Film Review: ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’

Tom Cruise accepts his next mission with more impossible odds…


MI Fallout

Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt is ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ (image belongs: Paramount Pictures, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Michelle Monaghan, Angela Bassett

Directed and written by:  Christopher McQuarrie / 147 minutes

What’s it about?

Tasked with retrieving three nuclear devices stolen after a botched mission, Ethan Hunt and his team are coupled with a CIA overseer as they race to prevent the death of millions…

In review

As many critics have already cited, it’s rare for a film series to continue to go from strength to strength after so many instalments but the Mission: Impossible franchise once again proves unstoppable and relentlessly enthralling with the newly released sixth entry, Fallout.  Returning writer/director Christopher McQuarrie pulls out all the stops as superstar Tom Cruise performs more death defying, pulse-pounding and vertigo-inducing stunts that keep audiences coming back for more.

Serving as a direct sequel to Rogue Nation, Mission: Impossible – Fallout sees Impossible Mission Force Agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) called upon to undertake another daring assignment, this time to recover three nuclear devices which have fallen into the hands of a terrorist group that has arisen in the wake of the capture of Solomon Lane (the ever-raspy Sean Harris).  With the mission ending in failure, Hunt and his team – Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) – are forcefully coupled with CIA chief Erica Sloan’s (Angela Bassett) top agent August Walker, played by Justice League’s Henry Cavill, in a race against the clock to prevent global chaos.

As always, the cast is great (although the absence of Jeremy Renner this time out is initially felt) – not in the least Tom Cruise who, bar his passionate and unwavering commitment to the action, also brings that human quality to the character of Ethan Hunt, a man who will stop at nothing to protect everything – and everyone – he cares about.  Mission: Impossible really is nothing without him.  As Agent Walker, Henry Cavill is a force to be reckoned with pulling no punches (often literally) in his scenes with Cruise and is quite a powerful asset to the film and the ‘interference’ of the CIA in the IMF’s operations facilitates some neat dramatic moments, between Cruise and Cavill as well as Bassett and Alec Baldwin, who reprises the role of Secretary Alan Hunley.

Hunt’s mission becomes all the more personal as he crosses paths with some old faces.  Harris’s Lane notwithstanding, we see the return of Rebecca Ferguson’s MI6 spy Isla Faust and Michelle Monaghan as Hunt’s ex-wife Julia.  Ferguson in particular is a highlight (as she was in Rogue Nation) and again has strong chemistry with Cruise but the inclusion of all three returning actors, coupled with call-backs to the earlier films and homages to Bruce Geller’s original television series provides a sense of history that’s rewarding for fans of the franchise.

Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay provides Mission: Impossible – Fallout with plenty of intrigue, spectacle and drama that’s enhanced by numerous twists and turns that will keep viewers on their toes and the edge of their seats.  Tonally, there’s a bit of a darker edge to Fallout that gives it a slightly different flavour from previous instalments which helps keep things fresh and ensures the tension remains high throughout.

The action is truly first class and easily meets expectations from a brutal bathroom fight to rival Casino Royale to set-pieces that range from a sky diving jump, chases on foot, by motor and by river to the incredible and prolonged helicopter pursuit that forms part of the breathlessly exciting finale.  Spread across locations including Paris, London and Kashmir, it’s all handled with relative ease and skill by director McQuarrie, deftly executed by Cruise and the rest of the cast and made all the more appealing by the exemplary cinematography.

If you’re a fan of these films and the action genre in general then it’s a no-brainer so strap yourself in for one hell of a ride.

The bottom line:  The Mission: Impossible series continues to thrill in an exciting, intelligent and arresting action blockbuster that’s a cut above the rest.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is in cinemas now.

Comics Review: ‘Superman’ #1

Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman story continues…

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Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Alex Sinclair provide a confident and powerful cover for DC’s ‘Superman’ #1 (image credit: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Ivan Reis, Joe Prado / Colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

After the fallout of his battle with Rogol Zaar, Superman reflects on recent events and how he should face the future…

In review

Picking up where The Man of Steel mini-series left off, DC’s main Superman book returns with a new #1 as Brian Michael Bendis commences his run on the monthly title which will also spill out into Action Comics beginning with issue #1001.  Like The Man of Steel itself, this is a good start albeit one that is not all that accessible given that it ties heavily into the events of that aforementioned six issue series and although there’s a brief opening-page recap it’s likely that new readers will become lost quite quickly.  On the flip side, the chances are if you pick up this issue then you probably did on the strength of The Man of Steel, or at least to see where Bendis takes the story from hereon in.

