What I Read in August 2018

I read three rather small books in August, then got sucked into a rather long biography about Napoleon that I still have not finished. Most of these books were bad. I picked up a handful of John MacDonald paperbacks at a library sale, mostly due to the mildly salacious covers some of them had, and finally got around to reading them. Turns out, that wasn’t a great decision; I mostly disliked them.

The Man in the Brown Suit

Agatha Christie

This is another of Christie’s works that doesn’t fit neatly into the mystery genre, like Destination Unknown or Passenger to Frankfurt. The Man in the Brown Suit is a thriller. There is a mystery at the heart of it, but it is mostly about the protagonist’s big adventure. That protagonist, Anne Beddingfield, is the strange mix of dippy and entirely competent. She witnesses a murder on the subway and tries to investigate it. That leads her to South Africa and mystery involving stolen diamonds. On the boat to South Africa, Anne meets a lot of interesting characters and has to try to discover who is the killer. While that sounds like a mystery set up, and that is there, it mostly is just an adventure story, with Anne getting into various scrapes and intrigues as she gets closer to finding everything out. Which she does through accident and persistence, not any understanding of the mystery. While the protagonist is an interesting point of view character for this kind of story, the rest of the book isn’t anything particularly memorable.

The Dreadful Lemon Sky

John MacDonald

Travis McGee meets with an old friend on his boat, who offers him $10,000 to watch a suitcase full of money for her for two weeks. Before that time is up, she winds up dead and Travis sets out trying to find out what happened. Other than some problems on the periphery, this is a pretty solid mystery. Set in coastal Florida, it plays out like kind of sun bleached noir story. Honestly, it was pretty entertaining, easily the best of the three MacDonald books I read.

The problems, which were apparent in this book and cemented as more than an accident in the next two books, mostly have to do with how MacDonald deals with women. I shouldn’t have been surprised, again I bought the books after being intrigued by their slightly lurid covers (though not this one), but MacDonald does not write women well. Or at all, really. At least twice in this book the protagonist, who is otherwise portrayed as a good guy, witnesses first hand men beating women. His reaction both times is that he wished he wasn’t there, because he doesn’t want to get involved or start a fight. As if seeing a drunk man punch his wife shouldn’t already have him intervening. That is the most prominent example, but it is far from the only one. Every woman he meets during his investigation gets the same treatment. McGee also frequently sleeps with them; he is apparently irresistible to women. At least the mystery, having to do with smuggling drugs along the coast, is solid.

On the Run

John MacDonald

This reads essentially like the first half of a Bond story. An old man is dying and wants to see his two estranged grandchildren before he dies. One is a low level scumbag with ties to the mob. The other is on the run and in hiding from mobsters after some unpleasantness with his wife. Eventually, the younger grandson, the one in hiding, is found and convinced to return to see his grandfather. Along the way he falls in love with the nurse sent to track him down. Then tragedy strikes, setting up the main character to seek revenge on the people responsible. Except that is where the book ends, and there were no sequels. It is the first part of a Bond story, where he meets a girl and she dies. Spoilers, I guess. It is just a short novel about how the protagonist is motivated to get revenge on the men who have been trying to kill him for a decade because they killed the woman he loved. Everything else is misdirection and this book sucks.

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Yakuza 0

After being one of the best video game series around for the last half decade or so, Yakuza finally got its big break with Yakuza 0, the first game to really explode in much deserved popularity. I have to assume this is mostly down to timing and platform, with Yakuza 0 being the first on the PS4 and access to it’s easy sharing functions, because while Yakuza 0 is a ton of fun ii primarily does the same things as the previous two games in the series. There is no great leap forward in presentation or play to explain this entry’s popularity. There is that it is a prequel, with the implied lack of series baggage. Knowing the series plot history has never been a true hurdle to playing this series; each game tends to knock down all of the dominoes it sets up leaving a clear playing field with the new status quo for the next one. But thinking you have 3 or 4 games worth of story to catch up on can definitely be a perceived hurdle.

