For the sake of honesty, I’ll report this: I loved 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol too much. So much so that it earned a slot in my top ten that year. To this day, it’s my favorite of the series and an improbably rewatchable event film. Even with a somewhat spotted past (Mission Impossible 2 is fun though objectively not the greatest film accomplishment), the Mission Impossible franchise is one of my sleeper hit favorites, with the last two entries – the aforementioned addition from Brad Bird and J.J. Abrams‘ Phillip Seymour Hoffman-starring threequel – delivering some of the series’ absolute best material. When it was announced that Christopher McQuarrie (director of Jack Reacher, screenwriter of Batman & Robin) had mounted the directorial stool for the fifth iteration of Ethan Hunt’s impossible missions, my anticipation shuttered and cautiously withdrew.
Though Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is not amongst the series’ greatest hits – that honor (obviously) goes to the former two installments – it’s nonetheless an accomplishment of nearly major repute; a somewhat-grounded-yet-completely-bonkers edition of what is clearly the most competent (American) spy series intact today.
Speaking of spy series, Rogue Nation has made no excuse for taking a page directly from the book of Bond. Some of Robert Elswit‘s shots grant quiet tribute to the Craig-iteration of the character while others pay more than homage. A muted opera-house confrontation is Quantum of Solace by way of Skyfall – a cleanly shot, cinematography-attentive assembly of the mustache-twirling villainous elite. If only they been bidding on speculative water reserves or whatever the hell QoS (or is it PoS) was actually about, the scenes would be indistinguishable.
Tipping its hat (or martini glass in this instance) to a bigger and arguably better franchise does not however take any steam from the tanks of Mr. Hunt and his menagerie of tough-skinned do-gooders. No, these two sides of the same coin give each a sense of life and purpose. And with Rogue Nation, McQuarrie and co-writer Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) have told an international tale of professional obsession that extrapolates U.S./British relationships both in terms of world politics and world cinema. At one point, relations between the two nations is thought to have been brought back to “the Revolutionary War” but Ethan, being the unstoppably smug badass he is, surely won’t let that happen. Neither will McQuarrie let the pillar that is MI bow down too much to England’s 007.
Settling on an in-between length of hair for this time round, Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt, an American super-spy of no match; one whom a rival character refers to as “the living manifestation of destiny.” If only McQuarrie had touched his screenplay with such smirky bravado more often, Rogue Nation could have surely breached the next level and climbed the long stair to MI‘s best-of-the-best.
Hunt and his IMF cohorts have invested their time since saving the Western hemisphere focusing attention on the Syndicate (who astute viewers will recognize from Ghost Protocol breadcrumbs.) In truth, Rogue Nation is perhaps the first MI movie that attempts to tie in all the past missions and does so respectfully and delicately. Those who’ve chosen to accept their missions over and over again and have been paying keen attention will be fairly rewarded for it.
As Hunt tracks down the umbral leader of this shadowy organization, he comes face-to-face with Isla (Rebecca Ferguson), a super spy of her own with similar intentions and a rocking bod to boot. It must be said: Mission Impossible has traded in one exuberantly competent femme fatale ass-kicker in Paul Patton for another in Rebecca Ferguson. While one can’t help but wonder why the IMF can’t hedge two female presences into their one heavily-male-leaning team, Ferguson is still an able upgrade. She’s charming, freckly and downright effervescent but still packs a zippy punch or ten when times call for them. Admittedly, Ferguson’s fighting style is a thing of inspiration; her signature man-mounting maneuver invited guttural noises from me each time around. Now just give me two fighting women and one Rock-like dude and the franchise is set for cash-grabbing eternity.
Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames all return to characters that they’ve grown into to various extents. Pegg has shifted from the pencil-pushing dweebus of MI:3 to a risk-taker of the “don’t give an eff” variety and the character’s comedic sensibilities have been tailor-fit to match Pegg’s; Renner’s William Brandt, who at one point was suspected to take the reins from Cruise, has shaped into an indispensable addition to the cast, though he’s not nearly shapely or distinct enough to command the series without master Cruise; and Ving Rhames’ tech-wiz cool is flawlessly inimitable – though would it be too much to ask for him to hit the gym off-screen so that he could hit some people on it?
In Rogue Nation, there’s countdown sequences that make absolutely zero sense (why must Pegg’s Benji time an essential extraction so that he doesn’t have a second to spare?!) balanced out by countless sequences that are awesome beyond words (Cruise’s no-stunt-doubled motorcycle rip-roar) then finally cemented by countless sequences that are both senseless and awesome (Hunt’s swirling underwater information extraction). The villain (Sean Harris) is a mild step-up from Michael Nyqvist’ devilish banker baddie Hendricks though he depends far too heavily on his gravely voice to do the heavy lifting for his scoundrel gentleman portrait. Again, it’s a mixed bag – there’s some pretzels and peanuts amongst the Halloween candy.
When it comes down to it though, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is a boastful showcase for Tom Cruise’s leading man talents. As an action hero, he is a star without equivalent; as a jack-o’-lantern showboat, he can convert even the staunchest of haters, if only for that 131 minutes you’re trapped with him, a deep black room and Joe Kraemer’s blaring score. Though narratively shady in places and needing for even more moments of levity, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is nevertheless an amouche-bouche of summer entertainment that accelerates as impossibly as Cruise’s BMW S1000RR.
CONCLUSION: Though not the franchise’s top shelf entry, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation relies on a charmed, charming cast and thrilling set pieces to create a stirring (if forgettable) action adventure.