Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation
Three stars (out of four)
PG-13 (sequences of action and violence, brief partial nudity)
Few movie franchises make it to a fifth installment without showing signs of weariness, age or impending death.
When it comes to cinematic longevity, “Mission: Impossible” is that spry, old guy you keep running into at the gym. Still going strong. Doesn’t look a day over 45. Will probably outlive us all.
Powered by the unflagging energy of Tom Cruise, this unstoppable machine of a franchise debuted nearly 20 years ago, inspired by the classic 1960s TV series. It remains serviceable and stylish, as evidenced by its latest chapter, “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.”
The film is directed by one of Cruise’s go-to writers, Christopher McQuarrie, who also helmed “Jack Reacher,” but acquits himself much better here. “Jack Reacher” was a mess, but “Rogue Nation” delivers spectacle and spy movie cliches with panache. It is everything we’ve come to expect from a brand built almost entirely on Cruise’s intensity, daring, self-performed stunts, and patented “action run.”
So what if it feels as if we’ve seen a lot of what we see here in other spy movies, namely of the Bond and Bourne variety?
“Rogue Nation” once again finds Cruise’s secret agent, Ethan Hunt, in his natural state: disavowed by the U.S. government, despite the fact that he and his IMF team are the only thing standing between the world and epic disaster.
After an operation involving a Russian cargo plane goes awry, the IMF is disbanded by CIA chief Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin, whose addition to the “M:I” cast is a no-brainer), despite the fact that Hunt is still in the field, tracking the terrorist activities of a nefarious group known as “The Syndicate.” (What would Hollywood’s super spies do if they didn’t have these shadowy international organizations to foil?)
While government liaison William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) dodges red tape back home, loyal techie Benji (Simon Pegg) is unwittingly lured into the field to assist Hunt in outsmarting the mouse-like, seemingly un-out-smartable supervillain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). (I wish Lane was a more colorful baddie. I expect more from McQuarrie. After all, he created Keyser Soze, one of the greatest movie villains of all time.)
As Hunt dashes from London, to Vienna, to exotic Casablanca, he becomes entangled with mystery woman Ilsa Faust, a double — or is that triple or quadruple? — agent who presumably works for Lane but has a soft spot for her American rival.
Ilsa is played by Rebecca Ferguson, who resembles classic movie star Ingrid Bergman, best remembered for her role in the film “Casablanca.” Just as Bergman’s Ilsa was torn between Humphrey Bogart’s Rick and Paul Henreid’s Victor, Ferguson’s Ilsa is caught between her weaselly employer and a heroic spy. Or something like that.
McQuarrie is obviously drawing parallels between the two films but the “Casablanca” references don’t make a whole lot of sense. (“Mission: Impossible II” was basically a rip-off of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” and “To Catch a Thief,” so what the heck.)
Ferguson — who should immediately be cast in any and every film requiring the services of a bad-ass lady — is quite simply amazing as Ilsa. She’s voluptuous. She’s lethal. Her martial arts prowess is rivaled only by her taste in shoes, and yet somehow this doesn’t come off as stereotypical.
More importantly, Ferguson’s Ilsa is 10 times more interesting than the other characters who round out the “Rogue Nation” boys club, including Hunt, who has nothing terribly personal at stake in this installment.
Is it me, or does Hunt actually become less compelling with each “Mission: Impossible” film, despite Cruise’s vigorous commitment and flair for hair-raising stunt work? At times, the film even seems to be aware of this. At one point, Baldwin delivers a monologue with a description of Hunt that borders on parody.
Renner, meanwhile, languishes in a bureaucratic role that doesn’t afford him a shred of action. Maybe Cruise didn’t want the competition? Or is it that Hollywood just can’t figure out what to do with this guy?
Pegg, on the other hand, enjoys a beefed up part as the film’s main provider of comic relief, while Ving Rhames returns to collect another paycheck.
McQuarrie puts the cast through their paces in a labyrinth of plot twists that stretches on for a good 20 minute too long.
All the action sequences are stunning, from an opening scene that has Cruise dangling from a plane to a Vienna opera house sequence that is almost comical in its revolving chain of assassins, shimmying up the rigging, armed with guns disguised as musical instruments.
“Rogue Nation” hits a high note in a moment we expect to unfold with the usual cloak and dagger business of “Mission: Impossible” — fingerprint scanners, uncrackable safes, and impossibly detailed disguises.
Instead, we’re treated to an elaborate set piece reminiscent of the first film’s now legendary laser maze scene. It’s perfectly executed, ridiculously suspenseful and makes it impossible to begrudge the inevitability of an “M:I6.”