It’s rare for a long-running series of movies to actually get better with each successive film, but when you had such a terrible start and an even worse second chapter, there’s nowhere to go but up. And with the fifth in the series of Mission: Impossible movies, they have definitely hit the heights of storytelling and action.
In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Tom Cruise returns as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, now focused on exposing a dangerous group of international terrorists known only as The Syndicate. Many within the government believe The Syndicate is a figment of Hunt’s imagination, or worse, he created the idea of the group to sustain the IMF. Unfortunately, FBI director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) believes the latter and has launched a committee to disband the IMF … which it does while Hunt is still in deep cover in the field.
Hunt’s mission leader, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) has to break the news to Ethan that the IMF is no more, but he refuses to come in. The FBI launches its own mission to find him — something Brandt says they’ll never be able to do — but Ethan finally gets the evidence he need to prove The Syndicate does exist. Brandt, Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) work covertly with Ethan to track the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and a man known only as Lane (Sean Harris), who Ethan believes is the head of The Syndicate. But will he be able to put all the pieces together before the FBI finds him, or will this be the last we’ll see of the Impossible Missions Force?
If Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, is any indication, we should see as many more films in the franchise as star Tom Cruise can physically handle. McQuarrie’s plot is full of twists and turns, always making you wonder just whose side Ilsa is truly on as she bounces back and forth between Lane, MI5 and Ethan. Is she trying to help Ethan, or is she just using him to help The Syndicate? Or is she playing both Lane and Ethan for the British government? It’s a great game of cat and mice that McQuarrie has constructed, making this one of the best Bond films that isn’t a Bond film.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation also has some of the most spectacular action scenes ever committed to film, mainly because Tom Cruise is actually doing the stunts! Yes, that is Cruise hanging onto the side of an airplane (which took him up to 8,000 feet several times). Yes, that is Cruise zipping along winding mountain roads on a motorcycle at 100 MPH millimeters from the road surface. Yes, the is Cruise holding his breath for three minutes during an underwater scene. Say what you will about Cruise the man, but Cruise the actor will go to any length to make these films as authentic as possible.
But for all the outrageous stunts, one of the film’s best scenes involved Hunt, Ilsa and multiple assassins inside the Vienna Opera House. While Ethan stalks one assumed killer, he notices Ilsa also with her sights set on the prime minister. And then there is another on the other side of the opera house as well. With Ethan dispatching the first assassin, and with only a single bullet, who does he take out? It’s a real nail-biter of a scene, and has the feel of a classic 1960s spy thriller.
While it’s great to see the familiar faces of the IMF team, the new cast members inject some welcome new blood into the story. Harris is a remarkably unsettling villain, almost always working remotely, giving directions to his henchmen and constantly playing Ilsa. Having a virtually unknown actor playing a villain makes it easier for the audience to accept, not just watching a famous face play bad.
Rebecca Ferguson is also spectacular as Ilsa, playing the bad girl with just as much ease as the ally. When we first meet her, it seems as if she’s going to torture Ethan, but Lane’s men arrive to take over the job and suddenly she’s helping him escape. We’re just as confused as Ethan and Ferguson gives Ilsa the needed confidence to always keep us guessing as to which side she’s on. It really is a terrific performance.
I know many people gave up on the franchise after the second movie, but once J.J. Abrams took control with the third film, bringing it back to its television roots, the series really found its footing. Brad Bird also did an excellent job direction the fourth film (his first live action film), and McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects and worked with Cruise on Jack Reacher, has given the franchise another injection of pure adrenaline. After a summer of CGI-fuelled action flicks, it’s refreshing to see one that puts the real action front and center to give the audience a very real thrill ride.