Typically, the fifth film in a series is where all the cracks start to appear as the franchise crumbles right before your very eyes – I’m looking at you, Terminator: Genisys. But every so often, a fifth installment can reinvigorate a series – ahem, Fast Five – and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is that kind of film, not that the series need reinvigoration following Ghost Protocol. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and producer-star Tom Cruise have collaborated on a blockbuster that hits all of its marks. This is a fun, lively action film that always finds the right mixture between smarts and spectacle. Rogue Nation stands alongside the finest of the Mission: Impossible series, and ranks among one of the best action films of the year.
The crazed stunt where Ethan Hunt (Cruise) hangs on the side of an airplane is the opening scene of the movie. It’s a ballsy stunt by the film’s star and its director, running the risk of presenting something so incredible that it can’t be topped. But McQuarrie and Cruise are just getting started. Using the long list of mayhem and destruction caused by the IMF, CIA Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is able to get the spy organization shut down, their funding stripped. Ethan Hunt, meanwhile, has been captured by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the head of a secret spy organization known as the Syndicate. Hunt is freed by Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a British spy who has infiltrated the Syndicate. Upon his newfound freedom, Hunt discovers he’s a wanted man, Hunley and the CIA wanting to arrest him. In order to bring down the Syndicate, Hunt must work with Faust and reassemble his IMF team, Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Luther (Ving Rhames), all of whom risk being branded as traitors if they’re caught.
Granted, if I were to type and explain all of the plot machinations Rogue Nation would likely seem quite absurd. But that’s irrelevant because the film moves from one set piece to the next at 100mph. That’s not to say that film can’t do things on a smaller scale. Perhaps the film’s best scene takes place at the Vienna Opera House. It’s this Hitchcockian homage reminiscent of the finale to the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. There’s action in the scene, but it’s built around suspense first and foremost. Simply thrilling filmmaking. Then McQuarrie follows this up with the requisite break-in, a bigger, more special effects lavished sequence and none the less exciting than the smaller scaled Opera scene. That scene is then followed with a fantastic car and motorcycle chase, one just as astounding as the frenzied action of Mad Max: Fury Road and Furious 7. All too rare a feat, McQuarrie crafts his car chase with a sound visual language – we know how many cars are involved and where they are relative to each other.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation doesn’t only work because of its eye-popping, globe-trotting action, it also fully utilizes the charms of its cast. Tom Cruise brings his typical intensity and physicality with both his stunt work and his natural on screen charisma. If not for his well-documented devotion to Scientology, Cruise might be the most beloved movie star of his generation. Simon Pegg isn’t simply relegated to comedic relief and gives one of his finest performances outside of an Edgar Wright film. Meanwhile, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames wind up being one of the more entertaining odd couples to grace the screen all year. As newcomers to the world of Mission: Impossible, Rebecca Ferguson is stunning as the finest femme fatale in the series and Sean Harris is the series best villain since Phillip Seymour Hoffman in M:I-3.
Don’t think you can just shut off your brain and enjoy Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. This is a blockbuster that feels like an open rejection of that notion. You have to pay attention to all the plays going on between the assortment of spies on the screen, and the action serves to accentuate the stakes. In an era where so many bemoan the cookie cutter sensibilities of many blockbusters, the Mission: Impossible series continues to be a franchise that strongly takes on the feel of its filmmaker. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is a Christopher McQuarrie film through and through. Like McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher or The Way of the Gun, Rogue Nation has a wit in its language and visuals. Between Rogue Nation and Ghost Protocol, I’m more than ready to sign up for another impossible mission, or two, or three.