Before internet cat videos, before flip phones, before Beyoncé could talk–let alone sing–there was Tom Cruise. A nuclear blast might kill him, but don’t be so sure. He’s as enduring as the pyramids, if not nearly as impressive. Yet even people who don’t care for Cruise often have a weakness for the Mission: Impossible movies, and that’s as it should be. Their outlandish plots and over-the-cliff stunts are the most suitable delivery systems for his energy and undimmable wattage: he just makes sense in them.
Mission: Impossible—Fallout may be the best Mission: Impossible movie since the first, made in the dawn of the cat-Internet age, 1996, by Brian De Palma. Or perhaps it’s just the one with the mostest: even by the franchise’s extravagant standards, Fallout throws off Hope-diamond levels of grandeur. If your recollection of the last entry in the series, the 2015 Rogue Nation, self-destructed five seconds after viewing, don’t worry. All you need to know about this one is that Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and friends–played once again by the eminently appealing Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, both of whom make Cruise seem more human just by proximity–need to foil the plot of MI6 operative turned anarchist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who hopes to mend the world by sowing chaos. Now there’s some logic for you.
The plot involves the usual rubber face masks, as well as plenty of double- and triple-crossing and the stealing of plutonium. Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust, introduced in Rogue Nation, returns: she was a foxy-smart presence in that movie, as she is here. One of Fallout‘s standouts is a fabulously choreographed fight sequence in a mirrored, all-white Parisian men’s room involving, among others, Hunt and a CIA tagalong played by the almost obnoxiously elegant Henry Cavill. Their grunts, their high kicks, their showy, arm-swinging punches become design elements. The results are horrible and beautiful at once.
They also represent the great care writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton have taken with every action scene here: they’re all constructed with brain-surgery precision, not just fed through the usual fast-cutting wood chipper. That means you can follow the movement of a car, a motorcycle, a helicopter or a human body for long, languorous stretches, which should be the point of an action scene, after all. It’s typical for Cruise to run a lot in the Mission: Impossible pictures, and this one doesn’t disappoint. He runs–and runs and runs and runs. No one else runs like this. Cruise is an unhinged stickman, outrunning the devil, the aging process, time itself. He will outrun us all. The most impossible mission is the one that ticks inside him.
This appears in the August 06, 2018 issue of TIME.