It’s hard to discuss Superman #1 without referencing events in The Man of Steel, so some spoilers for that series follow…

Superman #1 sees a dejected and slightly morose Clark Kent mourning the destruction of the Fortress of Solitude together with the Bottle City of Kandor at the hands of Rogol Zaar and the absence of Lois and Jon who elected to join Jor-El on his cosmic journey of discovery and exploration.  Now without the means to contact his family, Clark is somewhat at a loss and a series of flashback scenes highlight his pain.  It’s a bit of a departure from the sort of Superman we got with DC’s Rebirth and some readers may be at odds with that, but it only makes the character more relatable and that’s what a lot of great Superman stories do – take a look into the man behind the cape.

Despite these more dour elements, Bendis doesn’t forget the positive aspects of Superman and although he’s hurting there’s always hope – from the ashes of the old comes a new Fortress of Solitude (grown from a central Kryptonian crystal, much like we saw on film in Richard Donner’s Superman) and it’s here that we truly get that sense of determination that drives the Last Son of Krypton to always be better and to stay strong, even in the face of darkness.

Whilst guest appearances from fellow Justice League team members the Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg and Wonder Woman are welcome, it’s an extended conversation between Supes and Martian Manhunter that’s one of the book’s most enjoyable moments as Brian Michael Bendis takes on the philosophical themes of who Superman is and how he should be.  It’s an interesting and thought-provoking debate that’s also quite fun as proceedings are interrupted whilst Clark quickly deals with various threats, facilitating some stunning poster-worthy splash pages from the art team of Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Alex Sinclair.  Reis, Prado and Sinclair provide the art throughout and it’s generally very good (and thankfully Superman and Action Comics are now on a monthly schedule which should ensure visual consistency, provided the respective artists remain on the titles issue to issue) although there are a few odd instances where Reis’ pencils seem a bit rushed.

All in all it’s a decent start and it’ll be interesting to see how Bendis’ story unfolds and expands into Action Comics but it’s highly recommended that readers check out all six issues of The Man of Steel first.

The bottom line:  Brian Michael Bendis continues what he started in The Man of Steel and delivers an interesting and enjoyable new first issue of Superman.

Superman #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comics Review: ‘Batman’ #50

The Bat and the Cat are ready to make their vows… 

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Mikel Janin’s cover art for the milestone ‘Batman’ #50 (image belongs: DC, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Tom King / art by:  Mikel Janin (plus guest contributors) / colours by:  June Chung

What’s it about?

“The Wedding” : the day has arrived and the venue is set as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle prepare to tie the knot…

In review

Batman #50 is significant for more reasons than one, not only is it the fiftieth issue of the current volume of Batman it also marks the half-way point of Tom King’s proposed 100-issue run on the book and the culmination of a storyline the writer has been building for some time, but it’s also a celebration of two iconic characters whose lives have been intertwined for what seems like forever.

Any issue of Batman by Tom King is never less than interesting and more often than not inventive and gripping, so whilst this extra-sized anniversary issue may not completely live up to the set-up of the lead in of #’s 48 & 49 (the superb two-parter “The Best Man”) or hit the emotional heights of Batman Annual #2, it’s still a skilfully constructed and deftly executed comic.  In a similar vein to his earlier “Superfriends” arc, King splits the majority of the narrative between Batman and Catwoman as they both go about their respective ‘tasks’ with the ever-excellent Mikel Janin pencilling these main sequences, we see Selina hook-up with old friend Holly Robinson (who first appeared in Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One) and Bruce enlist the support of Alfred as the Bride and Groom make final preparations.

