Once again disavowed for his agency’s recklessness, Impossible Missions Force (IMF) Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is left high and dry by CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) just as he’s on the verge of proving the existence of a mysterious international crime organization known as the Syndicate.
As the Syndicate begins carrying out a series of terrorist attacks in an effort to obtain untraceable funds which will be used to expand their operations, Hunt gathers his team – William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) – and joins forces with disavowed British agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) to take down the organization’s leader Solomon Lane (Simon Harris).
Rogue Nation is the fifth film of the popular Tom Cruise-led Mission: Impossible film franchise that began almost two decades ago. Though the series took a brief nosedive with the terribly bland Mission: Impossible III (as good of a filmmaker as J. J. Abrams has become, his directorial debut will mostly be remembered by me as one of the extremely rare instances a director somehow manages to waste a phenomenal talent as Philip Seymour Hoffman, and as a villain, no less), director Brad Bird rebounded hugely with the fourth installment, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the best of the series since the first film.
Of course, with Bird having been tied up with Tomorrowland, the series baton was handed over to writer/director Christopher McQuarrie. McQuarrie’s resume has hit a few speed bumps, Jack Reacher and The Tourist, but when his hits include writing/directing The Way of the Gun, and writing last year’s Edge of Tomorrow and Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects (the latter of which won him a Best Original Screenplay Oscar), that’s a pretty good sign for Rogue Nation.
Aside from an unmemorable, though serviceable, villain and enough twists and turns to have casual viewers’ heads spinning, McQuarrie delivers setpiece after setpiece that energizes the typical Mission: Impossible plot-line, the best of which are a Vienna State Opera house assassination attempt that would make Hitchcock proud and a beautifully shot motorcycle chase between Ethan Hunt and Ilsa Faust. Major kudos should go to Tom Cruise for doing his own stunt work on the big trailer-pushing Russian cargo plane sequence, but as fun as it is, it’s actually the least of all the action sequences. No, McQuarrie’s not exactly shaking up the formula, but he takes the franchise’s cliches and, along with a strong cast, executes them in first-rate fashion.
Returning to the lineup are Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg for their second and third time, respectively, as well as franchise mainstay Ving Rhames (he and Tom Cruise are the only two to have appeared in all five films). Renner and Rhames turn in fine performances as IMF teammates William Brandt and Luther Stickell, and Pegg provides some great comic relief as Ethan’s loyal to the death sidekick Benji Dunn. Alec Baldwin, new to the series, entertainingly hams it up just enough without overdoing it as the obligatory gruff head of the CIA.
Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, who’s still relatively new to American viewers, gives an impressive performance as the beautiful and equally deadly Ilsa Faust, the disavowed British agent who’ll have you guessing who’s side she’s really on ’til the end of the movie. Ferguson was previously seen in last summer’s Hercules, and though I admit I was much more entertained by that film than I was expecting to be (that’s, as film critic Alonso Duralde calls it, the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for you), she didn’t get much to do there. She not only holds her own against an experienced vet like Cruise with her performance, she also kicks just as much ass as he does.
Think what you will about his couch-jumping antics and off-camera lectures to Brooke Shields, but Tom Cruise is probably the most dependable action star of the past 20 years, and to be honest, it’s not like he really needs these roles. This is a man that has worked with Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Brian De Palma, Barry Levinson, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Stanley Kubrick, Sydney Pollack, Rob Reiner, Robert Redford, Paul Thomas Anderson and Cameron Crowe (anyone else in his profession would kill to work with just one or two of those directors), and yet he’s undoubtedly more remembered for his work in action films, specifically here as Ethan Hunt. And deservedly so ’cause he could easily view these movies as just throwaway summer blockbusters and phone it in for the quick and easy buck, yet he refuses to give anything less than 100%, which is why this franchise goes absolutely nowhere without him.
Sure, I’d love to see him go back to doing another Magnolia or Born on the Fourth of July, or even another Tropic Thunder role, but it continues to speak well of Cruise’s abilities that he treats his role as Ethan Hunt with the same level of commitment as he’s put forth toward his more dramatic roles.
Not quite at the level as the first film or Ghost Protocol, but just a touch better than the second installment, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation delivers plenty of crowd-pleasing, edge of your seat action setpieces from writer/director Christopher McQuarrie that are sure to satisfy fans of the series. The conspiracy plot is fairly standard stuff, but the familiar narrative is bolstered by the energy McQuarrie brings, and the strong performances from a talented cast led by face of the franchise Tom Cruise who continues to light up the screen in what is surely his career-defining role.
I give Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation a B+ (★★★).