Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, the latest in the Tom Cruise-starring franchise, sets its hooks quickly and hurtles you forward. The continually escalating mayhem propels the film past any of the otherwise glaring plot holes, and the action is chaotic enough to gloss over how ludicrous the plot actually is once you stop and think about what’s happening—which is of relatively little consequence. There are bad guys, and the good guys need to stop them: This framework basically moves the film from action set piece to action set piece, providing nominal tension as the audience passively speculates about the true motivations and allegiances of suspicious characters. Normally this would be a detriment to any movie, but in this instance, the action is so frantic and consistently so, the pace so break-neck, that any hang-ups in narrative feel like legitimately minor quibbles.
Once again, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), the star quarterback of the Impossible Mission Force (or IMF, an American intelligence agency that operates without oversight) is in deep cover (where he’s started in three of the five M:I films), tracking a group of international outlaws he calls the Syndicate. A secretive terrorist organization bent on causing global chaos, though their motivations are vague to the point of being nearly nonexistent, the Syndicate is so secretive that no one else, not even the IMF proper, believes it exists. As in 2011’s Ghost Protocol, where Ethan and his team are framed for blowing up the Kremlin, Rogue Nation puts the IMF in trouble and the U.S. government must disavow/dissolve the organization, but this time at the behest of the CIA. Beyond that, key players include: a shadowy villain (Sean Harris) who controls the Syndicate; a stunning femme fatale, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who may or may not be on Ethan’s side; and the old band—Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner)—gets back together for some harrowing adventures in exotic locations.
From its first moments, the film doesn’t hesitate—a scene in which Ethan clings to the side of an airplane as it takes off includes a stunt Cruise reportedly did eight times during production—a pace which drives everything to come. Cruise is adamant about performing his own stunts, no matter how insane, and that lends Rogue Nation a visceral power: He is literally strapped to the side of an airplane; he effortlessly performs an intense underwater scene; and watching him zip through traffic at horrendous speeds on a motorcycle—which features a welcome nod to Top Gun—one can’t help but assert that Tom Cruise is one of Hollywood’s purest blockbuster superstars.
At this point, Cruise can play Ethan Hunt in his sleep. He’s somehow insistently charming despite his off-screen persona, a man of inertia never more than a few moments away from dangling himself off of a building or tussling with a cadre of faceless henchmen. The rest of the IMF team—Brandt is the harried worrier of the group, while Benji and Luther are ready and willing to follow Ethan into whatever danger awaits—primarily exists to have his back while bouncing quick banter back and forth. Rhames, Renner, Pegg and Cruise are clearly actors who are enjoying themselves a great deal—and if they aren’t, then they fake a palpable chemistry exceptionally well—and even in the rare moments when the action subsides, their sharp repartee is lively enough maintains the momentum until the next set piece.
Then Rogue Nation smartly pairs Cruise with Ferguson. With her icy blue eyes and closely guarded internal world, Faust is not only a badass agent, she plays her part in the film’s greater drama like a poker hand. Just when Ethan thinks he has a read on her, on where her interests lie, the landscape shifts, and he realizes that what he thought was a tell was an intentional deception; she’s attempting to out-think and out-maneuver her international espionage peers just as much as anyone else involved.
The film’s only unfortunate misstep is wasting Sean Harris as the villain. It’s like McQuarrie encouraged him to play a flat, cliché James Bond villain, his creepy-quiet monotone interspersed with fits of eye-twitching rage. At some point, Alec Baldwin shows up in an unnecessary subplot about the CIA hunting down Ethan, a narrative thread that also takes up the bulk of Renner’s character’s time. As with the plot, most of the characters aside from Ilsa and the IMF gang are inconsequential stand-ins.
While some of the hand-to-hand combat scenes are a bit too chopped up to match the expert sense of space created surrounding the film’s action set pieces, for the most part McQuarrie and DP Robert Elswit (Nightcrawler), have assembled a beautiful film. Wide, sweeping aerial shots introduce each new locale—Morocco? Vienna? OK—and the action scenes, including an epic car chase that becomes a motorcycle chase that ends in a footrace through shadow-strewn London streets, are clean, crisply laid out, not a second of screen time wasted. Which pretty much sums up the whole movie: Thrilling and suspenseful, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation balances a glitzy, glamorous aesthetic with brash action, a frenetic pace and sheer excitement. And almost ten years into the franchise, any new Mission: Impossible installment is a welcome addition to expert action-filmmaking canon.
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Sean Harris, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin
Release Date: July 31, 2015