Synopsis: Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF. (From IMDB)
Review: The first Mission Impossible film exploded on screen in 1996. Since then, Tom Cruise and company keep breathing life into the franchise. Rogue Nation, the fifth installment, shows that Cruise is not retiring Ethan Hunt anytime soon. Cruise is the quintessential action star and shines the brightest when he is running for his life across the screen. Everyone else provides the acting chops to keep the movie going. As with the other films, Rogue Nation is full of spy gadgets, double crosses, high tech disguises, and impossible infiltration techniques. Over the past twenty years, the people behind Mission Impossible have perfected the delivery of fictional espionage and spectacular action sequences. This film includes such stunts as racing a motorcycle through the crowded streets of Morocco, leaping from a moving plane, flying off the roof of the Vienna Opera House, and swimming underwater for an extended period of time. The overarching narrative is not overly complicated and is rather vague at times. However, it is still a lot of fun and is one of the better installments in the franchise.
All the Mission Impossible films have been helmed by different directors, such as Brad Bird, Brian De Palma, JJ Abrams, and John Woo. Each movie has managed to maintain somewhat consistent levels of suspense, espionage, character development, suspense, and stunt work. However, Rogue Nation is the first film in the franchise to be directed and written by the same filmmaker. This is one of the reasons why MI5 feels the most structured. While Christopher McQuarrie does not possess the same flamboyance as preceding director Brad Bird, the film is stylistic similar to Ghost Protocol due to using the same cinematographer, Robert Elswit. Unlike Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation has a darker feel and a muted color palette. McQuarrie’s take on the IMF is a great ride. There are impressive stunts and a stronger story that utilizes all the maim players in the IMF team. While Ghost Protocol contains impressive stunts, Rogue Nation is narratively stronger and is better film character development wise.
When Rogue Nation begins, the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) is in trouble. The actions of the previous films have landed the team in trouble with the US Government. CIA Director Alan Hunley, played by Alec Baldwin, argues for the dissolution of the IMF and absorb the best assets into the CIA. And that cannot happen until Ethan Hunt is back in the US, which proves quite difficult as he is quite close to uncovering the identities and motives of the people running The Syndicate. This is the shadowy organization that is bent on destroying the IMF and is run by the villainous Solomon Lane, played by Sean Harris. Lane is a deluded person who decides mass annihilation is a synonym for salvation. Cue a dangerous cat-and-mouse chase spanning Vienna, Morocco, London, and the United States. Messages are carefully encrypted and broken. Bank accounts are filled, emptied, and subsequently deleted. Naturally everyone wears a mask, both latex and figuratively.
Aging action stars sometimes go to great lengths in order to stay relevant. Recent examples include A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), The Expendables 3 (2014), and Terminator: Genisys (2015), which all make fun of the fact that the once-strapping leading action stars are past their physical prime. However, the Mission Impossible franchise refuses to kowtow to Cruise’s age. Of course it helps that Cruise has managed to stay in fantastic shape. While the film contains a bit of deft stunt work and digital tricks, Cruise remains a great physical performer. Like Ethan Hunt, Cruise is a daredevil and professional. His trademark is performing his own stunts, so he stays in the best shape possible for his age. While he is no longer quite as limber as he was in 1996, he can still hold his own against the newest crop of action star wannabes. Cruise has a documented dislike for green screens. So all the stunts involved in the film are done the old fashioned way, with wires and mattresses and little-to-no digital enhancements. This gives the film an authentic feel because everything looks real.
Acting wise, the film is full of some great performances. Alec Baldwin, not one of my favorite actors, is perfect as the antagonistic CIA director who pesters the IMF team. Poor Benji, played by Simon Pegg, endures the brunt of the pestering and constantly has his loyalty questioned. Pegg’s character is expanded beyond the typical comic relief figure with an arsenal of marginally performing gadgets. Benji is expanded into an indispensable member of the team and is given a lot of screen time. It is refreshing too see the computer whizz given an expanded role and become Hunt’s sidekick. Cruise and Pegg have excellent acting chemistry and play off each other’s emotions incredibly well. In comparison, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames are rather sidelined in comparison. Renner spends most of the film jumping from scene-to-scene looking concerned. Though he gets to wear some sharply tailored suits. Rhames shows up, fiddles around on a computer, delivers several warnings liners, and then disappears. However, this is still a lot more screen time than Jingchu Zhang is given, despite prominent billing. Blink and you will miss her one scene.
Rebecca Ferguson is brought on to portray Ilsa Faust, a double agent with suspect motives. Rogue Nation is her first major blockbuster. She won the part due to Cruise enjoying her work on the mini-series The White Queen. Ferguson delivers an engaging and strong performance. The character is rather thinly developed, but Ferguson does her best with the material. While she is more than a match acting wise for Cruise, they do not have a particularly strong on-screen chemistry. There are glimpses of it, but it is not overly apparent. Unfortunately, given the franchise’s tendency to not have consistent female leads, it is unlikely that Ferguson will appear in future installments. Tom Cruise excels at playing himself. As with the other Mission Impossible films, he has just enough dialogue to be interesting and a lot of scenes where he does a lot of impressive stunts. Basically, he runs for his life and issues some imperative sentences.
Overall, Rogue Nation is a solid summer blockbuster. The pacing is mostly excellent. There are a few scenes that slow down the narrative a tad. However, it does not drag in an overly noticeable manner. The opening scene grabs the viewers’ attention and the action keeps going until the final shot.