Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, the fifth installment in this franchise, finds hero superspy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, but you knew that) battling a sinister organization of ex-operatives called The Syndicate in a relentlessly convoluted plot of double-agents and double-crosses so cloudy that the villains’ goal is only vaguely articulated at the very end. And yet that doesn’t matter one bit, because the spectacle on hand is at once classical and modern, complicated and totally simple, simultaneously grounded and breezy, and always a total blast. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie makes a lateral move from the grit of his previous films (Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher and the woefully under-seen thriller The Way of the Gun) to produce something a little closer to Brian De Palma’s wildly inventive first Mission: Impossible. Given the apparent density of his film’s nebulous plot, verbal exposition is kept to a minimum; instead, McQuarrie deploys ingenious pre-enacted what-if scenarios to set up his endless set-pieces. It’s a brilliant trick, allowing us to see a mission go wrong before it goes right (and vice-versa).
something a little closer to Brian De Palma’s wildly inventive first Mission: Impossible
McQuarrie shoots with a minimum of coverage, favoring wide shots and relying on the franchise’s now-infamous penchant for jawdropping practical stunts. There’s a sequence of three straight setpieces smack in the middle of this thing — an underwater heist that segues into a car chase that turns into a motorcycle chase — that’s maybe the most viscerally thrilling stretch this series has ever produced, and the whole affair is jammed with humor that never veers into camp as the characters are continually exhausted and backed into one corner after another. Special mention has to be made of new co-star Rebecca Ferguson as a devious and incredibly capable adversary named Ilsa Faust (with whom Hunt rendezvous in Casablanca, har-har), completely magnetic as Ethan’s match in every way. A wonderful setpiece taking place at a staging of Turandot cements Ilsa as the mysterious woman whose secrets, as in the opera, Hunt must unlock. She almost steals the show completely, but like the previous iterations this is ultimately about the indefatigable performance engine that is Tom Cruise. Late in the film, the antagonistic CIA chief (a suitably blustery Alec Baldwin) describes our hero, hissing hilariously: “Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny!” He runs, jumps, drives, dives, drifts, flies, and even dies (sort of). What sets Ethan Hunt (and Cruise himself) apart from action movie peers like Bond or Iron Man is that you are forever seeing him sweat, and for real. Cruise tries.