The biggest change, gameplay wise, is going from having a handful of playable characters who each have different fighting styles to having just two playable characters who each have several fighting styles. In Yakuza 4 and 5, the game split the story up between 4 different characters who each fought in different ways. (Yakuza 5 also had playable Haruka, who didn’t fight except with dance.) Across the two games you had the familiar Kazuma Kiryu with his balanced style, the hulking Saejima who is slow but powerful, Akiyama with his quick kicks, Tanimura with his counter based style, and Shineda the former baseball player who incorporated his baseball skills into a fighting style. Those are condensed onto Yakuza 0’s two protagonists, Kiryu and new playable character and series mainstay Goro Majima. Kiryu has his own fighting style along with Brawler, a heavy style somewhat reminiscent of Saejima and Rush, a speedy style similar to Akiyama. Majima has his own unique style and a baseball influenced not unlike Shineda. It allows the game to simplify the story while not losing any complexity in the battle system.

The other change is the game’s time setting. Yakuza 0 is set during Japan’s 80’s bubble economy, so money plays a big part in this game. Money does everything. Gone are experience points from previous games, which have been replaced with money. The big sidequests for both Kiryu and Majima involve business ventures that make money hand over fist. You can also go disco dancing and have disco dance battles. For the most part the game retains everything that makes the series great, but it manages to fill in the edges with period detail to make the setting a big draw.

I am mixed on Yakuza 0’s plot. It is largely in line with the rest of the series, which means lots of fights and double crosses alongside long conversations about the nature of masculinity and honor. My problems come from the fact that young Kiryu doesn’t quite work and that the game focuses on him when this should be more fully Majima’s game. Majima, as he has frequently done as a bit player in the grand Yakuza tapestry, steals the show here. But he doesn’t get quite the opportunity he should have.

Kiryu is the stoic rock at the center of the series and this game, which usually works given the what goes on around him. Here, though, he comes off as slightly bland. Instead of being a quite badass, he comes off as something of a nothing. Part of the problem is that young Kiryu doesn’t work as well as the older version from the rest of the series. Even when we first meet him at the start Yakuza 1 Kiryu is a man entering his prime, ready to take full advantage of his abilities. Here he is young and green, his taciturn approach lacks the world weariness that is a huge part of his character in later games. It would have worked better, I think, to have him be a little more hot-blooded, a bit of trouble maker. Kiryu has never shied from using his fists to solve problems, this tale works better with him growing into the man he would become instead of just people realizing what a badass he is. What does work in Kiryu’s story is how it builds his relationship with Nishiki. That never quite worked in the original Yakuza, because the game didn’t really sell Nishiki as a friend before Kiryu went to jail. This game builds that relationship.

Kiryu’s story is kind of familiar; he is framed for murder and ends up expelled from the Dojima Family as he tries to figure out who framed him, eventually setting him against his former allies.

Majima is easily the more interesting character, and his arc could be more fully formed if he had the same story real estate as Kiryu had. At the start, Majima is disgraced, living out of Kamurocho and working running a cabaret club. He wants nothing more than return to his crew, but has no real avenue to do so. His story really gets going when he gets a way back with an order to commit a hit. Except the target turns out to be not what he expected and Majima ends up trying to protect a young blind girl from just about everybody.

The game kind of tracks Majima’s development into the Mad Dog Majima that we all know and love, but that throughline is kind of muddled. You can see the pieces that are supposed to be tied together to build that story, but they never really gel. I won’t lie about the relationship between Majima and Makoto really worked for me. Makoto, for much of the game, isn’t much of a character, but in the middle part of the game she really starts to be an actor in the goings on. The two of them have a kind of genuine romance like this series has never seen. So when it comes to the end [SPOILERS] and Kiryu is the one who is saving her while Majima is simply after revenge [/SPOILERS] it kind of hurts. Especially the last few scenes, where the two of them go their separate ways. The problem is that Majima’s threads seem to get a little short shrift when compared to Kiryu’s comparatively less engaging plotline.

