A film review by Craig J. Koban August 6, 2015

RANK: 12



2015, PG-13, 131 mins.


Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt  /  Jeremy Renner as William Brandt  /  Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn  /  Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa  /  Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell  /  Alec Baldwin as Hanley   /  Sean Harris as Solomon Lane 

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie  /  Screenplay by Drew Pearce and Will Staples

There’s a sly and wonderful moment in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION that fully evokes why Tom Cruise is the most commanding movie star in the world. 

During the scene one of Ethan Hunt’s (Cruise) allies explains the details of his team’s upcoming mission.  It involves infiltrating a ridiculously secure server room that happens to be underwater.  Unfortunately for Hunt, the only way in is via a rather dangerous dive through a centrifuge chamber that could tear him apart, followed by being underwater for up to three minutes (without a breathing apparatus...don't ask) in order to arrive at a network storage bunker that he must reprogram to allow entry topside to another fellow agent.  She matter-of-factly tells Hunt that the mission, for all intents and purposes, is “impossible.”  Cruise, in pure Tom Cruise-ian fashion, replies to her – and the audience – with an all-knowing, self-referential grin.  

Nothing is impossible for this IMF agent, a concept that Hunt – and the makers behind this film – wisely understand. 

I don’t get.  I really don’t get it.  Somehow…someway…the makers behind this MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film – the fifth in the 19-year-old franchise – have managed to make a series entry that’s impossibly better than 2011’s already spectacular GHOST PROTOCOL (which I gave four stars and thought was the finest in the series thus far).  There have been so decidedly few (actually, make that no) established film franchises that have become progressively finer with age as well as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, which manages to make the continuing exploits of the aging – but no less risky and nimble – Hunt increasingly more thrilling and enthralling.  At a time in a series when fifth films become stale and exhaustingly tedious, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION miraculously and improbably continues the resurgence of this old spy and globe-trotting franchise, which also revels in finding devious ways of putting Hunt (and Cruise) in harm’s way.  You can debate the star’s frequently questionable off-screen politics until the proverbial cows come home, but there’s no denying that, on screen in these films, he’s the most crazily dedicated and courageous mainstream actor working today.  



Just how crazily dedicated and courageous, you may ask?  The series has always been one that dispenses with realism and instead operates as a breathlessly exhilarating engine designed to wow and thrill us, but GHOST PROTOCOL took the series to whole new levels of derring-do for Cruise.  After all, this is the same actor that defied death and hung outside of Dubai’s Burji Khalifa high-rise in that film, without the usage of green screens or computer-generated fakery.  Just when I thought that I've finally reached a point where I was able to pick my jaw up from the floor after watching that, ROGUE NATION proves me wrong and sensationally opens with the 53-year-old star leaping onto the wing of a gigantic Russian cargo plane that’s careening down a Minsk runway.  Unable to get inside, Hunt clings for dear life outside of the plane as it takes off.  Most films would be content with making this scene their epic climax, but ROGUE NATION displays raw and unhinged nerve by thrusting audiences right into the thick of things from the very beginning.  And, yes, Cruise rather famously did this stunt without a double or any sleight of hand visual effects trickery.  It’s simply one of the most remarkably conceived openings for a movie ever to grace the silver screen. 

Things do settle down for Hunt and company, but not for long, as CIA boss Hunley (Alec Baldwin) yearns to shunt down the IMF once and for all for their questionable, unorthodox, and dangerous methods.  Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is forced to see this transpire from the inside alongside Hunley, whereas Hunt decides to go on the run, elude CIA capture, and venture throughout multiple countries to seek out the head of “The Syndicate” (or anti-IMF), whose been conspiring to frame Hunt, the IMF, and make their lives a living hell.  Solomon Lane (played with reptilian levels of oozing wickedness by Sean Harris) heads The Syndicate and will stop at nothing to eradicate Hunt, leaving the disgraced hero seeking out his pals in tech guru Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) to all go rogue from their own country to stop this madman.  The trio also has an ally – or is she? – in IIsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a British field agent whose loyalties seem foggy and questionable throughout the story. 

