Tom Cruise has remained much in demand, but with less reliable results the last few years (see "The Mummy") than in his heyday. So it makes sense that the star would keep circling back to his most bankable franchise, embarking on his sixth outing as Ethan Hunt in "Mission: Impossible - Fallout," a movie chock full of jaw-dropping stunts, even if it doesn't quite know when to hit the eject button.
Reuniting with writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, who also oversaw the last mission subtitled "Rogue Nation," "Fallout" is a bit like a Russian nesting doll, carefully layered over (and generally surpassing) the previous films. That includes clever callbacks to earlier characters and situations, although ultimately, the movie's appeal boils down to the visceral jolt associated with Hunt and his allies racing from one perilous encounter to the next.
Two or three of those sequences are pretty dazzling, foremost among them a close-quarter fight in a restroom and a breakneck chase through (and over and under) the streets of Paris, which -- given the dizzying wrong-way driving involved alone -- evokes the "impossible" in the title.
The stakes, moreover, couldn't be higher, with a crazed anarchist, part of a group known as The Apostles, seeking the means to make nuclear bombs, leaving it to Hunt and company to track them down.
The cast includes a mix of faces old (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson) and new (Henry Cavill, looking pretty super even without the cape; and Vanessa Kirby, an arresting femme fatale, following her breakout role in "The Crown").
Still, "Mission: Impossible" continues to operate under Cruise control, and he's perfectly good -- and still impressively credible -- as the resourceful, relentless Hunt, although after more than 20 years of saving the world, it wouldn't hurt just once to let him sigh and gripe about getting a little too old for this sort of thing.
More broadly, the movie itself lingers a bit too long -- seemingly so determined to keep piling on thrills that its protracted final sequence drags on amid escalating absurdity (even by the super-spy genre's lax, gravity-defying standards), as the running time approaches 2 - hours. That doesn't undermine what's enjoyable about it, but the result is a finish that's as exhausting as it is exciting.
Then again, the cinematic history of "Mission: Impossible" is all about overcoming steep odds, starting with the fact that a 1960s TV show -- birthed at the height of the Cold War -- could prove so durable and adaptable, with Lalo Schifrin's classic theme music providing the main bit of glue connecting the film series to its origins.
Taken strictly as what it's intended to be -- a slickly assembled, well-oiled adrenaline rush -- "Fallout" delivers. Throw in the context of the larger franchise, and Cruise's recent stumbles, and it's hard not to admire just how much spark this long-running fuse still has left in it.
"Mission: Impossible -- Fallout" opens July 27 in the U.S. It's rated PG-13.