Yakuza 0 is a very good game. It certainly deserves its success. I don’t know that I would put it above any of the PS3 games (I acknowledge Yakuza 3’s shortcomings while really liking its story), but there isn’t a lot of difference in quality between them. I am pumped to get the the other 3 Yakuza games I have on the PS4.

Summer Movie Round Up

Usually I do a wrap up of all the movies I watched during the summer, but this year I am doing a top 10 of the Summer. That is because this summer, thanks to MoviePass, I saw more than 20 films in theaters. It was a top heavy summer, so there are several movies I quite liked that didn’t make the top 10, a big change from years where I listed everything thing I saw and ran out of good movies by number four or five on the list. So just because a movie is not on the list doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. (I’m talking about Solo) I will call out three movies I saw this summer that I would call bad. The first is Sicario: Day of the Soldado, which was disappointing from a craft perspective, as it really wasn’t a good thriller, and also kind of gross in its politics. The next is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a movie the further I get away from it the less I like it and I wasn’t a huge fan to begin with. And finally there is Skyscraper, which squandered so much potential and ended up being a cut rate Die Hard knock off. To the List:

10 – 3 Identical Strangers/Won’t You Be My Neighbor – I can’t really separate these two documentaries for the last spot. I thought about leaving them both off, and giving the slot to the next film down (Solo), but these two really were some of the better movies I saw. They are both just really good.

9 – Hotel Artemis – This movie didn’t quite capture me like I’d hoped it would, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t greatly enjoy it. I think it needed something more explosive in the final act to really put it over the top and I don’t think it quite got there. Still, I enjoyed every second of it, even if it left me wanting more in a somewhat bad way.

8 – Ant-Man and the Wasp – Delightful and forgettable. I really enjoyed this while watching it, but it didn’t really stick with me at all. That is mostly par for the course with Marvel movies. I am finding fewer and fewer reasons to return to this movies. Still, there is something to be said for nearly perfectly executed popcorn entertainment.

7 – Ocean’s 8 – Me feeling are pretty much the same as for Ant-Man above. This was fun and empty, just like a good summer movie should be. I hope it did well enough to get a sequel, because while I am a sucker for heists, this really could have done with fleshing out its cast a little more.

6 – Avengers Infinity War – I can see where a lot of the complaints about this movie come from, as it is a sequel to at the very least 3 separate movies and it doesn’t do much to ease viewers in and it does kind of feel like half a story. That said, there is something amazing about how it well it works despite breaking all the rules, like how it is almost all high tension, with little down time to build. Not it is five or so mini-movies strapped together. It feels big. It perfectly translates the comic crossover to the screen, warts and all.

5 – BlacKkKlansman – This movie, as well as my number 1 and number 2, are not really what I am usually looking for in my summer movies. I thought about leaving them off the list and just focusing on the blockbusters, but these made up a significant portion of what I really enjoyed this summer, so they stayed. This is a little shaggy and messy, but it is also really thoughtful and engrossing. It is really good.

4 – The Incredibles 2 – I am on record as loving The Incredibles. While I am the tiniest smidge disappointed that the sequel is mostly just the same movie again, with the roles of the parents switched, I can’t say that I didn’t love this movie. It is great, if lacking a little of the spark of the original.

3 – Mission Impossible: Fallout – I am not prepared to call this the best movie in the series, it was the best blockbuster of the summer. Cruise and company have found a perfect niche and are mining it expertly. I hope they have at least one more in them.

2 – Blindspotting – This underseen drama is very, very good. It feels a little stagey at times, but it also presents some very compelling characters and the single tensest scene I’ve seen in a movie in years.

1 – Sorry To Bother You – This is probably my favorite movie of the year so far. It is a wild satire of the current state of our capitalist system. While it is a movie with a message, that doesn’t stop it from being incredibly funny and constantly surprising. I loved every second of it.

The Spy Who Dumped Me

I won’t lie, I didn’t walk into The Spy Who Dumped Me really expecting to enjoy it. I walked into that movie hoping to squeeze a little more value out of my MoviePass subscription before it disappeared. So I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this little action comedy that remains somewhat entertaining while largely flubbing one half of its formula.

