Let’s get one thing clear: Tom Cruise is America’s version of Jackie Chan. He insists on doing most of his own stunts for the sake of art (and probably because he likes to live on the edge). Which may explain the free-climbing he did in Utah’s Dead Horse Point (as seen in Mission: Impossible 2) or scaling the side of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), the tallest building in the world.
Stinger may have told Cruise’s Maverick in Top Gun that his ego was writing checks his body couldn’t cash, but in real life Cruise is sitting atop a gold mine built on being the best at what he does: an action star. It’s incomparable; his willingness to do more than actors half his age. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is no exception.
Promotion of the fifth installment in the lucrative franchise has been squarely on one particular stunt. Trailers, television ads, and the poster unabashedly show Cruise clinging to an Airbus A400M cargo plane as it makes its ascension. Though attached with a harness, Cruise’s eyes remain open thanks to specialized contact lenses that protected him from small flecks of debris and hard air currents. This was no one and done stunt either. The scene was shot eight times!
That sequence pretty much sums up the success of the Mission: Impossible series. The spectacular stunts have defined the franchise for nearly two decades. Always has been, and will likely continue if the demand is there.
By now the narrative follows a set pattern. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) get disavowed by the government. They go rogue and become ghosts in attempt to elude capture while at the same time trying to stop the latest super terrorist threat. Once that’s done, the government realizes how much of an asset the IMF is and reinstates the team and everyone goes about their business.
After the events of Ghost Protocol, where one minute the Kremlin is a splendid piece of architecture and the next minute it’s destroyed by a bomb, the IMF becomes absorbed by the CIA, with Benji (Simon Pegg) riding a desk, deciphering and writing computer code, and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) in a bureaucratic position. As for Hunt, well he’s gone Kyser Soze. A phantom. Now he’s one of CIA’s most wanted. (Cue Lalo Schifrin’s classic TV theme.)
The CIA’s search for Hunt is just a side plot – something that will get other members of IMF off the sidelines and into the game. The fifth Mission: Impossible centers on the Syndicate, a shadowy organization responsible for numerous acts of terror. They are an anti-IMF, comprised of former special operatives from around the globe (MI6, Mossad, et al.) believed to be dead. They get the drop on Hunt early on, and like a chess Grandmaster make calculated moves which inevitably manipulates Hunt and his team to pull off a heist at yet another impenetrable structure. The complex scheme leads to a high-speed motorcycle chase only to then lead to a plot to kidnap the Prime Minister of England. Throw in a kick-ass MI6 double agent (Rebecca Ferguson) and stopovers in Vienna, Morocco, and London, and Rouge Nation checks off the essentials in insuring that this is indeed a Mission: Impossible movie.
The filmmakers even made sure that this latest impossible mission emphasizes Ethan Hunt’s precognitive skills. It’s rather inane that one of the film’s recurring themes is the IMF’s constant reliance on Hunt and his gut instinct. Described as being the “living manifestation of destiny,” Hunt needs to seek Gamblers Anonymous. He’ll either play his cards to close or look to win the pot with only a three of a kind. The guy is irresponsible to a fault but oh so good at his job of saving the day that most will forgive his false intuition.
With the action controlling the story of Rogue Nation, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton (who is a frequent collaborator with Matthew Vaughn on Kick Ass and X-Men: First Class) keep the pace fast with little in the way of down time. Beginning with Ethan Hunt hopping a ride on a cargo plane; fisticuffs and assassination attempt during an opera; the already mentioned heist (the less said about its complicatedness the better); and chases on foot and on class S 1000 RR BMW motorcycles through winding roads of Casablanca, the sequences are beautifully photographed by Robert Elswit. The cinematographer for There Will Be Blood, The Bourne Legacy and the recent Nightcrawler, Elswit plays with light and dark in creating a cloak and dagger atmosphere, not unlike what Robert Krasker expertly achieved with Carol Reed’s The Third Man.
Rogue Nation may not have the best villain (that honor would go to Philip Seymour Hoffman in M:I III) but it may have the best intangibles. The film has a sleek look thanks to Elswit, and Rebecca Ferguson makes for a great action heroine. Cruise may get top billing, but she more than holds her own as a spy that may be playing both sides for her own personal gain.
I’m sensing a pattern now. Properly executed action and a strong female lead. Only one other film this summer had both: Mad Max: Fury Road. Funnily enough, both are the best tentpole pictures of summer 2015.
Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to have some escapist fun. Go see Rogue Nation.
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin
Running Time: 131 minutes
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity)