Within two decades, the James Bond franchise had already run through three leading men. It’s been 19 years since the first “Mission: Impossible” came out, yet Tom Cruise, now 53, is headlining the series’ fifth film, “Rogue Nation.”
“Rogue Nation” is the most confident entry in the “M:I” series, perfecting the formula that 2011’s “Ghost Protocol” nailed. It’s a slick action picture that makes a statement about what audiences can expect from the franchise from now on: outrageous stunts, thrilling espionage, all-out action and a close-knit team of spies doing what they do best.
The film opens with the Impossible Missions Force attempting to steal bio-weapons from a terrorist plane. IMF super star Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is forced to cling onto the plane as it takes off and retrieve them — yes, that’s the stunt advertised so heavily on the film’s posters. The big moment audiences have been conditioned to expect comes in the first five minutes before the actual story even begins. It’s a bold act that tells the audience more impressive death-defying acts lie in store.
After the opening credits, CIA Chief Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) convinces the U.S. government to dismantle the IMF and absorbs it into his own agency. This forces Hunt to go rogue as he continues his pursuit of an evil organization called the Syndicate. The Syndicate has been orchestrating catastrophes around the world in secret for years, but the CIA does not believe it exists. Hunt’s mission, which he accepts without hesitation, is to prove that the former is really a threat to world security and destroy it.
Cruise owns the role of Hunt, although let’s not pretend it’s a meaty one. The character’s defining traits are his excellent skills at deception and brawling, both of which Cruise does exceptionally well. He is, after all these years, still the action star to beat. Plus, his smile is simply winning.
Most of Hunt’s team members are returning characters. There’s the tech geek, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), who plays a larger role this time around and draws the most laughs. Two other old favorites, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), join up as well.
The team’s new member is the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Charismatic, charming and deadly, Faust is a quintessential femme fatale whose loyalties are constantly in question. Ferguson imbues the character with sophistication and tackles her action scenes with a balance of grace and brutality. She’s the best female character the series has offered so far, and, hopefully, she’ll make a comeback in the next film.
“Rogue Nation”’s set pieces are all top-notch in conception and execution. From a cleverly-staged fight at the Vienna opera to a high-speed motorcycle chase in Morocco, “Rogue Nation” never ceases to impress. Cruise does all his own stunts, which ramps up the tension to eleven. The danger looks and feels real because it is real. By forgoing green screens and relying on practical effects, “Rogue Nation” becomes the most effective action picture of the year.
It’s unfortunate that the film’s weakest link is the Syndicate itself. Director and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie doesn’t spend enough time establishing the threat of the villains. He tells the audience about all their evil deeds but never allows them to truly flex their might on screen. The leader of the Syndicate, which Sean Harris plays, does not possess the menace required to make him a credible opponent to Hunt.
In spite of an underwhelming bad guy, “Rogue Nation” bears more in common with the James Bond films of old than Daniel Craig’s movies have so far, but it also forges a path of its own. It’s a mostly light-hearted adventure that lets the darkness creep in at appropriate moments, and it never forgets that practical stunts offer the best thrills of all. Then there’s the charismatic centerpiece himself — Tom Cruise — who proves once again that he’s still got it.
Title: “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”
Running Time: 131 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13