Like many film fans, I have a love/hate relationship with Tom Cruise. He’s been in a lot of great movies, but he’s also one of the most narcissistic people in Hollywood, and that’s saying something in an industry where just about everyone spends more time gazing in the mirror than anything else. Even with the Mission: Impossible movies, based on a beloved TV series from my childhood, the same problem has surfaced. Certainly Mission: Impossible III is barely watchable, and should have more aptly been titled “Tom Cruise IS Mission: Impossible” or similar. But then installment #4, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol came out and it was terrific, with a smart storyline, some breathtaking stunts, a pulsing soundtrack, and a movie that just keeps slamming along from glamorous location to glamorous location. Even the acting was good and it wasn’t all about Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), though he does have a lot more screen time than anyone else in the cast.
It was because of Ghost Protocol that I was excited to see Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and the film delivers, offering one of the most exciting action films of the year. Yes the story has some glitches and Cruise gets a whole lot of screen time, but the action sequences are excellent, the storyline is engaging and the cast delivers a light performance that has viewers alternating between chuckles and gasps. And what else can you ask for in a summer action film?
The film opens with a Congressional investigation into the Impossible Mission Force and its approach to its global missions. Hunt (Cruise) is singled out as a loose canon with unorthodox tactics that endanger national security and the IMF ends up folded into the Central Intelligence Agency under the bureaucratic eye of skeptical director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). Far from coming in from the proverbial cold, however, Hunt pulls together his team of William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji (an always-delightful Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames). Adding to the team is the tough Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), with Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) heading up The Syndicate.
The mission in this outing is for Hunt and his team to identify and bring down the shadowy “Syndicate”, a rogue spy agency that seeks to trigger multinational wars by creating catastrophes, whether it’s through careful assassination, dispersing nerve gas or making things blow up. But the CIA believes there is no Syndicate and that it might just be a figment of Ethan’s imagination, or worse.
Action films are too often characterized by strong male characters who rescue arm-candy female characters who might slip a mickey into a drink or a shiv into someone’s ribs, but can’t otherwise hold their own in a fight. Ilsa (Ferguson) is the absolute antithesis of this daft action film trope and is a delight on camera, with her eagerness to be in the midst of the action and ability to more than hold her own in a skirmish, even with Hunt at her side. Indeed, it highlights how rarely action films have strong and believable females.
And then there are the stunts, the real heart of an action film, and like the previous installments in the franchise, Rogue Nation doesn’t disappoint. With a nod to classic James Bond movies that had an outrageous stunt sequence before the opening titles, the film jumps right in with Hunt leaping onto a huge A-400 military transport plane just as it takes off, then literally clinging to the outside while waiting for Benji (Pegg) to remotely open the cargo door so he can slip inside.
Other stunt sequences including an extended underwater scene, but the one that was most breathtaking was a high-speed motorcycle chase through the hills of Morocco. Not a slow speed chase that’s sped up digitally, but motorcycles going what must surely be well north of 100mph as they weave and bob through heavy traffic and then along winding mountain roads. If you’re a biker, this sequence alone is worth the ticket price, it’s that good.
After all the superhero special effects and CGI of the latest contributions to the Marvel Comic Universe, there’s something visceral and really satisfying about a straight ahead action film that has good guys, bad guys who are sadistic and amoral, splendid action sequences, a globe-trotting storyline and plenty of humor to keep things moving forward. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is very good. Buy-a-copy-to-enjoy good. Go see it. Then see it again.