Starring: Tom Cruise (Edge of Tomorrow), Simon Pegg (The World’s End), Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules), Jeremy Renner (Avengers: Age of Ultron), Ving Rhames (Dawn of the Dead), Sean Harris (Prometheus), Alec Baldwin (Beetlejuice)
Writer/Director: Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher)
Runtime: 2 hours 11 minutes
Release Date: 30 July (UK), 31 July (US)
19 years on, and the Mission: Impossible series is still running as fast as Tom Cruise’s little legs can carry him, which is mainly down to how it reinvents itself with each instalment. Every film has its own style and tone with each director who has taken the helm, ranging from intense spy thriller to OTT action romp to hijinks-filled adventure comedy. However, Rogue Nation is a little different by not being a complete overhaul. It feels like more of a refinement of the formula created in Ghost Protocol with trace elements of the other films in the series. The final result is a familiar film but one done to perfection, and could well with time become the best of the franchise.
Rogue Nation starts off sprinting into an early action sequence before starting the main story, kicking us right back into danger and reintroducing us to the returning players. It’s a brief but fantastic piece of action that perfectly sets the tone for the movie, but once the actual narrative kicks in it only gets better. The Mission: Impossible series’ main flaw so far is that their actual plots are actually pretty forgettable; it’s always some generic villain scheme involving arms dealers, double-crosses and sneaking into parties. Whilst this fifth instalment has a lot of these same elements, they are wrapped around a far more cohesive and interesting tale with plenty of surprises. Rather than just an excuse to string together a series of set pieces, the story is actually compelling in its own right thanks to sharp writing, compelling characters and even a little political commentary. It’s overall a film about why the IMF is necessary despite their risky operation, and a cautionary tale against giving governments unchecked power to police the world. It’s not anything that’s going to set the world on fire, but it’s simple well-paced blockbuster entertainment that is enthralling from start to finish and you can’t ask for much more than that.
Say what you will about Tom Cruise as a person, but he is a capable and dedicated actor who puts his all into every performance. His character’s exact personality has shifted somewhat with the series’ ever-changing perspective, but here it feels a lot more solidified. Ethan Hunt is a brilliant and determined agent, one willing to put everything on the line for the mission, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a little bit obsessive and difficult to work with. It’s the most nuanced portrayal of the character thus far, and Cruise is as game as ever for whatever stunt he has to pull next. But one of the great things about Ghost Protocol is that it made the team aspect important again, and that trend continues in Rogue Nation with the most returning characters thus far in the series. The ever-lovable Ving Rhames returns as Luther Stickell in his most prominent role since the original and he’s as charming as ever; he’s not in on the action as much, but he’s great when he’s there and it wouldn’t be a Mission: Impossible film without him. Simon Pegg’s Benji continues to gain more prominence since his minor role in M:I III, tagging along with Hunt for the entire journey, and continues to provide great comic relief and most of the film’s heart; a scene where he staunchly decides to stick by Hunt despite his reluctance is a humorous and genuine moment amidst the chaos. Jeremy Renner returns as Brandt from Ghost Protocol and takes a slightly more ambiguous role as he is caught between his friendship with Hunt and his new overlord at the CIA (played by the ever-enjoyable Alec Baldwin). He’s mostly in the backseat for this adventure, but seeing him teamed up with Rhames in a surprisingly funny buddy cop dynamic makes it worth it. Sean Harris’ Lane is definitely one of the more interesting villains the franchise has had on paper, but I found his performance to be a little too reserved and stoic; he’s certainly a step above Dougray Scott and Michael Nyqvist, but he’s nothing compared to Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s menacing turn in M:I III. But the real standout that everyone should be talking about is Rebecca Ferguson as the elusive Ilsa Faust. Serving as somewhat of a skewed mirror of Hunt, Faust is just as focused and skilled as our hero but perhaps a little more willing to cross the line, and Ferguson fulfils that role with gusto. I hope she’s a character that returns for future adventures, and I’m sure Ferguson is going to start getting offers for all the major franchises soon enough.
Christopher McQuarrie showed he could pull off grounded action with Jack Reacher, but here he shows he can play with the big boys too. Whilst Rogue Nation doesn’t quite have that standout set piece like the Dubai sequence from Ghost Protocol, it has action in spades and it’s spread far more evenly and generously throughout the picture. From the much-advertised plane sequence to chases by foot, car and motorbike, Rogue Nation has a bit of everything and it’s all executed near-flawlessly. Whilst the cutting in some hand-to-hand fight scenes does feel a little choppy, the cinematography and editing is seamless in every other aspect and lets you take in all the unfolding carnage; it’s definitely worth the extra dough for the IMAX experience. The production design is sleek but grounded, the stuntwork is top notch across the board, and Joe Kraemer’s score is familiar but heart pumping and kicks in at all the right moments. Like he did with Reacher, McQuarrie knows the value of silence and lets action play out without music when it’s not needed; it’s a restrained approach that’s actually far more intense than the usual musical bombardment.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation isn’t a major game changer for the franchise or action movies in general, but it’s a rock solid piece of entertainment nonetheless. It’s the perfect coalescence of nearly two decades of storytelling, refining the formula down to its greatest pieces and delivering everything it promises. This is a series that shows no signs of stopping, and if it can keep up this quality of output then I see no reason why it should. Keep on running, Mr. Cruise. Just keep on running.
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10