Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the good kind of blockbuster. The action feels frenetic and decidedly human, the tension is authentic and wired into a broader context, and the sights don’t feel ripped from a genetic cityscape catalogue. Indeed, Christopher McQuarrie’s 2015 thriller is the fifth entry in the better-than-it-has-any-business-being series and it’s a damn fun ride.
That’s not to say that Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is some sort of flawless masterwork, as there are some significant issues that hamper the proceedings somewhat. The movie has a tendency to run out of gas as it approaches the third act and the finale feels unsatisfying, plus the villain is on the flat side thanks to a mostly generic plot and a less than convincing turn by Sean Harris.
But alas, the fun begins with Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt leading the way as his IMF snags a nerve gas and is subsequently captured by the mysterious Syndicate. This organization is led by Solomon Lane (Harris) and is bent on doing bad things. Hunt escapes capture with the help of Syndicate operative and disavowed MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).
Back in Washington, things are not going well for IMF. CIA Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) leads the charge to shut the agency down, which leads to conflict with IMF Field Operations Director Brandt (Jeremy Renner). This leads to more problems with Hunt out in the field and on the run, but he calls his team together to help stop the Syndicate from their reign of terror.
From the solid pre-credits sequence involving the fine art of getting Hunt on the plane to a tense portion underwater, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation clearly values its action pieces. And Cruise is again up to the task, forging the kind of mythic character he’s used to. When an IMF agent greets him in a record shop, she gushes over his legendary status.
This is as dense a starting point as any and it helps that Cruise is actually showing his age a little. This sets him up not as a ridiculously buff superhero without a costume but rather as a gambling, daring human being who doesn’t always make the right decisions. The plot helps in that regard, especially when Renner’s character actually seems to doubt him for a moment.
That wagering aspect of his character comes into play when he tests Lane when the bad guy has Simon Pegg’s Benji in a compromising position. It suggests that Hunt is willing to make a significant wager and that he may not always have a Plan B, even if things do generally work out for the best. But it’s that notion of risk that drives Hunley to confirm, without a note of irony, that the IMF is antiquated.
Of course, spy movies have made the case for the necessity of espionage for a long time now. Anytime some pesky government agent comes around blathering on about such notions as transparency, enigmatic agencies scramble to maintain their usefulness. They insist on the necessity of their secrecy, of their hard-boiled natures, because the bad guys of today are worse than ever.
Luckily, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation accomplishes this dubious task with a sense of raw fire. Sequences explode off the screen with tautness and sheer power, like the motorcycle chase that has Robert Elswit stick the cameras at road level or the opera house showdown that pilfers from The Man Who Knew Too Much so well that one doesn’t even notice the absence of Doris Day.
Yes, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation floats into dizzying excess. It nods and winks, just like the characters, and attempts the impossible on a routine basis. It presses the pedal solidly to the metal with such assurance that the finale can’t help but register as a disappointment. Hunt and Lane’s rivalry never feels close enough to matter, so the wrap-up routine seems unexceptional.
Still, McQuarrie has crafted a mature yet frantic action blockbuster and that’s a good thing. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation tops the wall-to-wall annihilation of similar movies because it actually plays with suspense and tension. It allows humans to be human, which means it hurts a little when someone slides across the hood of a car and hits the ground on the other side.