Mission Impossible: Fallout is solid, but the fight scenes are exceptional

Because I am going to focus on the fight choreography, there will be heavy spoilers throughout.

As I said in the first part, the fight scenes in Mission Impossible: Fallout are exceptional, and fight choreography is clever. I don’t just mean how crisp it all looks, and the pleasing sense of barely controlled chaos, but the characters all fight the way someone with training and with their physical attributes should fight.

I’m going to use the John Lark fight as the example of this:

Right, now, if you could all tear your eyes away from Henry Cavill and instead focus on John Lark as embodied by Liang Yang.

You’ll note that he is the smallest guy in this fight. Normally films will have everyone in a fight scene fight in the same way. You might occasionally get one of them doing something cool and different to normal, particularly if the film is a film about fighting (e.g. Bloodsport). Most of the time though, you get guy A fights in style A, guy B fights in the same style and the same way, no matter what differences in height/weight/strength. This is particularly annoying when it’s clear that if B does that, B is going to lose, and lose painfully, but we’re still supposed to believe B knows how to fight.

This fight is different!

There is a smaller, shorter guy who fights like someone who has spent his life being the smaller, shorter guy. You’ll see how every time Lark gets a chance to get a hit in, he goes for throat or ribs (including one of the best uses of piping in a fight you’ll ever see). In the immortal words of my jiu-jitsu sensei, “everyone’s got to breathe”. It’s the sensible thing to do if you’re in a fight where people are bigger than you.

The other thing Lark does is that, every chance he gets, he shoves away one of the two people attacking him. That’s also what you’re supposed to do, because it means you have fewer people to deal with at any one time. It’s so nice to see in a film.

It’s interesting to contrast how Lark fights with how Ethan Hunt fights. Now, while, in real life Tom Cruise is of average height, if not slightly below, we accept that Ethan Hunt is taller than him and stronger than him because he’s the lead character. And so he fights more like a lead character. But, as another sign of the thought has gone into the staging of the fight sequences, they deliberately never have him face off mano-a-mano against August Walker so that we don’t ever have to question that. They let August Walker be obviously bigger and taller, because Cavill is enough bigger than Tom Cruise that it’s hard to hide. And then in the big end fight, they make it clear that Ethan Hunt wins by being sneaky, clever and lucky. Which are always better than being bigger and stronger!

The other character with an interesting fight style is Ilsa Faust. The interesting thing about her fight style is that it’s that of someone whose been taught to fight. Too often female characters who get to fight do so in a very flippy-flippy, kicky-kicky style, which leaves you open to counter-attacks. Ilsa doesn’t. She fights like someone who’s been taught how to hurt someone without being hurt yourself. It’s very simple, very direct, very effective. In the last fight against Solomon Lane, the way she slices through his hamstring is poetry because it’s so simple. It doesn’t matter if you’re the weaker person in the fight if the other person can’t reach you to cause more damage.

Everyone in this film fights with superhuman strength, power and resistance to damage, but it works because they fight in a way which is plausible within their characters. We still feel the tension and the danger because there is a desperation in the way our heroes fight. There’s risk and being worn down till only the things beaten into you during training are left. It makes it a very different film in feel to a lot of blockbusters.

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