The Spy Who Dumped Me stars Mila Kunis as Audrey, a woman who was recently dumped by her boyfriend over a text message. One day at work Audrey is abducted by two men who identify themselves as as Sebastian, from MI6, and Duffer from the CIA and inform her that her ex-boyfriend was a CIA agent who has disappeared. They think he left something with her and will return for it. He does, but is shot by an assassin. He tells her to go to Austria to deliver the item to his contact. So Audrey and her best friend Morgan, played by Kate McKinnon, go to Austria and get involved in a spy plot.

One half of The Spy Who Dumped Me’s action comedy mix is much stronger than the other. The movie is generally not funny. There are a few amusing lines or sequences, but it frequently alternates between gross out violence and stupidity that do not elicit much in the way of laughs. Fortunately, the action side of the movie is more than competent. It tries really hard to be funny, but it has that loose, improvisational style that is so popular but only rarely funny. This isn’t a movie where it really works. Only McKinnon seems adept at it, and everyone else is just trying to keep up. When the humor actually comes out of the plot, it actually tends to be funny. Another problem is that it leans hard on humor from over the top violence and it is largely not funny. The action, though, is pretty well staged. It is comprehensible, if not particularly ambitious. The shoot out in a Vienna restaurant is especially solid. Also the subsequent chase is good. The action scenes are solidly competent.

The performers do a lot of the work in making this movie worthwhile. Mila Kunis does good work as the straight woman in the formula, in over her head but without a better idea of what to do. She has good chemistry with both of her costars, McKinnon and Sam Heughan, who plays Sebastian. Kunis is underrated as a low key action star, or maybe I just like Jupiter Ascending more than most, and is generally a solid comedienne. The problem is that McKinnon is in a different movie than everyone else. That has worked for her in the past, like in Ghostbusters, but here it doesn’t quite work. Heughan, who is great in Outlander, shines here. He shows he can do the action scenes in the chances he gets and has a generally affable presence that helps sell the comedy.

The Spy Who Dumped me is not a movie that does anything particularly well. It doesn’t surprise or impress. You likely know every beat that is coming as soon as the movie starts. But it is competent. There is nothing about it that is egregiously bad. It is just kind of there. I enjoyed it, but I enjoy each of the three central performers on their own and enjoyed them here. It is just kind of middle of the road. I don’t regret seeing it, but I doubt I will remember it in two months.

**1/2

What I Watched in August

Movies

The Titan – This starts with an interesting idea, but it never really develops beyond that. I mostly just found it dull, which might be partly on me but it is at least partly on the movie. *1/2

Mission Impossible: Fallout read review here. ****1/2

Dude – An occasionally raunchy coming of age story the most interesting part of which is that it focuses on high school age girls instead of boys, as is the usual. It mostly works, but ***

Come Sunday – This details how pastor Carlton Pearson came to excommunicated by his church. It is a mostly solid meditation on faith with most of the interest generated by the cast. **1/2

The Dark Knight – yup, it is still really great. *****

The Time Machine – There is a lot about this movie that doesn’t work, including some of the CGI, but I can’t say I wasn’t entertained. Mostly that is due to how fun Guy Pearce is to watch. He works perfectly as a Victorian era time traveler. I don’t agree with some of the choices the movie made with its adaptation, including ending with heroic genocide, but as a fan in general of early 00’s blockbusters, it was fine. **1/2

Duck Duck Goose – A Netflix original kids movie that doesn’t have much to offer. I was in for the voice of Jim Gaffigan, but this isn’t a Pixar “for kids of all ages movie,” this is a kids movie as in from ages 4-7, no one older need apply. I guess there is stuff small kids would laugh at, but there is nothing interesting or original about it. **

Flavors of Youth – This is an anime anthology, with three segments each set in a different Chinese city. None of the segments are masterpieces by any stretch, but each one of them is enjoyable. This is well worth a watch. ***1/2

6 Balloons – A movie about addiction that maybe just didn’t hit me at the right time. While preparing for a birthday party she is throwing for her boyfriend, a woman discovers that her heroin addict brother has relapsed. So instead of getting her party ready, she tries to help her brother. But there really isn’t anything she can do for him. It is painful to watch and more than a little heartbreaking. ***

BlacKkKlansmanreview coming soon ****1/2

Buckaroo Banzai Across the EIghth Dimension – I had heard of this movie, but never seen it until a couple of weeks ago when I fired it up on Amazon Prime. I was not disappointed. This movie seems desperate to show in every crazy idea the screenwriter could come up with into one movie and one character. It is shocking how well this bloated grab bag of ideas holds together. Every scene there is something new and interesting happening, often without comment as though the various bits of craziness are just everyday occurrences. Still, it lacks a cohesion of the best 80’s movies of this ilk. ****

The Spy Who Dumped Mereview coming soon. ***

Cowboy Bebop The Movie – I took my brother to see this in the theater. Walking in I would swear I had seen it before, but that was apparently not the case. It is really good. It is just an extra long episode of the show, but Cowboy Bebop is great show. You might want some foreknowledge about who the characters are before going in, but it is a complete story. Really, the more I think about it the more I like it. It is just a really well made sci-fi sort of noir mystery. ****1/2

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – You can probably tell from the title whether or no this movie is for you. It is a period piece romance with a story within a story structure dealing with the Nazi occupation of Guernsey during WWII. Lily James is great, as is Matthew Goode. I don’t that there is anything really special about it, but it scratches a certain itch and it worked for me.****

TV

Midsomer Murders S5-6 – I watched some more of this. I still don’t really have a lot to say about it. It is largely well made but I have not thought about the show for a second when it wasn’t on the screen.

Schitts Creek S1-3 – This show has a terrible title, a title that kept me from watching it despite liking Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. Fortunately, I heard other people raving about and finally gave it a chance. The title is easily the worst part of the show. It is some weird mix of Arrested Development and Parks and Rec. It is a story about a rich family brought low, but is also a show about developing a small populated by some kooky characters. Through these first three seasons it just keeps getting better, especially after the show figures out what it is doing with its characters. It develops into something with that warmth of Parks and Rec built around a family that becomes genuinely likable. It is good stuff.

The Keepers – I was not as enthused as I expected from this true crime show. Each episode seemed too long to me. There were significant gaps from when I started from when I finished, which didn’t help my engagement with the show. Overall, it just felt a little short on true substance.

Disenchantment – After the first batch of episodes I still wonder what this show is going to be. I say this first batch is roughly on par with revival Futurama. To me that is mostly a good thing, it might not reach the heights of the best but it is still very entertaining. This show seems to want to have more of a central narrative than Futurama did and after seeing the end if this first batch I am very curious to see that develop. Otherwise, it is a solidly good, mostly pretty funny show that has yet to have a real standout moment or episode. I liked it a lot anyway.

Insatiable – I see what this show is supposed to be and at times it nearly gets there. But its satire is too scattershot and often too broad to work. It seems to want to be something like Riverdale, but as a completely campy send up, but it takes more than half the season to find its footing and even then has plenty of miscues. I understand why the creators were kind of defensive about the fat shaming stuff, because that is really not what the show is. Except for the occasional moment, mostly offhand jokes, when that is what the show is. It does start developing into something interesting in the latter half and I was prepared to give the show a tentative recommendation, but then the last 20 minutes or so of the last episode happened and I am out. The show crossed a line it can’t walk back and I am not interested in following. This show isn’t worth it.

Now Playing in August 2018

Beaten

River City Knights of Justice – I apparently got annoyed and abandoned this with little more than an hour or two left before I beat it. It isn’t a bad little beat-em-up. It takes the Kunio characters and tosses them into a medieval fantasy setting. However, I expected this game set in an rpg world to have at least the rpg elements of River City Ransom back on the NES and this doesn’t. It is mostly a straight brawler, with some limited equipment options. While it has that same easy fun gameplay, it never stops being a slight disappointment. It doesn’t help that it has an NES caliber story/translation (I am not sure who is to blame). Deciphering the story requires a ton of reading between the lines, despite how much talking there is. Still, I had fun with it when I could adjust my expectations.

