Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the latest in the Tom Cruise-starring franchise, starts off fast, sets its hooks, and hurtles you forward. The continually escalating mayhem propels the film past any of the otherwise glaring plot holes, and the action is fast and chaotic enough to gloss over how ludicrous the plot actually is. Full of big, boisterous action, one of Hollywood’s biggest superstars, and crazy-ass stunts, Rogue Nation is a damn entertaining ride.
The plot of Rogue Nation is of relatively little consequence; there are bad guys, and the good guys need to stop them. This framework basically serves to move the film from action set piece to action set piece and to provide a bit of tension as you speculate about the true motivations and allegiances of various characters. Normally this would be a detriment to the movie, but in this instance, the action is so frantic and continuous, and the pace is so break-neck, that any hang-ups are minor quibbles.
Once again, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), the star quarterback of the Impossible Mission Force (or IMF, an American intelligence agency that operates without oversight) is in deep cover, where he has started three of the five films, tracking a group of international outlaws he calls the Syndicate. A secretive terrorist organization bent on causing global chaos, though their motivations are vague to the point of being nearly nonexistent, no one else, not even the IMF proper, believes exists. As in 2011’s Ghost Protocol, where Ethan and his team are framed for blowing up the Kremlin, the IMF is in trouble and the U.S. government actually dissolves the organization this time at the behest of the CIA.
Beyond that, the key points are that there is a shadowy villain (Sean Harris) who controls the Syndicate, a stunning femme fatale, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who may or may not be on Ethan’s side, and he gets the old band—Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames) and Brandt (JeremyRenner)—back together for some harrowing adventures in exotic locations.
The movie starts out fast, with a scene where Ethan hangs off the side of an airplane as it takes off, a stunt that Cruise reportedly did eight times during production. Never slowing down for long, this action drives everything else. Cruise is adamant about performing his own stunts, no matter how insane, and that gives Rogue Nation a gut level, visceral feel. He is literally strapped to the side of an airplane, there’s an intense underwater scene that he actually performed, and when you watch him zip through traffic at horrendous speeds on a motorcycle—which includes a nice nod to Top Gun—it places the viewer there in the action. This is where the movie derives most of its tension.
At this point, Cruise can play Ethan Hunt in his sleep. He’s a charming man of action who is never more than a few moments away from dangling himself off of a building or tussling with a cadre of faceless henchmen. The rest of his team primarily exists to have his back and bounce quick banter off of. These are clearly actors with chemistry who are enjoying themselves a great deal, and even in the rare moments when the action subsides, their sharp back and forth is lively and maintains the up-tempo pace. Brandt is the harried worrier of the group, while Benji and Luther are ready and willing to follow Ethan into whatever danger awaits.
Rogue Nation smartly pairs Cruise with Ferguson. With her icy blue eyes and closely guarded internal world, Ilsa is not only a badass agent, she plays her part in the greater drama like a poker hand, and she provides the main mystery of the film. Just when Ethan thinks he has a read on her, on where her interests lie, the landscape shifts, and he realizes that what he thought was a tell was an intentional deception, part of every party attempting to out think and out maneuver the others.
For his part, Sean Harris is wasted as the villain. It’s like McQuarrie told him to play a flat, cliché James Bond villain, and his quiet monotone is interspersed with fits of eye-twitching rage. Alec Baldwin shows up in an unnecessary subplot about the CIA hunting down Ethan, a narrative thread that also takes up the bulk of Renner’s time. As with the plot, most of the characters aside from Ilsa and the IMF gang are inconsequential stand ins.
Some of the hand-to-hand combat scenes are a bit chopped up, but for the most part McQuarrie and DP Robert Elswit (Nightcrawler), have assembled a beautiful looking film. Wide, sweeping aerial shots introduce you to each new locale, including Morocco and Vienna, and the action scenes, including an epic car chase that morphs into a motorcycle chase and a footrace through shadow-strewn London streets, are clean and crisp.
Thrilling and suspenseful, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation mixes a glitzy, glamorous aesthetic with brash action, a frenetic pace, and sheer excitement. The plot may be rather rote, but watching the IMF team flit around the globe, flitting from one impossibly cool action sequence to the next, is a pure blast of movie going enjoyment. [Grade: B+]