The best scenes in Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation have not been spoiled by the coming attractions trailers, a nice surprise in an age where previews work overtime to summarize (rather than adequately promote) a movie. In fact, the much publicized bit with Tom Cruise hanging outside an airplane (a stunning but actually brief scene) comes at the very beginning and is a mere warm-up.
This time, Impossible Mission Force leader Ethan Hunt (Mr. Cruise) must reunite his team when a rumored “anti-IMF” group, called The Syndicate, comes after him. Hunt collaborates with a mysterious operative (Rebecca Ferguson, in a sensational, star-making turn) who may or may not deserve his trust. Series MVP’s Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner are aboard, as well as a terrific Alec Baldwin and the always welcome Tom Hollander. Nothing here is remotely plausible, let alone “possible.” But when it cooks, it’s exciting.
Combing some of the strongest elements of the prior entries, this plays like a greatest hits medley of the series so far. There’s the stripped down, cloak and dagger elegance of the first film, some of the over the top flamboyance of the second film, the emphasis on spectacle and personal stakes from the third entry and the team dynamic, mixed with thrilling, you-are-there action, of the previous installment. I still think the first in the series, directed with playful but calculated precision by Brian De Palma, remains the finest in the series, while John Woo’s enormously successful but much disliked follow-up is underrated.
The initial trajectory for this franchise seemed to be introducing a visually distinct and well established filmmaker for each entry, which went out the window with the third film. While J.J. Abrams’ helming of part three introduced a needed emotional element and had Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s series-best villain, it lacked the finesse of what came before it. The fourth entry, Ghost Protocol, gave the formula a shot in the arm, as the action and, more importantly, the sense of humor was strengthened.
Another holdover from the first movie that makes a welcome return: the emphasis on silence as a tool to generate suspense. While Joe Kraemer’s score is sufficient enough, the best scenes have no music, few sound effects or no noise at all. There’s an extended sequence, which begins underwater, becomes an outdoor chase, then generates into a different type of chase, that is simply breathtaking. It’s also the film’s peak, coming at the end of the second act. The wrap-up is satisfying, especially for fans of the original Peter Graves television series, though it’s low-key in comparison to everything that came before it. Blending a John Le Carre-like spy drama with Indiana Jones-level spectacle and 007-type action only worked completely for the first movie, though this one tries to be a thinker as well as a seat-grabber.
I missed the hidden domestic life of Ethan Hunt, which only the third film showed us. So much emphasis has been put on Cruise’s above and beyond efforts to make these films, I fear many are forgetting he’s not playing Tom Cruise but an intriguing character. Cruise, again, gives it all he’s got but Hunt keeps us at arm’s length this time.
Rogue Nation is a surprisingly strong entry in terms of the filmmaking. Director Christopher McQuarrie previously made The Year of the Gun and Jack Reacher but is best loved for his work as a screenwriter (having written the still-fantastic The Usual Suspects). In addition to moments that nod to the careful staging of De Palma and the anything-goes operatic qualities of Woo’s film, McQuarrie creates strong imagery that compliments both the film and televised predecessors that inspired it.