Xeodrifter – A fun little metroidvania that I think I picked up as part of a humble bundle a few years ago. It is mostly a lot of fun though it is very small. Not just that the game world is small, but there are also few enemy types and one boss that you fight repeatedly. It is perfectly fine for what it is, but it feels more like an appetizer than a main course. The only problem I have with the substance of the game is that the player character feels a little slippery. He is weightless and kind of slides around. Still, it is worth playing.

Ongoing

Suikoden V – I’ve been posting about it. I hope to finish my replay in September, but we’ll see if I have the time.

Yakuza 0 – I finally got my PS4 back and started back in on this. I kinda miss the expansive cast of the previous two games, but making their movesets different fighting styles for Kazuma and Majima keeps that variety around at least. I am just now getting to the meat of the story and it is pretty much everything I want out of a Yakuza game.

Little Battlers eXperience – My 3DS is littered with games like this; interesting sounding rpgs (or action rpgs) that I downloaded, played for an hour or two and then abandoned for something else. Now I am trying to go back and see if there is anything worth looking into. So far, I am really liking this. It has some Custom Robo to it, with the player getting to build their own little fighting robot. I am hoping the customization options keep opening up. The story is straight bonkers, which I guess in the norm for Level 5 (see below). I am still not completely sold on the actual fighting; the game seems to rely too much on special moves and waiting for opponents to stand back up.

Inazuma Eleven – Like LBX, this is a download game I played for a while and abandoned. Like LBX, it is by Level 5. Like LBX, the story is insane. I am near the end of it now, and I am pretty sure I don’t like this game at all. There are a lot of systems and things to play with in setting up your team, but the actual soccer is pretty disappointing. I guess I should point out that this is a soccer rpg; it plays essentially like a jrpg, but the battles are soccer games rather than fights. It is a great idea, but the soccer isn’t actually that fun to play. World Cup Soccer on the NES did a better job of integrating special moves and the like into a soccer game than this does. A lot of the problem is due to it being married to stylus controls and a screen that is simply too small to make that set up work.

Upcoming

Super Mario Galaxy – I will get this back on track. I’ll only be finishing this series a couple of years late.

Etrian Odyssey V – I need to get back into this. With 3DS games kind of drying up, (I mean, not completely, but the few that are coming out are not all aimed directly at me) I am making a concerted effort to get through my backlog of games that has built up. This is a game that I was very excited for, but it hit at a bad time and I never really got going in it. I am sure it is up to the series usual quality.

More Yakuza – I am making progress on Yakuza 0 and I expect to move on to Kiwami soon after I finish that. After that, I will likely either go straight to Kiwami 2 or 6. I think I’ll save 6, so probable Kiwami 2.

Super Mario Bros Replay: New Super Mario Bros U

New Super Mario Bros U, to date the last New Super Mario Bros game, is absolutely the best in this subseries. The first New Super Mario Bros was a delightful return to 2D for Mario after a decade away, New Super Mario Bros Wii (which I don’t currently have access to) improved on that first game and added the fun of simultaneous multiplayer and New Super Mario Bros 2 was mostly just more of the same, but it showed a greater mastery of level design than the previous two. This one brings all of that together for a game that is creative and interesting and masterfully designed all around.

Like NSMB2, this game came out during a glut of Mario games and I don’t think it was properly appreciated. It doesn’t help that it is currently, exclusive to the tragically ignored WiiU. Some people think it is the best Mario game, but many more have likely never gotten to experience it. Hopefully the rumored Switch port becomes reality, because this game deserves to be played by more people.