GHOST PROTOCOL’s highly competent helmer Brad Bird is out this go around, replaced by Christopher McQuarrie, the Oscar winning screenwriter of THE USUAL SUSPECTS and recent collaborator with Cruise on the very underrated JACK REACHER.  Part of the appeal and pleasure of watching each new installment in this franchise is in seeing how Cruise (also producer) nabs one acclaimed director after another to give each new film its own unique look and feel.  After the stylish aesthetic of Brain De Palma for the first film, the bombastic and ballet-like action sequence staging of John Woo for part 2, the thrilling showmanship of a then rookie feature director J.J. Abrams for part 3 and Bird for ROGUE NATION, McQuarrie seems more than equal to the task of fully delivering on the requisite levels classic espionage mayhem and thrills.  He also intuitively understands that the best approach with this sequel is to not be slavish in look and feel to the films that preceded it, and ROGUE NATION is a confident and assured action thriller representing McQuarrie at the zenith of his directorial might. 

Again, naysayers of logic and realism need to give their collective heads a shake before entering ROGUE NATION.  This series ostensibly exists to propel us from one preposterously exciting set piece to the next, but all done with an almost classical, old school film allure that also just happens to make usage of state-of-the-art effects.  Thankfully, ROGUE NATION finds a routine manner of keeping its momentum even after the aforementioned opening sequence, like, for instance, a masterfully staged fisticuff brawl between Hunt and an assassin that's set atop of rickety scaffolding above a Vienna Opera presenting Puccini’s “Turandot” (it’s the closet that the franchise has come to approaching pure levels of Hitchcockian artifice).  The film then follows that up with more action sequences of startling bravado, like what’s surely the greatest motorcycle chase sequence of recent memory, showing Hunt dodging multiple oncoming cars while disposing of his fellow crotch rocket riding baddies with lethal precision.  

And it sure as hell looks like Cruise, yet again, is front and center in these moments, harnessing them with a nonchalant throw-caution-to-the-wind detachment, almost like it’s all in a day’s work for both Hunt and the actor.  Now, my cold analytical mind told me while watching Cruise command these scenes that McQuarrie and his team used exemplary editorial choices and superlative and invisible VFX techniques to make them stand out as the titanic achievements they are.  Yet, it’s Cruise sheer energetic willpower – and maybe some daredevil levels of showmanship insanity – to wholeheartedly deliver what series fans want at a time in his life and career when he should be settling down for less hazardous fare.  Last I checked, there are not many contemporaries in Cruise’s field that cheerfully abscond away from using stunt doubles and are willing to go to inane extremes to entertain his fans.  ROGUE NATION is an awe-inspiring celebration of the magnetic power of a movie star at full command of his unique skill set.

Cruise has wonderful company, though, in the likes of series regulars Pegg, Rhames, and Renner, all of whom are predictably dependable and stellar in their supporting turns (they always have the thankless task of looking credibly stoic even amidst the film’s most ridiculous events).  Nearly stealing Hunt’s thunder is IIsa, and the long legged, dark haired Swedish beauty Ferguson more than holds her own both mentally and physically against Hunt as a secret agent of cunning wits and deadly dexterity.  The fact that this series still manages – at this late stage in the game – to drum up femme fetale/anti-heroes featuring empowered actresses that help elevate the underling material is frankly remarkable.  The give-and-take game of cerebral one-upmanship that Hunt and IIsa partake in during ROGUE NATION – not to mention the chemistry between Ferguson and Cruise – makes the series feel fresh and alive.   

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION is simply one of the finest late-in-a-series sequels ever made.  There’s no other way to slice it.  With McQuarrie’s swiftly and effortlessly cool and collected direction, a wonderfully game cast, stunning visuals (Robert Elswit’s cinematography paints a lush and epically sprawling canvas ranging from locations as varied as London to Vienna to Casablanca), and an unpretentious collective desire to astound us, ROGUE NATION never tries to do anything more than envision a summer tenpole/popcorn entertainment that continues to unequivocally deliver on its intended levels.  For certain, you may incredulously shake your head at the film’s implausible plot developments and twists and turns (some of which I’m still trying to process), but it won’t matter because you’ll be too busy incredulously shaking your heads more at the thought of how damn good this film is in pure hindsight.  And Cruise – much like Hunt on his many adventures – continually shrugs off notions that making a new MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film that tops its predecessor is…impossible.  As the creative ringmaster behind this series in front of and behind the camera, he’s got this series right where he wants it…and it’s a sight to behold.


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