What’s interesting is that between those regular pages are single page spreads by a number of past and present Batman artists including Tony S. Daniel, Frank Miller, Jason Fabok, Neal Adams, Clay Mann, Tim Sale and Andy Kubert (to name just a few) that are almost like snapshots that highlight the history of the Bat and the Cat’s relationship.  King laces these pages with some deep and poetic dialogue in the form of letters the couple have written to one another which ponders the big questions – can Catwoman be truly good?  Will this marriage make Bruce happy?  Can Bruce’s mission as the Batman continue?  These are things that readers have not doubt been asking themselves and King delves deeply into these themes.

Aside from the roster of guest artists, King pays tribute to some of the many great Batman writers by weaving their names into Gotham itself – from Kane Plaza and Finger Tower to O’Neil Ave and the Englehart and Conway Bedrooms of Wayne Manor, it’s a pleasing complement to the rich creative history of a titanic figure of pop culture.

As for the conclusion of the story, despite the release of spoilers prior to the issue’s publication, this review will not delve into the specifics and readers should check it out for themselves.  Needless to say, if you haven’t been reading Tom King’s run on Batman you’re definitely missing out on some great comics.

The bottom line:  A fitting culmination of one of Tom King’s biggest Batman stories, Batman #50 is a satisfying celebration of two iconic comic book characters and their legacy.

Batman #50 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now

R.I.P. Harlan Ellison

The prolific writer of numerous iconic SF works has died…

Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison: one of the all-time greats of literary and screen SF (image used for illustrative purposes only, no copyright infringement intended).

The news on Thursday of the death of Harlan Ellison marks the loss of one of science fiction’s most iconic writers and whose contribution to the genre and storytelling in general cannot be understated.  Notoriously protective of his works, Ellison’s career encompassed an impressive range of material from short stories and novellas to comic books and television scripts that would become highly regarded and influential.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio on 27th May 1934, Harlan Ellison’s journey as a writer began after holding a series of odd jobs and having his stories published in titles such as Amazing Stories and Fantastic Science Fiction before serving in the U.S. Army between 1957 and 1959.  Work in television would eventually follow and Ellison would provide teleplays for various shows including Burke’s Law, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and ultimately, The Outer Limits and Star Trek.

For The Outer Limits, Ellison penned two of the series’ most revered stories, “Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand”“Soldier” is particularly noteworthy, a story in which two enemy combatants in a future war find themselves transported into the present, it became a contentious issue upon the release of James Cameron’s The Terminator.  The apparent similarities between “Soldier” and The Terminator saw Ellison launch legal action on the basis of plagiarism leading to the addition of an acknowledgement of his works to the closing credits of The Terminator.

However, it’s Ellison’s one-time connection with Star Trek that produced arguably his greatest and most celebrated work which resulted in 1967’s Hugo Award winning “The City on the Edge of Forever”, recognised as one of the very best Star Trek episodes.  Much to the outrage of Ellison, his script was heavily rewritten by Gene Rodenberry (following drafts by other Star Trek writers) in order to bring it more in line with Roddenberry’s vision and philosophy for Star Trek and to adapt it to the technical and budgetary limitations of television at the time.  Despite this, the core concept of Ellison’s story remained and only served to make the finished episode stronger and in 2014 his original teleplay for “The City on the Edge of Forever” would be adapted into a comic book mini-series, published by IDW.

Harlan Ellison would continue working into the 1970s and would serve as a creative consultant on the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone and in the 90s would be enlisted by J. Michael Straczynski as a ‘conceptual consultant’ on Babylon 5 where he even made an onscreen appearance in the 1997 episode “The Face of the Enemy”.  Ellison’s short story “The Human Operators” would form the basis of two episodes of the contemporary version of The Outer Limits – the 1999 episode “The Human Operators” and 2002’s “Human Trials”.  His final television credit came in 2007 with “The Discarded”, an episode of Masters of Science Fiction, co-written with Josh Olson and based on Ellison’s story “The Abnormals”“The Discarded” is notable for starring Stephen Hawking, John Hurt and Brian Dennehy and being directed by Jonathan Frakes who played Commander Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Harlan Ellison leaves a rich legacy and can be considered as one of the all-time greatest writers of science fiction.

Harlan Ellison died 28th June 2018, aged 84.