The Mission Impossible films, seem to me, to be a director’s franchise. Every 5 years or so we get an installment from a different director, each putting their own spin on the series while continually tightening the formula. This brings us to Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Released nearly twenty years after Brian De Palma’s original, Rogue Nation is perhaps the best of the bunch, delivering a satisfying blend of high-octane action, spectacle, and espionage intrigue. If it weren’t for Mad Max: Fury Road, this would be the best action film of 2015. Everything is firing on all cylinders.
The plot is an oldie but goodie – spies vs. spies. The IMF has been dissolved, absorbed by the CIA (represented here by a charismatic Alec Baldwin), and Ethan Hunt goes rogue once again, hell bent on tracking down the leader of a spy organization as skilled as they are: The Syndicate. This sort of pulpy set up of espionage certainly becomes complicated, but Christopher McQuarrie’s smart screenplay keeps matters from becoming convoluted. This is as clear as I’ve seen a spy film in a long time. McQuarrie is just as superb in the director’s chair as well. There’s a real sophistication here (hello, 007), a real flavor, but he never forgets to inject the film with a palpable sense of danger. Rogue Nation may not be a piece of profound filmmaking, but McQuarrie’s knack for urgency and the unknown ensures that it never becomes meaningless fun.
McQuarrie is aided by Jon Kraemer’s music, which really sets a sense of tone and atmosphere (that slow build up to the orchestral main theme before we even see a frame of the film is superb). Interestingly enough, what is perhaps Rogue Nation‘s best sequence (a haunting, beautiful, giddy spy scene of confusion at a Vienna opera house) is devoid of Kraemer’s score. Instead we are treated to the spooky sounds of the opera, all while Ethan Hunt and Benji (Simon Pegg, who I loved to see back) become entangled in a Syndicate assassination attempt. It is thrilling stuff, with Robert Elswit’s cinematography nearly stealing every moment. For a summer blockbuster, Rogue Nation is a truly gorgeous film.
If I haven’t mentioned Tom Cruise yet, it’s because I almost shouldn’t have to. At age 53 he is still taking other action stars to school, and his 5th turn as super spy Ethan Hunt is as confident, daring, suave, and assured as ever. He simply refuses to act his age, and I mean this as a good thing. Sure, Tom Cruise the actor has been gone since 2004’s Collateral, but Tom Cruise the movie star doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Ethan Hunt has become a thing of legend (I love how Elswit’s cinematography constantly shrouds his face in smoke or shadows). In each and every one of Rogue Nation‘s expertly staged, choreographed, and shot set pieces, whether he’s hanging off the side of a plane or holding his breath for an insane amount of time, Tom Cruise keeps proving that he is this franchise.
And the set pieces are incredible. My personal favorite is a motorcycle chase through Morocco. McQuarrie employs many first person POV shots throughout the chase, and seen in IMAX it is truly exhilarating. All of the action in Rogue Nation is filmed crisply and edited in such a way as to give it a flowing cadence that really pulled me to the edge of my seat, and kept a smile stretched across my face. McQuarrie’s script is really a combination of clever dialogue scenes (although the 3rd act does get perhaps a bit too exposition-heavy) stringing together these enormous set pieces, with his direction drenching everything in a heavy atmosphere of smoky espionage.
I haven’t even mentioned my favorite part of the film – Rebecca Ferguson. Her character, Isla Faust, is far more complex than anyone else in the film (for all of his charisma, Ethan Hunt is really just “the legend” here). Ferguson plays her perfectly. She’s a fellow spy, but her loyalties remain perpetually hazy. McQuarrie is smart to keep the camera close to her face, as her eyes scream mystery. She brings an air of the unknown to the performance, and it’s that unknowable quality that makes her so captivating. She’s the main reason why this is the best Mission Impossible yet.
★★★★ out of 5