In an alternate universe somewhere, Bond movies are still fun.
Don’t get me wrong; Daniel Craig’s adventures in the tux have been (mostly) great, and Skyfall ranks as one of the absolutely best 007 films, but the series lost something when it consciously forsook its trademark over-the-top spectacle and winks to the audience in favour of basically becoming a British Bourne.
Thankfully, the Mission: Impossible series, struggling after a confusing first entry and a downright awful second one, picked up Bond’s dropped baton and has run with gusto. Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation continues the streak of top-of-the-line action, unflappable charm, and insane adrenaline that its two most recent predecessors tackled with aplomb, firmly solidifying the Mission: Impossible series’ reputation as one of the most impressive action series in cinema.
There’s no plot to Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. Or really, there’s some irrelevant nonsense about a megalomaniac, a femme fatale, a MacGuffin, Ving Rhames, and a couple jaw-dropping stunt sequences; the same as in every M:I movie.
More so than arguably any other franchise, the Mission: Impossible movies are interchangeable, rearrangeable, and structurally very similar. What makes each one soar (or plummet, in Mission: Impossible 2’s case) is the director; Cruise famously never brings back the same director for a second M:I movie, instead choosing to gift the construction set of standard pieces to a different visionary each time, from Brian De Palma to John Woo to J.J. Abrams to Brad Bird.
Zero needs to be known about the story tackled by writer-director Christopher McQuarrie in the fifth take on the same tropes, beyond what McQuarrie brings to the table. Thankfully, he not only brings the same ear for smart dialogue that won him an Oscar for writing The Usual Suspects, but shows considerable aplomb at filming action sequences, considering his only other experience was making 2012’s Jack Reacher.
All the publicity leading up to Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation’s release has revolved around Cruise dangling from the side of an airplane, but that throwaway opening scene (which is honestly as irrelevant to the rest of the whole as many of The Office’s cold opens were), while fun, is nothing compared the central break-in sequence in which Cruise’s Ethan Hunt must dive 150 feet straight down into a pit of water, survive a violent flush through a giant pipe, and break into an underground computer system — all while holding his breath for three minutes in intense pressure. Compared to the Burj Khalifa sequence in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, it doesn’t reach quite the same apogee of blissful insanity, but in any non-franchise action movie, it would be one of the most talked about sequences of the year.
It there’s a weakness with McQuarrie’s take on the toy chest of characters and set pieces, it’s his proclivity for paying tribute to other movies, to the excessive point that it could be said Rogue Nation steals from others more than it pays homage to them. It borrows a little too heavily from Casino Royale, Casablanca, The Adventures of Tintin, The Man Who Knew Too Much, GoldenEye, and the Fast & Furious saga, to name but twelve. Some of the references are so blatant, it’s hard to even give McQuarrie that benefit of the doubt that it wasn’t just unoriginal writing at times. (Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust, by any other name, would still just be Vesper Lynd.)
Cruise is fantastic in his fifth outing as Hunt, and wholly deserving of all the credit he’s gotten recently. Even during his couch-jumping days a decade ago, Cruise consistently put out good work, and Rogue Nation shows him to still be one of the most charming, effortlessly winning stars around. Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg are also as excellent as ever.
If three last three 007 movies out-Bourned Jason Bourne, the last three M:I movies out-Bonded James Bond. Rogue Nation may not be quite as impressive as the breakneck Mission: Impossible III or the brain-wrinkling Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, but if it’s a slightly weaker entry, it’s by the same small margin that Return of the Jedi is a shade paler than Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. In a year already packed with excellent action movies, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation is the best one yet of 2015.
At least, until the next Bond film arrives in three months.
4½ stars / 5