In the opening moments of “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” Tom Cruise hangs onto the outside of a giant A400 cargo transport plane as it takes off. Cruise did the stunt himself (the safety harnesses have been digitally removed), and you won’t be able to stifle as a gasp as the ground gets farther and farther away.
“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is riding point on the backlash against CGI action sequences, and God bless it. It’s even shot on film (yes, they still make film) which makes this impressive production even more distinctive. Like this summer’s earlier action extravaganza “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the stunts here are largely done practical. That means real vehicles, and real stunt professionals (and Cruise himself) taking real risks. The movie’s action centerpiece, a high-speed motorcycle chase, is literally breathtaking, in part because Cruise is plainly doing at least some of the stunt riding himself. That sequence, by the way, is probably one of the best sequences ever done, no mean feat considering the movies’ long love affair with motorcycle action scenes. (“Hell’s Angels on Wheels,” “Electra Glide in Blue,” “Mad Max,” “Mission: Impossible II” and “The Matrix Reloaded” would be only a very partial list.)
Cruise insolently refuses to age. No actor this side of Kurt Russell has kept himself in better shape for longer, or kept his matinee idol looks intact longer. His M:I character Ethan Hunt still mixes it up in martial arts fight scenes with hordes of baddies and makes it look believable. In fact it’s a little hard, at this point, to understand why Cruise’s name doesn’t surface more readily in a discussion of top male action stars. The “Mission: Impossible” movies alone should suffice, but when you throw in “Top Gun,” “Minority Report,” “The Last Samurai” and “Jack Reacher,” his status in the action realm seems clear.
“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is not just a stunt show, however. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie’s script is a genuinely good spy yarn; a crisp, linear story punctuated by entertaining plot twists. You may guess some of them ahead of time, but not all of them, and that’s the fun. Hunt’s Impossible Mission Force is finally formally disbanded, Hunt himself has gone rogue and is on the run, ducking the CIA while hunting the mysterious Syndicate, an über-terrorist organization run by the mysterious and ruthless Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who emerges as the series’ best villain since the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Alec Baldwin has been added as an antagonistic bureaucrat, a role he could have done in his sleep. Fanboy demigod Simon Pegg makes his third appearance as Q substitute Benji Dunn, and fans of the franchise would have staged a revolt were he not in the movie. Ving Rhames, who’s been in all the “Mission: Impossible” movies, wears his Luther Stickell role like a favorite suit. Jeremy Renner doesn’t get to do much more than hold Cruise’s coat in this one, but the inclusion of his character, introduced in the last installment, “Ghost Protocol,” is still a welcome addition. Rebecca Ferguson adds substantial voltage to the established cast as Ilsa Faust (really?), an ass-kicking femme fatale whose loyalties are unclear and who gives Hunt a run for his money – literally. It’s to the movie’s credit that Ilsa isn’t anyone’s love interest in this story, a development that would have been obligatory in a Bond movie.
McQuarrie, who leaped to prominence as a screenwriter with 1995’s “The Usual Suspects,” has been emerging as a Cruise go-to guy ever since he wrote “Valkyrie” in 2008. Since then he’s written the Cruise-starring “Jack Reacher,” which he also directed, and “The Edge of Tomorrow.” As a director, he may not be as flashy as Brian DePalma, who directed the first “Mission: Impossible” movie, or John Woo, who directed the second, but his approach here is just about dead-on perfect. This is a self-assured, no-nonsense, crisp production from beginning to end, with relentless momentum. The location cinematography by Oscar®-winning director of photography Robert Elswitt, who shot last year’s superb “Nightcrawler,” is evocative, and would hold its own with any Bond movie. The music score, by Joe Kraemer (“Jack Reacher”), wisely makes liberal use of Lalo Schifrin’s original “Mission: Impossible” theme, while audaciously incorporating strains of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” from the opera “Turandot.” (An early assassination attempt takes place at the Vienna State Opera House during a production of “Turandot,” also recalling, intentionally or not, the climax of Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”)
A dizzyingly adrenalized piece of big screen entertainment from beginning to end, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is easily one of the most satisfying big movies of the summer and one of the best in the series. Do yourself a favor: see it on the big screen. Your flat screen isn’t anywhere big enough to this one justice. Exciting, suspenseful, sometimes funny and frequently spectacular, “M:I 5” delivers the goods with style and a vengeance.