NSMBU does its best to ape Super Mario World in many ways and it mostly succeeds and at times it surpasses that SNES classic. It brings back the world map stuff that helped make that game so memorable, for starters, with alternate paths opening up based in taking specific exits. Finding those deviously hidden paths is delightful. Otherwise, it is mostly just a Mario game, if a particularly well made one. It is hard to specify how the level designs are great without going into specific examples, and I really don’t have those queued up, but the difficulty curve is masterful. Most players should be able to beat the first couple of worlds without trouble. The next few provide more challenge, especially if the player is insistent on getting the hidden coins in each stage. Then the last couple of worlds are truly challenging, though largely surmountable without too much frustration. It provides a game world that has something to offer players of all skill levels and is set up to teach players to be better at the game.

Possibly its truest triumph is in the presentation. It is the first outing for Mario and company in HD and it shows, in a good way. Stylistically it is the same as the previous “New” games, but it just looks and moves amazingly. Then there are the special levels. Certain levels use a special graphical style that is beyond anything else. The most notable example is the swamp stage with a background patterned off a Van Gogh painting. There are other examples making for a game with varied and interesting looks that perfectly complement the play.

There isn’t anything new in New Super Mario Bros U, but it does almost everything other Mario games do better than it has been done before. If this turns out to be the last game in the “New” line of Mario games, it is a fitting end. It is everything those games are at their peak.

On to, or back to, Super Mario Galaxy!

Mission Impossible Fallout Review

Mission Impossible has been on a sustained run of excellence lately. I’m not a huge fan of the third movie, but Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation were both excellent. Fallout lives up to the series’ high standards. I don’t know that I like it quite as much as the previous two, but it is in the same conversation.

The movie starts with Hunt and crew trying and failing to recover some stolen plutonium. As Hunt readies to track it down again, the CIA steps in. This sets up the dynamic that runs through most of the movie. Hunt is given a CIA watchdog, Walker played by Henry Cavill. Walker is interesting; he’s all bravado and surety, but also more than a bit of a screw up. In one of the movies standout set pieces, of which there are a full handful, he HALO jumps into a thunderstorm, which results in he and Hunt nearly falling to their deaths.

I am not going to try to explain the plot, other than to say that the MI guys are after the plutonium, but someone on the good guys side is a double agent. Also, Hunt has to go undercover as the villainous buyer of the plutonium, but the price brings Rogue Nation’s villain back into the mix. Meanwhile, Ilsa Faust shows back up, but she is working toward a different goal than Hunt. It just makes the whole thing a mess of conflicted loyalties and objectives. While there isn’t much unsurety of who is on who’s side, it all works spectacularly.

Fallout brings back most of the crew that Hunt has built up over the last few movies. Ving Rhames is back as Luther and gets probably more to do than he has had for the last few movies. It is mostly talking in a radio of delivering exposition, but at least it’s something. Simon Pegg’s Benji, meanwhile, gets slightly scaled back, mostly because Cavill takes his role as Hunt’s sidekick for most of the movie. Still, he’s there and he’s great. Rebecca Ferguson returns as Ilsa Faust, and she is just as great as she was in Rogue Nation. Renner isn’t back, but Alec Baldwin gets to do a little more than he did last time. Really, the ancillary cast this series has built up is one of its greatest strengths.

Fallout moves from one amazing action set piece to another. There is that HALO jump, which is followed by a fight in nightclub bathroom. Then there is an extended motorcycle chase through Paris that is wonderful. It all ends with a helicopter dogfight and, no joke, a fist fight on the top of (and side of) a mountain. This is something that series has done well for the longest time, and Fallout is at least equally as amazing as any of the previous movies.

Despite my praise, the movie that comes to mind to compare this to is Spectre. That movie tried to suggest that the Bond series had been building to something since Craig took over and Spectre was trying to be the culmination of that. Except almost none of it worked; it was terrible. Fallout pulls a lot of the same tricks, tying together unrelated threads from three previous movies that maybe weren’t meant to be connected. Except Fallout actually makes it work. It doesn’t try to add stuff in retroactively, it builds it all forward. It actually plays out more like the latter Fast and Furious movies.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is one of the most enjoyable movies of the summer. I hope Tom Cruise has another one of these in him.

****1/2