Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation

Posted by Joel Copling on July 30, 2015

The success, in this case considerable, of "Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation" is really not hugely surprising; to be more accurate, it's simply the next terrific cog in a pretty excellent series, each of which has either had a distinctive personality (such as the cool intrigue of the first film, released all the way back in 1996, the European flair of its 2000 follow-up, or the gritty-action-thriller vibe of 2006's second sequel) or been a conglomeration of the other three movies (2011's "Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol" and now this). Not a single one of them has missed the mark on being yet another showcase of its main star's heroics, and they've all pretty much had equally labyrinthine plots to get to some less important MacGuffin.

Really, it's been a series devised on the mantra, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," which means that it's a formula that works, however less fresh it might seem in theory. And believe you me, "in theory" is the important phrase there, because from the opening sequence, which has protagonist Ethan Hunt hanging off the door of a departing plane with some sort of nuclear material inside of it and actor Tom Cruise actually performing the real stunt with only the aid of the usual prop harness, to another in which both Ethan and Cruise really do hold their breath for two minutes while underwater to a couple more death-defying acts of defying death, the audience is gripping both the literal and figurative armrests. Holding our own breath is not out of the realm of the possible, either.

The Impossible Mission Force has been dissolved, thanks to the interference of CIA Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin), almost the moment Ethan discovers that the Syndicate, an all-powerful unit with a population of operatives that could rival a small country, does in fact exist. Its leader is Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a former British Intelligence agent going on a pretty ominous power trip (The list of crimes in his wake is actually kind of terrifying, and his justification of them reveals a truly psychopathic profile). Ethan's team is all that's left of the IMF--Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, whose class-clown act is dialed back here), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, who is just happy to be here right now), and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, whose character's amusing pragmatism gets the film's bigger laughs).

And then there's Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an operative of Lane's whose apparent loyalty is the twistiest thing in director Christopher McQuarrie's screenplay (based loosely on Bruce Geller's television show). She helps free Ethan from an interrogation by some of Lane's goons but then attempts to assassinate the Austrian Chancellor; she helps Ethan in a previously-hinted-at operation but then attempts to thwart the others' central goal. The reasons for this are pretty simple for those paying the remotest attention, but the way McQuarrie weaves in and out of our expecations of this woman is intriguing and Ferguson's performance, while simultaneously showing up everyone else onscreen like it's the easiest thing to do, plays her motivations so close to the chest it's kind of alarming.

And sure, the whole thing kind of peters out by a third act that must actually engage some of the MacGuffins and misdirections, and this is not exactly a series that has perfected such a practice (although the unfairly maligned second film came the closest). Lane isn't the most terribly interesting of heavies beyond his ultimate motivation (especially when Ethan talks him down in one scene into a compromise that feels more like a stalemate in the face and scope of his previous crimes), although Harris is deliciously vindictive in the role. And the final action sequence falls into a routine that feels like one after what comes before.

But this has always been a series that relied on set pieces, and this movie has some glorious ones. Moving past the opening number (which has a pretty vertigo-inducing longshot of the plane's ascent from Ethan's p.o.v., courtesy of McQuarrie and cinematographer Robert Elswit's camera) and the underwater operation (which hinges on two objects that must be switched but that look identical), there is a chase through Morocco that is cleverly conceived as actually three separate chases that happen to be taking place at the same time and the bit involving the Austrian Chancellor (to which Ethan's solution is amusing), which takes place in the Vienna Opera House during a performance of "Turnadot" and utilizes the tenor's inflections in direct conjunction with Eddie Hamilton's fleet editing. "Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation" offsets its familiar devices with captivating thrills.

Film Information

Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Alec Baldwin (CIA Director Hunley), Sean Harris (Solomon Lane).

Directed and written by Christopher McQuarrie, based on the television series "Mission: Impossible" created by Bruce Geller.

Rated PG-13 (action/violence, brief partial nudity).

131 minutes.

Released on July 31, 2015.