Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF (Impossible Mission Force) buddies are back in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. The fifth film in the action-spy series that was based on a television series, this franchise is really turning into an American Bond, complete with many of the same pluses and minuses.
The first is definitely the dominant trait in Rogue Nation, which continues the Mission: Impossible standard of a new director with each installment. This time out it’s the lesser-known Christopher McQuarrie, who worked with Cruise in Jack Reacher. McQuarrie also wrote the script, along with Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3). That screenplay is a rather easy one on the surface, if complicated in the telling. Basically, Mr. Hunt and the rest of IMF have been saving the world and causing a little too much collateral damage along the way. Destroying major Russian landmarks will do that. The American government, especially the CIA, isn’t fond of this and works to shut down IMF at a time when Ethan is, well, on the hunt for an organization called The Syndicate, a mysterious group deemed to be “an Anti-IMF,”
In other words; Tom Cruise versus a bunch of people again.
That isn’t a bad thing. Watching Cruise duck punches, run in his iconic manner, struggle to install gadgets and hang on the side of an airplane is kind of what the man does best. McQuarrie stages these set-pieces exquisitely. Two in particular breathlessly pop. The former is set in Vienna, where Ethan and his nerdy partner (a returning Simon Pegg) end up combatting The Syndicate and trying to save a major politician’s life in the midst of a lavishly staged opera. The use of that show’s music, interweaved with multiple could-be enemies, inventive contraptions and well-organized fisticuffs is superbly suspenseful. The latter sequence includes Ethan desperately holding his breath underwater, a gripping motorcycle chase and effortless comedic bits, running close to a half-hour altogether. This chunk, all set in Morocco, could arguably be the best scene in the series to date.
All of this aided by a great new addition; Rebecca Ferguson. The actress, best known for her work on the television series “The White Queen,” is a double-agent, possible triple-agent, definitely kick-ass agent. Quick with a knife and faster to turn her back on cohorts, Ferguson’s Ilsa is an enigmatic figure and McQuarrie and company give her quite a few moments to show her intelligence and deadliness. Ferguson plays it bluntly, with a “That’s what I do” presence. Plus, unlike a certain ridiculous high-heel running heroine from a dinosaur film, Ilsa takes her damn shoes off when getting physical.
What keeps Rogue Nation from greatness is the narrative. Like the aforementioned Bond pictures, Mission: Impossible is kind of stuck in a loop of antagonists that are either ex-agents, have lists of agents or are looking to blow up some part of the world. This can work. Brian de Palma’s original feature played the espionage and back-stabbing with intelligence and quality villainy. Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol lacked an innately interesting nemesis, but made up for it in slick plotting and an engaging set of arcs for its ensemble. Rogue Nation doesn’t do either. Outside of the Ferguson flipping, the story is a bit of a clunker, making for a final act that doesn’t quite land its punches at all times, even if thrills are still abound. Whether or not Baldwin’s CIA head catches Hunt or Mr. Glasses bad-guy succeeds fails to click as precisely as the action McQuarrie conjures.