Before Hollywood became obsessed with nostalgia, director, Brian De Palma and writers, David Koepp and Robert Towne, took everyone to school with their cinematic take on the 1966 CBS show, Mission: Impossible. Since the 1996 film, there have been four total films each with different directors at the helm. The fifth installment is now in theaters, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. This one is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who developed the story with Drew Pierce.
After getting captured and escaping from a torture chamber, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) becomes aware of The Syndicate, an underground rogue organization, formerly thought to be the boogeyman of the espionage world. He recruits the help of Benji Dunn(Simon Pegg), forcing him to go against the dismantlement of the Impossible Mission Force by CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who is using William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames)to locate Hunt. Meanwhile, Hunt crosses paths with the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) in his plans to stop The Syndicate and its leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).
Even though I generally enjoy most of the Mission: Impossible films, they have always had certain problems plaguing them, often different problems with each installment. For the first time in the franchise, Rogue Nation manages not only to deliver as a legitimately phenomenal sequel, but it’s consistency in quality makes it perfect in every way that a film like this needs to be, making it the best in the franchise so far. And most of the credit goes squarely to writer/director, Christopher McQuarrie. He’s been a writer working for years now, and his other directorial efforts The Way of the Gun and the criminally underrated Jack Reacher have come and went with little fanfare. With Rogue Nation, he finally wows us in a way that demands attention as a force to be reckoned with. He combines all the elements that worked about all the other films and made it work using pitch perfect suspense filmmaking that feel right out of the Hitchcock handbook of directing, and even a bit from Brian De Palma as well. It’s a comparison I don’t make lightly, but Rogue Nation is genuinely a very Hitchcockian film that owes a lot to films like The Man Who Knew Too Much. Everything from the cinematography by Robert Elswit to the music by Joe Kraemer evokes the style of various old school thrillers, while still retaining a modern sensibility.
As perfectly crafted as the film is, it’s the ability to recognize and hone in on the strength of the franchise that I find smart, and that strength is the living, breathing special effect, Tom Cruise. At this point, I’m surprised he doesn’t straight up put on a mask and fight crime because his commitment to the stunts in this film are nothing short of mind-boggling. Along with many recent films that put an emphasis on practical effects and stunt work, Rogue Nation understands the effectiveness of seeing real people doing real stunts. It provides each action set piece with a sense of urgency and physicality that would be unmatched had Mad Max: Fury Road not also came out this year.
However, Rogue Nation isn’t empty spectacle because within each set piece, you get great character work and meaningful interactions that inform character. Moreso in this one than in previous installments, and mind you I say this as a fan, the characters are not overshadowed by the actors playing them. Adding to what Ghost Protocol did, there is a better effort in creating a solid team dynamic that feels much more fleshed out in this, and adding a sense of not knowing where everyone’s loyalty makes each interaction have weight and importance. The center of this aspect of the film is Rebecca Ferguson’s impressive turn as Ilsa Faust (badass name by the way, feels like something out of a Nazi exploitation film). Ilsa is probably the most compelling character, full of elegance, sexuality and complexity, and she is without a doubt Ethan Hunt’s equal. The film doesn’t treat this like a big deal, it never goes out of its way to point it out, she is simply allowed to be, and it is up there with what Furiosa was to Mad Max in Fury Road. The other characters also get plenty of moments to shine and Alec Baldwin is a very welcome addition to the franchise, his last few scenes are outstanding.
I have seen Rogue Nation twice now. The first time, I had a complaint similar to many which is that there are some pacing issues, particularly toward the final act where it drags a bit. The second time around I never had this problem, not only did I find the last 20 minutes just as compelling as the previous 111 minutes, but I also thought it was easier to follow. You know how convoluted these movies get, especially with this one that deals with multiple people whose allegiance is constantly in question, it’s not hard to imagine that a few plot details get lost on you the first time, so a re-watch actually helps the film hold up better. It’s an exceptionally crafted film that finally “gets” everything that makes this franchise work the same way Fast Five finally got how to do that franchise. It’s smartly made, sharply written and full of lively and likeable characters and action scenes that continue to top each other as the story progresses. That whole place sequence that’s been all over the marketing of this movie? That how this movie starts, and not only that, it’s the least impressive sequence in the entire film, while still being a pretty awesome scene. Yeah, Rogue Nation is the real deal and is a prime example of modern blockbusters done right. Prepare yourself for that stage where you want Christopher McQuarrie to direct everything.