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Few action movies surprise me. Rarely do they put equal emphasis on their characters, stunts, and storytelling. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is a true action epic. It’s been a while since a film of this caliber hit the silver screen, and its films like these that remind me why I love going to the movies.

“Fallout” isn’t just about the stunts. Granted, it has the longest and most insane stunt sequences yet, but the way in which the film tests its characters with the action, the twists, and the tension is what makes it truly special. In the last decade, I can only think of a few action films that qualify as having pushed the genre and went above and beyond the industry standard: “The Dark Knight,” “Skyfall,” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” “Inception” and “Blade Runner: 2049” could qualify, but those being in the vein of science fiction are approached differently. I honestly didn’t think that McQuarrie could top “Rogue Nation,” but he and Cruise somehow managed to do it. “Fallout” has set our expectations exceedingly high not just for “Mission: Impossible” movies, but for all action films that follow.

Tom Cruise does it all in “Fallout.” He runs, jumps, dangles, falls, shoots, doesn’t shoot…I’m not sure what brash physical move he could possibly make next or if he’ll survive it. It’s not just the stunts he excels at though – in “Fallout,” he brings an incredible amount of depth and humanism to the character of Ethan Hunt that we haven’t seen before. “Fallout” is more about exploring Hunt’s character than anything. I read that McQuarrie and Cruise initially wanted to take Hunt down a dark path, and we see a glimpse of what that could have been in a particular scene. I do think they made the right choice in staying true to Hunt’s values and giving him more challenging strategic scenarios to deal with.

Hunt is hit with everything in “Fallout,” from mistrust to emotional tests to helicopters. He doesn’t so much change by the end of it as he qualifies to us why he deserves our respect. He is first and foremost a man of principle. He is also adaptable, intelligent, and unwavering. Always the optimist, he sees the possible in the impossible. He is also capable of love. Until “Fallout,” I really didn’t have a sense of who he was at his core. “Rogue Nation” hinted at a more vulnerable side of Hunt thanks to the addition of the long-legged, dark-haired beauty that is Ilsa Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson). Henry Cavill’s Agent Walker provides contrast between the young and old spies, and I’m glad that Hunt has never been portrayed as a larger-than-life superspy. He’s relatable, relying on sheer strength of will and character to achieve his goals. He doesn’t need a martini or a vendetta to keep going, rather he has relationships worth protecting. The team chemistry is what really has made this franchise special over the years.

“Fallout” wastes no time in dumping us straight into the narrative. It gets all of its exposition out of the way so it can focus on venturing down all the surprisingly complex twists and turns that exist in its storyline. There are some things that I could predict and some things I could not. Often, when a reveal I predicted would occur, it would be immediately followed with a twist in the story that I wasn’t expecting. If that was intentional, it was brilliant. The film’s backseat villain, Solomon Lane, continues to threaten Ethan with his seer-like abilities, and the many conflicts that occur flesh out the film’s underlying theme: how much should one be willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

“Fallout” is one of those impressively streamlined action movies that at 148 minutes goes by at a blistering speed. There’s not a single frame that doesn’t belong. The film is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Rob Hardy. It’s rare that I find myself wishing that I had seen a film on a bigger screen, but this is one of those cases. The way that Hardy works detail into vast, beautiful landscapes is incredible. With such visionary quality in shot-making and directing, we feel like we are right there fighting alongside Ethan. There’s also a fantastic diversity when it comes to the action sequences that lends to that breakneck pace. The stunts aren’t just to show off (though they do); they serve as part of the story.

“Fallout” is a pulse-pounding, intelligent action thriller that left me completely invigorated and ready to take on the world. If the IMF were real, I would go join it. Few films can at one moment make me grab the armrest out of shock and then make me come close to tearing up the next. Though it may be marketed towards action-aficionados, “Fallout” has great heart. See it on the biggest screen you can, and experience all the feelings you want to have when you walk into a theatre. This is the best movie of the year.