Tom Cruise returns for the fifth adventure in the series, playing a larger-than-life version of himself as action hero and really smart guy.
The first installment in 1996 laid waste to its television show origins, which revolved around a team of espionage agents known as the Impossible Mission Force. A big change was that the heroic Jim Phelps was brought back solely to be exposed as a fraud, a phony, definitely not someone to be emulated. Hand in hand, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) was boosted toward superhero status, the unquestioned, clearly superior leader of the team, both in his physical daring and his intellectual abilities.
Since then, the missions have slowly edged into fantasy territory, to the point now that Mr. Hunt can lay down his motorcycle at the conclusion of a high-speed chase, tumble madly in the dirt alongside the highway, and get up again with no visible ill effects. He’s Ethan Hunt! He can do anything!
Accepting that Ethan Hunt is a superhero is essential to the drama that unfolds in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. He discovers that an evil spy organization, called The Syndicate, has developed in the shadows, and they are killing people all over the world. They must be brought to a stop!
Simultaneously, the director of the CIA (Alec Baldwin) has tired of the IMF’s excesses, and hates their ability to operate independently of his control, so he petitions Congress to dissolve the IMF and bring them under his heel. They must be brought to a stop!
Christopher McQuarrie, probably still best known for his Academy Award-winning script for The Usual Suspects in 1996, has steadily built a distinctive reputation as a writer, continuing to work with Bryan Singer (Valkyrie, Jack the Giant Slayer) and, reportedly starting with an uncredited contribution to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Tom Cruise.
McQuarrie has a good understanding of how to write to Cruise’s strengths as an A-list action star. In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, everything revolves around his character; he is always the smartest in the room; and, despite his advancing age, he remains the most potent physical force on Earth. The most intriguing aspects of the movie come when there is some question as to whether he is being outsmarted by his new nemesis, played by Sean Harris with his usual finesse and precision.
A mysterious new character, Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), emerges as a possible challenger to Mr. Hunt’s reign as master of the physical universe. She is a woman — as made exploitatively obvious in a brief yet needless swimming pool scene — and is extremely fit and capable, but her morality is in question, since she appears to be a member of The Syndicate. Thus, she is considered to be of lesser character throughout the movie, due to her (feminine?) duplicity.
Mr. Hunt surrounds himself with supporting espionage experts — he only has two arms and two legs, after all — including the return of Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and Jeremy Renner, the latter of whom is often stuck in managerial activity this time around. Their primary occupation is admiring Mr. Hunt’s abilities, but McQuarrie injects more humor into their interactions, and demonstrates a good sense of comic timing, which helps keep the movie flowing at a steady pace.
The same can be said about the action sequences, which look spectacular from an overall perspective — a plane taking off! An opera house pursuit with multiple shooters! A thrilling chase through European streets and stairs! A high-speed chase with high-performance motorcycles! And so forth! — although they are often difficult to follow as they unfold; the editing scheme leans too often toward the “cut every ½ second” pattern that has become so annoying in modern action cinema.
Putting those complaints aside, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is an enjoyable ride, offering new scenery to go along with generally sharp dialogue and nifty action scenes. It’s one of the better offerings of the 2015 summer season.
The film opens tonight in theaters throughout Dallas.