After a couple of shaky early installments the “Mission Impossible” franchise seems to have found its stride. Personally I’ve never considered any of the films bad, but a couple definitely showed a dip in quality. But 2011’s “Ghost Protocol” gave the series a new and stable identity. It was an action-packed blockbuster anchored by an entertaining story and an almost self-deprecating sense of humor. Now we have the fifth film “Rogue Nation” which embraces everything right about its predecessor and then elevates it.
Say what you want about Tom Cruise but he is an actor who has redefined himself and he remains successful because he knows who he is at this stage of his career. His Ethan Hunt character in “Rogue Nation” perfectly encapsulates his current state. Gone are the cheesy “Top Gun” grins, the “Risky Business” dances, and the “Jerry Maguire” flamboyance. In this film Ethan is still an IMF super agent, but he is also overmatched, fragile, and often dependent on others. It’s a refreshing approach that makes Ethan less of a superhero and more of a human being.
The story begins with two separate battles taking place. The first is before a Senate oversight committee. CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is seeking to shut down IMF due to their reckless and damaging tactics (see the Kremlin from the last film as an example). Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) defends the group but to no avail. IMF is shut down and all field agents are to be placed under CIA control.
But Ethan Hunt is involved in another battle – a covert operation intended to expose a global crime consortium known as the Syndicate. Ethan is lured into a trap and captured by the Syndicate’s mysterious leader Solomon Lane (deviously played by Sean Harris). But an equally mysterious British operative named Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) helps Ethan escape without revealing her reasons or motives. Convinced more than ever that the Syndicate must be stopped, Ethan sets out to stop Lane while avoiding the hounding CIA and determining which side Ilsa is fighting for.
Cruise has a lot of input into these films and he wisely surrounds himself with quality filmmakers. Christopher McQuarrie directed, wrote the screenplay, and is a regular collaborator with Cruise. You may remember he won an Oscar for writing the brilliantly verbose “The Usual Suspects”. Here his script features the adrenaline-fueled action sequences, but it also services its characters with good dialogue and smart humor. Then there is the wonderful cinematographer Robert Elswit, an Oscar winner for his work on “There Will Be Blood”. His camera never frames a bad shot and it never lands in a bad place. His action scenes may be the biggest treat particularly an exhilarating car and motorcycle chase through the streets of Casablanca.
Getting back to the story and particularly Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, I can’t say enough about how refreshing it is to see this type of lead character in this type of movie be so dependent on others. So many cliches and overused tropes are tossed aside to give us a more human Ethan Hunt even amid his crazy stunts and top-notch spy work. We repeatedly see him being rescued or him relying on the strength and wisdom of others.
This is mostly seen in his relationship with Ilsa. So often she bests him and at other times she saves his life. He’s no knight in shining armor. Actually I think it could easily be said that Ilsa is the toughest character in the film. Cruise’s performance often highlights her strengths. Plus it helps to have such a great performance from Rebecca Ferguson. What’s best about their relationship is that McQuarrie and Cruise don’t force a run-of-the-mill romance on us. I kept waiting for the movie to strike that all-too-familiar note. After all this is Tom Cruise, right? Instead the film deviates from yet another overused story development which was so satisfying.
There are so many other things I could say about “Rogue Nation”. I could talk about the beautiful locations and the global feel. I could talk about the rest of the supporting cast and the strong work they do. I could talk more about the story and its aversion to cliches while still being a big budget blockbuster. Instead I’ll just say “Rogue Nation” is a very good movie from a franchise that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. It definitely rises about most of the other summer tent pole pictures we’ve seen. Now bring on MI:6.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS