“Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation” Movie Review

    It’s hard to imagine just how difficult it must be to draw up an original looking action sequence for a franchise tentpole like “Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation”, the now fifth installment in the long running series.  The many talented filmmakers who have their fingerprints on the franchise have all likely struggled in this area, competing both with the previous films as well as other spy franchises such as the “Bond” films and to a certain extent, the “Fast and the Furious” films as well.  You have to wonder, what else can they do with your typical gun fight or car chase?  And yet, these films all seem to continue to produce the kind of spectacle that has audiences lining up to see them and “Rogue Nation” is certainly no exception.  Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt and brings with him the kind of energy and relentless pace which has become his trademark of sorts in keeping the “Mission: Impossible” series going after its debut in 1996.  It’s debatable as to which film in the series is the best, but most will agree “Ghost Protocol” was, perhaps, the most exhilarating of the bunch and created a new standard of which future installments would naturally be required to meet.  To that extent, “Rogue Nation” more than succeeds and also provides an equally as efficient storyline filled with the kind of twists and double crosses these films have made us accustomed to.

     The directing reigns this time were given to Christopher McQuarrie, a veteran of only two feature films (“The Way of the Gun”, “Jack Reacher”), but a highly accomplished screenwriter who won an Academy Award for his “The Usual Suspects” screenplay in 1995 and also collaborated with Cruise writing screenplays for “Valkyrie” and last year’s “Edge of Tomorrow”.  Here, McQuarrie utilizes the action film chops he used so effectively in “The Way of the Gun” and combines them with the smooth, atmospheric storytelling which made “The Usual Suspects” such a potent crime thriller.  The result is a rousing and snappy narrative that is perfect for Cruise’s acting style and a tone that stays consistent with the series, but also puts McQuarrie on that short list of directors capable of orchestrating a project that carries such high stakes.

     As was the case with McQuarrie’s previous work, the most dangerous characters in “Rogue Nation” are shadowy and mysterious in ways that always keep you guessing exactly who’s on whose side and what their intentions are from scene to scene.  One of the most promising attributes of the film is the fact the dramatic portions of the story never seem like they exist solely to move us to the next action set piece, a common problem of so many films these days.  “Rogue Nation” has such a rich and detailed story that the action scenes instead blend seamlessly and occur as if they are actually the next logical step in a sequence, rather than the usual gun battle that appears more obligatory.  The filmmakers, and more specifically, the marketing department, made a wise decision to publicize the fact Cruise did the stunt where he is hanging on for dear life outside of an airplane as it takes off.  The scene is shown in its near entirety in the trailer and was even explained in a behind the scenes featurette shown in theaters in the months leading up to the premiere.  Had this been a significant scene in the film, it would have given too much away.  Because the scene is the opening of the film and has nothing to do with the actual plot, McQuarrie is able to begin with a tremendous stunt that effectively sets the stage, and can then settle into his own style which focuses on the many characters that make up multiple spy networks all over the globe.

     Ethan Hunt (Cruise) finds himself at a crossroads almost immediately.  With the CIA now run by a new director, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), the Impossible Missions Force now finds itself in danger of being disbanded while Hunt is in the middle of attempting to determine the existence of a mysterious international spy ring called The Syndicate.  Needless to say, aside from Hunt’s crew of regulars, Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), and Brandt (Jeremy Renner), no one can be trusted and every contact could be a potential enemy.  Even a British agent named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who assists Hunt in a brutal confrontation early in the film seems to change sides each time he runs into her as her intentions are always left in question.  There appears to be a shadowy figure lurking behind the scenes and running the operation against Hunt and the rest of the world from a far, but finding him and avoiding various other pitfalls is what comprises the adventure this time around.

     Aside from an outstanding script filled with timely and sometimes comedic dialogue, McQuarrie shows he is more than capable of directing action sequences that are both exhilarating and original, some of which will leave you breathless. Ok, that was an attempt at a pun since one sequence has Hunt submerging himself into a water filled computer where he must change the saved profile of a person who has access to a ultra secure vault in time to allow Benji to access it before being killed himself.  The problem being the computer can detect anything metal in the water, thus meaning Hunt has to hold his breath for three minutes without the assistance of any oxygen tanks.  McQuarrie does a masterful job in ratcheting up the tension in the scene, ingeniously using a gimmick in the form of a wrist device Hunt wears that tells him and the audience how much air he has left in his lungs.  Notable car and motorcycle chase sequences later in the film also feature their fair share of hairpin turns at thrilling levels of speed.

     Above all, “Rogue Nation” is your prototypical star vehicle and Cruise, as usual, is more than game to provide the kind of presence and unmatched energy the role requires of him.  Though he hasn’t exactly been able to succeed financially speaking in some of his recent work (“Jack Reacher” was intended to be a franchise itself, but underperformed at the box office.), there is no doubt the “Mission: Impossible” franchise still has plenty of life and may even someday be able to accomplish what the “Bond” films have been doing for decades and recast the lead character.  As for now with an already promised sixth installment, Cruise has shown he is more than capable of carrying the series to even bigger heights in the future.  There really is no telling what he will come up with next, but we do know he will almost certainly be performing the required stunts himself.  GRADE: B+