Franchise fatigue be damned. Nineteen years since its first instalment, the Mission:Impossible series proves to be in better shape than ever in this thrilling fifth go-around that does little to mess with the established formula, but gets a pass through its giddy, celebratory tone and slick execution.”
It’s a case of victory snatched from the jaws of an extremely rushed production schedule. Not long after Rogue Nation was brought forward five months from its original Christmas release, a gap in filming occurred in order for director Christopher McQuarrie to rewrite the ending. That Rogue Nation only finished filming a matter of weeks ago might lead some to worry that a grand folly could be afoot. Any such qualms are swiftly brushed away with the revelation that the much-touted ‘Tom Cruise holds on for dear life to airplane that’s taking off’ set-piece takes place before the opening credits roll out. It’s the kind of audacious showboating for which the franchise has become renowned, cursed to be forever embroiled in a high-stakes pissing contest with itself. Rogue Nation dispenses with the trailer’s ludicrous money shot within five fraught minutes, setting the tone for the highly enjoyable two hours that follow.
There is a plot of sorts. The IMF has just been dissolved (again?) by Alec Baldwin’s CIA buzzkill Alan Hunley, leaving Cruise’s Ethan Hunt with no choice but to go rogue following his discovery of mythologised terrorist group The Syndicate, led by Sean Harris’ Big Bad Brit, Solomon Lane. Hunt is infrequently aided by mysterious double agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), while returning IMF stalwarts Benji (Simon Pegg), William Brant (Jeremy Renner) and Luther (Ving Rhames) complete the troupe. What follows is business as usual, as the gang pursue Lane and his henchman, uncovering the Syndicate’s slightly convoluted genesis. Meanwhile, Faust grapples with her incrementally revealed myriad loyalties. Sharing story credit with Iron Man 3’s Drew Pearce, McQuarrie’s script doesn’t get too bogged down in its plot’s twists and turns, yet may leave some wishing for a little more substance. Bar a burgeoning Hunt-Benji bromance, Hunt and his compadres undergo nothing resembling a clear arc, leaving Ferguson’s Isla doing most of the heavy lifting. Indeed, Faust’s duplicitous tendencies do keep things interesting, and Ferguson makes for an engaging co-lead. Not all of the new additions are as successful however, with Harris’ turtlenecked, raspy villain coming off as a collection of hard-stares and affectations, shorn of any coherent motivation. We are however, afforded the joy of seeing Tom Hollander, likely reprising his role from The Riot Club, in a cameo as the British PM.
Whilst seemingly disinterested in placing any unique stamp of his own on the series, McQuarrie does a fine job of making the film’s 131 minutes sail by, maintaining a brisk pace that doesn’t sag even when the action subsides. Following the spectacular curtain raiser, Rogue Nation keeps much of its set-pieces confined to claustrophobic, atmospheric interiors. Hunt’s acrobatic encounter with Lane’s goons backstage at the Vienna State Opera is expertly choreographed and shot beautifully, whilst briefly ribbing on Cruise’s small stature in a way that some might read as McQuarrie’s semi-apology for casting him as the towering Jack Reacher (A sequel has, however, been greenlit). From there, it’s a slow build towards a Morroco-set second act that almost gives Mad Max: Fury Road a run for its money. There’s nothing as ground-breaking as Ghost Protocol’s Burj Khalifa sequence, yet a cripplingly tense underwater heist comes close. Things may wind down somewhat early, with the rewritten third act showdown tellingly understated compared to what’s come before. Yet this doesn’t take away from what’s undeniably one of the most purely enjoyable popcorn pictures of the summer.