Mission: Impossible is a unique franchise. It has been around for 20 years, yet only produced 5 films. Each film has had a different director. Each installment, with a few small exceptions, stands more or less on its own. Most franchises suffer diminishing returns as they age. After a mixed first two films, MI produced two of the best spy/action-adventure films made in the last 25 years. Surely that was it. The fun was done. Director Christopher McQuarrie, Tom Cruise and company may not have turned in an installment as legendary as the previous two, but Holy Moses this is a fun film! If I could end this introduction by having my post self-destruct in five seconds, I am totally amped to do that…..however even if I figured it out, I’m fairly certain that would be international cybercrime……
Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote the screenplay to the film, on top of helming it, played to his strengths as a director and showed me talent far and above what I’d seen when he and Cruise teamed for the so-so Jack Reacher. MI5 doesn’t have the emotional weight that the previous two films did. In those films, things got very personal for Ethan Hunt and those stakes gave the films gravitas that this film lacked. Rather than try to shoehorn in something of that ilk, McQuarrie decides to push the accelerator to the floor from the opening minute of the movie and rarely lets off until the credits roll. You know the scene with Ethan and the plane that has (smartly) pretty much served as Rogue Nation’s entire advertising campaign? That’s the cold open. That’s nothing compared to the globe-trotting mayhem to come.
The MI films have a format. There’s a MacGuffin (The NOC List, The Rabbit’s Foot, etc.) and the IMF spends the movie dodging and causing mayhem trying to retrieve said MacGuffin. In the midst, there are masks, betrayals, and glorious action pieces. McQuarrie follows the form here. The IMF is being absorbed by the CIA (represented by series newcomer Alec Baldwin) who makes a decent case that the IMF, while a results-getting group of go-getters, tend to leave things like a blown-up Kremlin in their wake. The IMF is disbanded, which is poor timing because Ethan has stumbled across an organization that seems to mirror them in every respect, save one: they’re pure evil. They’re SPECTRE to Ethan’s Bond. They’re a rogue group of disavowed or presumed-dead spec ops agents working to cause global mayhem. They are The Syndicate.
Ethan Hunt has always been, in the previous films, the smartest and most capable man in the room. In Rogue Nation, he’s not. In fact, he pretty much gets his can handed to him for a good part of the film. He’s outsmarted by the leader of The Syndicate (Sean Harris) and outmaneuvered in the field by a disavowed British agent (Rebecca Forrester) whose loyalties are questionable at best. That’s the angle McQuarrie uses to bring a freshness to the series: he takes away Ethan’s invincibility and makes him look for a long while like someone whose luck has finally run out.
I mentioned before that the action is fairly non-stop and the slow unraveling of what The Syndicate is and how it came to be is so tied up into those action pieces that I don’t want to ruin it: it’s too much fun. I will say that they, in a summer were FF7 made auto stunts stand on their head and dance, pull off a fantastic chase sequence that culminates in the best on-screen motorcycle action since The Matrix: Reloaded. How can they top breaking into The Vatican, blowing up the Kremlin or scaling the skyscrapers of Abu Dhabi? Trust me, they do something just as amazing….at least twice.
This is pure summer action fun from the beginning to the end. These films have always managed fantastic endings and this brings everything together with an elegance that will have you happy that they are already targeting 2017 for MI:6. That’s an amazingly fast turnaround time for this series, but Father Time catches us all and Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and, especially, Ving Rhames are showing their age. I hope they land an A-list director and do a classic “one final mission” to send this franchise off in style. In the meantime, get out and go have some fun at the movies.