What is more impossible, the fact that Tom Cruise is 53 years of age and still pushing the limits of what action films can be, or that this 5th installment in the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise is the most assured, exciting, pulse-pounding, and intelligent one yet? Cruise is the guiding force behind this unique series – his choices for directors have been perfectly drafted for the times in which these films have been made (starting with Hitchcock-obsessed Brian DePalma way back in 1996 for the original). He now taps new collaborator, Christopher McQuarrie (‘Jack Reacher’, writer of ‘The Usual Suspects’), entrusting his guidance not only visually, but getting sole credit for the sharp, balanced, nuanced screenplay.
McQuarrie stages some of the most confident and mesmerizing action sequences in the series yet, from the opening death-defying plane-hanging stunt featured heavily in the film’s marketing, to the perfectly staged, nail-biting opera house assassination scene, and the jaw-dropping Moroccan heist-sequence (a staple of these movies) that culminates in the best motorcycle-chase scene ever committed to film (try not to marvel at the amazing close-ups and helmet reflection shots in this sequence). Any digital enhancement to the practical effects on display throughout this movie are impossible to discern, infusing the action with an audience-immersing element that’s thrilling to behold. McQuarrie’s sharp writing frames the action scenes with real elements of character motivation, not simply explosions and bombast. These scenes are brought to brilliant life via a cast invigorated by the top-notch material and assured direction.
Cruise’s Ethan Hunt continues to be a force that causes characters to gravitate to – his is a singular mission to get the job done, by any means necessary. In the later films, produced by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot, Hunt in equally concerned about keeping his team safe and protecting the people of the world – he really comes across as a worldly traveler, sacrificing a normal life for others but also because he can only live through pushing his own limits in impossible missions. In this movie he is rejoined by familiar faces Simon Pegg (so much more than the quippy, tech-guy, he has become the heart and soul of the series), Jeremy Renner (originally thought to be the Cruise replacement, but now settled into the important bureaucratic link), and Ving Rhames (while fun to see his imposing figure, he is the most slighted in this film). Welcome new additions come in the form of Alec Baldwin (all CIA Director bluster with a self-aggrandizing air) and especially Rebecca Ferguson in a breakout role as Ilsa Faust, a smart, beautiful, and extremely capable foil for Hunt. Her triple-crossing agent has the air of a film-noir fatale with a modern, three dimensional twist (with the introduction of the Charlize Theron Furiosa character in ‘Mad Max’ and this role, this is the summer for strong, female warriors with no need or desire to channel male characteristics).
The nods to the classic film ‘Casablanca’ and the cheeky invocation of turning the British spy game on its’ head only bolster this film’s classic feel. In many ways, ‘Rogue Nation’ out-Bonds the James Bond franchise (although the Daniel Craig-led current series has never been better), cementing the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise as an espionage series (now almost 20 years old) that rivals the best of those classic films. Perfect entertainment . . .
Written & Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Running Time: 131 min.
* * * * (out of 4 stars) -or- A