Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation had me at Tom Cruise actually hanging on the outside of a plane! From minute one of Rogue Nation verifies that the Mission: Impossible series increases in quality the more Cruise (and his producing team) surrender to the filmmaker that they hire to steer the franchise. J.J Abrams did the seemingly impossible; after John Woo and Pantene attempted murder; he revitalised the franchise with the added pressure of Cruise at his most conservative. The last outing Ghost Protocol, helmed by Pixar/Simpsons alumni Brad Bird, brought a sense of spectacle and much needed self-effacing humour to the series. Now frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (writer/director of Jack Reacher, writer of LIVE. DIE. REPEAT) brings formidable foes, thrilling practical stunts and some actual espionage to what this reviewer believes is the best entry yet.
When Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is called out to a new mission, he’s lured into a trap by shadowy organisation, ‘The Syndicate,’ an international group of disavowed spies reigning chaos across the globe. When double agent, Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) sets Hunt free, he goes on the run and will stop at nothing to find the identity of their mysterious bespectacled leader. Meanwhile Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Benji (Simon Pegg) must fight off the CIA, namely director Hunley (Alec Baldwin), from destroying the IMF before they can stop The Syndicate.
You can’t help but love having such an incredible movie fan like McQuarrie at the helm and he wears it on its sleeve. It seems like every location that he wanted to visit on the map were the iconic espionage locations. From Cuba, to Paris, to Vienna and of course, one can’t say ‘spy’ without thinking of London. However, when Hunt and the team have to infiltrate secure location in Casablanca in Morocco, you can’t help but see that McQuarrie isn’t merely echoing the location of the canonical Casablanca, that inspired the title of his Oscar winning screenplay (The Usual Suspects), but also constructing a comparable mix of players toying with establishment and rebellion. McQuarrie makes the audience aware that on an elemental level, Hunt is a ‘gambler,’ willing to bet his life on uncertain outcomes. Much like Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca, Hunt must continuously let his instinct guide his game plan to outwit his competitors on the other side of this figurative table. McQuarrie also finally elevates the stakes away from arms dealers and former IMF agents as foes from the previous films. Instead, the ‘Syndicate’ or ‘Rogue Nation’ is an elaborate “anti-IMF” stacking the deck with a small army of mercenary spies from the full suite of international covert operations to orchestrate assassinations, bring about industrial disasters and bring about a state of anarchy. It’s a bigger but ultimately more frightening foe than we’ve seen in the series before and their leader, played by Sean Harris, is ice cold. It’s a dense script and the multiple players, twists and turns steadily kept me guessing for the duration.
The action charges up your adrenaline in a way that flicker the Mad Max: Fury Road muscle memories lying sadly dormant through this lacklustre blockbuster season. In the large set-piece that opens the film you see the incredible stunt that sees Cruise hanging off the outside of a A400m Airbus but its just one excellent action sequence in a film riddled with them. McQuarrie gifts us an exquisitely choreographed opera assassination sequence in Vienna, and a sensational car and motorcycle chase sequence that roars and reverberates through the cramped stone streets in Casablanca.
Tom Cruise is sensational returning as Ethan Hunt. Cruise will completely flaw you with his commitment to stunts that have bigger stakes than ever. McQuarrie disavows the ‘getting to know you’ or ‘let’s humanise Ethan/Tom’ from the previous entries and get back to the legend and he lays on the mystique. It’s a harder, tougher and endearingly reckless Hunt once again. The relationship that he forms across from his co lead Rebecca Ferguson though is the glue holding the barrage of thrills together. Ferguson’s Ilsa is part Ingrid Bergman part Ronda Rousey and one of the coolest and most capable female characters that I can remember in any spy franchise. She’s beautiful, mysterious, great with a knife, her character’s arc runs in parallel to Hunt’s walking the tight rope between being in deep in the syndicate, and maintaining ties to government/IMF. It’s never quite explained why there’s an innate trust between the characters and it really doesn’t have to be. That ‘gambler’ quality in Ethan sees something in Ilsa and they’re drawn to the cause.
Simon Pegg is so wonderful again as Benji, who with every mission continues to grown in capability and mettle to the point that he’s almost on an equal playing field with Ethan. He’s no doubt still one of the funniest elements of the film, most derived out of whether Ethan is impervious, until he’s not, and Pegg delivering lines that serve as the audience’s inner monologue coming to life. Jeremy Renner doesn’t seem to be there to carry the torch of Ethan Hunt as it seemed to have been laid down in Ghost Protocol. This time around, his primary role is that of a liaison to the government agencies and CIA, across from the frustrated director Hunley (Alec Baldwin), delivering dry one liners. Baldwin has his characteristic toughness and stature, but his ability to deliver dialogue right on the edge of ridiculous with that straight-faced sincerity plays his comedic strengths. McQuarrie has the perfect writing tone for Baldwin and vice-versa. Ving Rhames comes back into the mix, and he’s still the grizzly bear sized tech wizard of days past. For his time in the film, he’s mostly making up a great double act alongside Brandt.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is exceptionally made, insane fun and the best this series has to offer and then some.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (story/screenplay) and Drew Pearce (story)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Hermione Corfield