Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin
Plot: Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is tracking a mysterious organisation called the Syndicate, but the conspiracy is much thicker than he imagined and soon he finds himself disavowed and on the run.
Rogue Nation has quickly become that film that is advertised as the movie where Tom Cruise hangs off the side of an airplane (no stunt double, of course – this is Tom Cruise we are talking about here!) What I didn’t realise is that it is the first bloody thing he does.
And it only gets better from there. After the death-defying plane sequence, we blast through set-piece after set-piece. If we could argue that Mission Impossible is once again a little lacking on plot (at least it is not as vague as Ghost Protocol!), it definitely makes up with it on the sheer power of its moments. McQuarrie takes a leaf out of Brian De Palma’s original and focuses his set-pieces more on tension than action. A potential assassination scene plays out so quickly and pulse-poundingly that your heart is in your mouth, before you even realise that the extent of the action is a few punches thrown (OK, there is one pretty awesome ‘Tom Cruise’ kick). McQuarrie understands that we don’t need it, as long as he manages to get us to experience the thrill of the moment. And Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is a lesson on how to do a thriller right. As Ethan Hunt chases a mysterious killer across various countries (while being hounded by the CIA, branding Hunt an enemy of the state), McQuarrie never seems out of his depth at the breakneck plot. The one link Hunt has to go on is the enigmatic Rebecca Ferguson. The fun of the movie is trying to figure out whose side she is on. Is she a bad guy playing to Hunt’s psychology on saving the trapped damsel in distress? Or is she an undercover agent who has to walk so close to the line of the criminal underbelly that the lines are becoming blurred? It makes for some good twists that spice up the middle act, making the movie feel more intelligent than a few terrific action pieces tied together.
Tom Cruise is on fine form as ever. In fact, I really appreciate that, even if this is his fifth time playing the character, he still manages to find some new ground to cover when it comes to characterisation. There is a more desperate and unsure side to the hero. He is referred to as a gambler quite a lot in Rogue Nation. Alec Baldwin’s shady CIA operative bases his whole pitch on disbanding the IMF on the fact that every mission seems to be successful on Ethan Hunt’s luck rather than his skill. On some levels, he is pretty close to the truth. As we get closer and closer to this movie’s endgame, the stakes constantly rising and shifting, Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt more and more like a gambler on the edge of his limit. Is he leading the team on a gamble or making a wise decision? Is he in control? It makes the ensemble side of things feel a little more even. Jeremy Renner might be the straight-faced one, but when Ethan Hunt is losing his cool, he might be the one you want to start making the plans. It added something new to the team and I appreciated Cruise’s conviction. However, Rebecca Ferguson is the star of the show. Sexy, tough and effortlessly cool, she is the most interesting female character to star in a Mission Impossible before. She adds more depth than Paula Patton or Maggie Q’s agents, but feels closer to Thandie Newton’s anti-hero figure, albeit one grounded in a sense of reality. It is her performance that keeps the mystery of whose side she is on ticking over. When she is at her most villainous, it is that brief glance of grief and regret that makes you suspect there is more humanity to her than she is letting on. Her and Cruise make for a great team and her addition almost fades Rhames, Renner and Pegg out. When you have her and Hunt battling their way through a mob of motorcyclist henchmen, who needs Luther sitting at a computer?
Sadly, as a whole, Mission Impossible becomes a victim of its own success. It boasts the most catastrophic plot of them all. This isn’t just an arms dealer or a rogue agent that Hunt needs to take down, but an entire organisation of baddies (SPECTRE, if you will). But despite the talk, it feels strangely by-the-numbers. When the tension is peaking, you can just about figure out how Ethan is going to get away with it. Simply put, we have been here four times before and by now, we know this dance. It doesn’t help that Rogue Nation is strangely absent of identity. Brian De Palma’s original was a lesson in tension, the paranoia of the spy world and pulse-pounding thrills given priority. John Woo’s sequel was a male-orientated, shameless action. J. J Abrams went for a third, more character-based story, focusing on Ethan as a character and adding the action in later. Ghost Protocol was the big set-piece one, taking the heist segments of the other movies and making them crowd-pleasing show-stoppers. Rogue Nation, as it is the first time a director has lasted more than a single movie, goes with the same style, but it never quite escapes the shadow of Ghost Protocol. Yes, the underwater scene without an oxygen tank is terrifically tense, the audience holding its breath throughout, but it doesn’t quite match the awe of seeing Tom Cruise clambering up the Burj Khalifa. It feels like an annoying thing to criticise, but it must be said that Rogue Nation doesn’t quite escape the other movies, coming across as the next instalment rather than a great thriller in its own right. That being said, we’ve hit the fifth in the franchise, perhaps this is the new bar we must set for ourselves. If we get a movie of this quality every other year, I will be a very happy Mission Impossible fan.
Final Verdict: Ethan Hunt does it again. With jaw-dropping set-pieces and ‘heart-in-your-mouth’ tension, there is no slowing Mission Impossible down.