viewer know what is going to happen, she knows, because of the literally ticking bomb, exactly when it is going to happen. It is the same death-by-familiar rhythm that makes Chuck Lorre sitcoms not funny: this chase sequence is too telegraphed to be exciting; the viewer knows it is one beat, two beats and then punch/gunshot/chopper crash/whatever.
Furthermore, there are no stakes: these characters are not remotely believable as humans—remember, that is a central rule of every Mission: Impossible film—so who cares if they fail? Besides, if Hunt were not such a fuck-up already, the whole mad chase leading to Kashmir would not have happened and if his team could only read a fucking map of London—an elementary school-level skill—the chase would have ended in Europe. Any practical viewer is almost cheering for the terrorists; if the bomb goes off, at least this tripping-over-their-own-feet team of very expensive, very against-the-Geneva Convention superspies will be eliminated.