Mission: Impossible – Fallout (25 July) proves that it isn’t the Bourne series that James Bond has to compete with any more, but this running-and-shooting-and-leaping-off-buildings secret agent franchise. In the hands of the writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, it has become everything that recent Bond films have failed to be: fun but not dumb, serious but not glum, frantic yet always lucid, and with an array of dynamic roles for women including Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan and Angela Bassett.
As elite operative Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise is still hurling himself from rooftops at an age (56) when he should only really be up there if he’s replacing tiles.
This time he’s facing off against John Lark and the Apostles, a volatile cadre of terrorists-for-hire rather than the ropy pub band that their name suggests. Sean Harris is back as the villain from the last film, hissing and mumbling like a cut-price Mark Rylance, and the MacGuffin is looking a bit tired. Stolen plutonium, really? Did Doc Brown from Back to the Future get shot by the Libyans for nothing?
But all that is offset by Cruise’s sweetly incredulous performance and some ambitious set pieces: a balletic martial arts dust-up in the men’s bathroom and a climax featuring duelling, slaloming helicopters high above Kashmir.
A shame that Cruise’s co-star, Henry Cavill, has let the side down with his ill-considered remarks about pursuing women in the #MeToo era. That will remove for some viewers the narrative ambiguity about whether he is playing hero or villain, though perhaps his porn-star moustache would’ve had that effect already.
If your fancy remains untickled, there are other summer viewing options. Try the new cross-platform, global-branding synergy hub – sorry, I mean “movie” – from Marvel Studios: Ant-Man and the Wasp (3 August). With this miniature superhero, every day can be Flying Ant Day. The previous Ant-Man featured a nice Cure gag – this one name-drops Morrissey, but surely misses a trick in not making him the villain.
For those who prefer sequels featuring Abba rather than ants, there’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (out now) reuniting Meryl Streep and Cher 35 years after Silkwood. The writer-director Ol Parker told me that he used The Godfather Part II as one of his inspirations. In which case, I can’t wait to hear the line: “I know it was you, Fernando.” For my money, though, the hit of the summer was already decided a month ago: it’s the cinema air-conditioning systems, of course.
This article appears in the 22 Jul 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special