In the four years since the last MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film (GHOST PROTOCOL), the real world has become a significantly darker place. So from its demi-title - ROGUE NATION - you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking writer/director Christopher McQuarrie might have followed a dud, clichéd instinct to make his stab at the series ‘grittier, darker, more realistic.’ But fear not – that couldn’t be further from the case; McQuarrie is quite wisely not going anywhere near ISIS or anything like it. The fifth MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE movie is a return to basics: the good, old fashioned, “completely made up shadowy nemesis organisation” plot; everybody’s here purely for some escapist, adrenalised fun.
Broadly speaking, simplicity is the key to McQuarrie’s approach – Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team must prove the existence of and destroy ‘The Syndicate’, an enormous dark network of disavowed and presumed dead agents with no regard for borders or previous allegiances, led by menacing Brit Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). As Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) helpfully spells out for us, “they're
The tried and true plot structure is once again draped over three protracted and precise globe-trotting action set pieces (plus a short opening salvo) involving all the old favourites – assassination attempts, the acquisition of very important devices via extremely convoluted means (the “impossible” bit), and - well, you'll know the last one.
ROGUE NATION has no shortage of spectacle: Robert Elswit’s cinematography is exciting and atmospheric; the in-camera stunts are up there with the best in the series; the editing is pin-sharp, and Joe Kraemer’s score goes further than just rehashing Lalo Schifrin’s iconic theme (although it’s always a babymaker-tingling moment when that fires up). But it’s frequently McQuarrie’s writing that elevates the movie, easily assimilating the best aspects of the series and strengthening any previous weaknesses. Case in point: the beefing up of Benji’s screen time. No longer simply comic relief, McQuarrie fully utilises Pegg’s considerable talent for drawing empathy when playing it straight. There's an abundance of tiny character flourishes - Ilsa removing her footwear whenever she needs to a) run away or b) kick someone’s arse, is a lovely touch in a movie full of them. Meanwhile, romance past or present - is refreshingly left out in favour of professionalism and a subtle nod to equality.
Cruise remains a solid lynchpin for all of this, even if when he isn't running, jumping, running, riding motorbikes, running, and stands still long enough we start to see weariness behind his eyes. His performance is fine here, though you suspect there may be a handover coming in M:I 6 or 7.
If we're going to looking for a flaw, it’s that we’re now perhaps too frequently one step ahead of the action – we’ve reached a point where we can literally guess with specificity and accuracy what’s going to happen next; sometimes this is fun (“mask… TOLD YOU!”), and sometimes it’ll induce a small eye-roll. But there are also occasions where McQuarrie’s imagination bests us, and it’s here that ROGUE NATION shines: a seemingly done-before sequence taking place behind the scenes of a performance at an opera, for example. What starts as QUANTUM OF SOLACE deja-vu quickly pivots into a masterclass in Hitchcockian cause-and-effect action storytelling.
If you have the opportunity to see ROGUE NATION in IMAX, this is highly recommended (I don’t, but it’s easily spot which sequences are intended for the larger format and how well they would work); it can only add to what is already a superbly crisp, exhilarating experience. In keeping it simple, McQuarrie and his team have crafted one of the summer’s big winners.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION is released July 30 in Australia and NZ, and July 31 in the UK and US.