Starring: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris and Alec Baldwin
Running time: 131 minutes
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Year of release: 2015
There’s something refreshing about the Mission: Impossible movies staying away from convoluted multi-picture storylines. Franchising these days demands that we treat movies like jumped up TV shows, tuning in again in a year or two to find out what happens next. Mission: Impossible was based on a TV show, it revels in unexpected plot twists, and with Ghost Protocol establishing a reliable level of quality, there’s nothing stopping them from setting up some massive three-picture arc where we’re all supposed to sit tight for five years while the elephantine narrative works itself out.
Thankfully, they haven’t done that, instead opting for a simpler version of the television formula. Every movie works as a stand-alone adventure, and you don’t need to watch any of the previous films just to keep track of what the hell is going on. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) leads the IMF force in another do-or-die mission to save life as we know it, and once you pick up the basics, you’re pretty much ready to rock and roll.
That simplicity can be quite refreshing, especially when delivered by the sure, steady hands of Christopher McQuarrie, whom Cruise clearly has absolute faith in (they worked together on the underrated Jack Reacher) and who justifies that faith admirably with his smart handling of the material here. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but he treats it with the respect and intelligence it deserves. That’s unusual enough in a summer movie to merit some attention.
Frankly, I still see Ghost Protocol as the high point of the series, but Rogue Nation understands that it has some big shoes to fill and goes about the task with due diligence. It adopts an understated approach to the mayhem, relying on practical effects and good filmmaking over the kind of bombast intended to sweep rational thought under the rug. This time, Hunt squares off against the “anti-IMF,” a criminal organization composed of rogue agents from dozens of different countries and now pulling the strings behind various global disasters in ill-defined but appropriately sinister ways. On top of that, the government has officially disbanded the Impossible Mission Force, leaving Hunt alone in the field with only stalwart Man Friday Benji (Simon Pegg) and the ubiquitous Woman We Can’t Quite Trust (Rebecca Ferguson) to help him along.
It’s not exactly a mold-breaker and comes with a fair share of dodgy questions that often get in the way (like how they still get all that keen IMF gear even though they’re now fugitives). The film powers through that with the little details, starting with Cruise, whose lingering image problem disguises the fact that his last seven or eight movies have actually been pretty darn good. McQuarrie helps him out with another clever script that keeps the stakes clear through various twists and turns, and which never forgets to keep the fun in the equation.
Part of that stems from an emphasis on good filmmaking over bombast as well. The set pieces and car chases feel smaller in scale – save for the big money shot on the trailers that seemingly puts Cruise himself on the side of a plane when it takes off – but make up for it with imagination and intensity. The topper is a high-speed motorcycle donnybrook through the streets of Casablanca and into the Morocco desert, one seemingly focused on practical stunts and real-world effects as much as possible. The care that goes into it speaks to the filmmakers’ dedication to quality in all things.
The cast lends their aid as well, from stalwart regulars like Pegg and Jeremy Renner (surprisingly funny here) to newcomers like Ferguson, who conveys the confidence and implicit danger to sell us on her presence in this world. Ving Rhames makes another curtain call as Hunt’s oldest friend Luther, and with an appropriately smarmy villain (Sean Harris) at the end of it all, none of the actors sounds a wrong note.
It all arrives in the name of popcorn fun, of course, and Rogue Nation never aims for more than showing us a grand time. But it does so with an unusual amount of respect for the audience, and if McQuarrie doesn’t quite match Brad Bird’s flourishes in Ghost Protocol, he certainly finds his own auteurial take on this material distinct from any previous entries. That’s more than enough to make Rogue Nation a late summer treat: proving that hard work and care can still make for a rousing good time.