Cinema mainly exists as an expression of art, but much like any other form of media, it also is open to its fair share of titles existing purely for entertainment value. One such example includes the Mission: Impossible franchise, the long running starring vehicle for Tom Cruise. Despite varying quality early on its run, it found itself back in form with JJ Abrams’ rock solid third entry, and again with Brad Bird’s hair-raising Ghost Protocol, and with Rogue Nation, directed by The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie, the series still shows no sign of losing any of its exhilarating spirit. As far as I’m concerned, this is the year’s best pure action film thus far.
One of the charms (to an occasional fault) of the Mission: Impossible films has always been their light-hearted, bare bones style storytelling to move from set piece to set piece briskly. However, this was something that Ghost Protocol was thankfully able to remedy by placing more focus on character writing and interactions. Rogue Nation continues this same ideal as the single most character driven of all the Mission films, thanks in no small part to McQuarrie’s talent with ensembles.
Tom Cruise has always proven to be a reliably fantastic lead in action films, and here is no exception. Toning down his usual charm just enough, his Ethan Hunt here has an appropriately harder edge to it as he engages in numerous race against the clock situations, supplying the film with more emotional intensity, but still manages to play well against his eclectic supporting players. The dynamic of the team is what has made the last few films particularly investing, with the returning likes of Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames slipping effortlessly back into character, and newcomer Rebecca Ferguson proving a fantastic match up and foil. With the film wisely steering away from needless romantic undertones, Ferguson is given a lot of freedom to explore her character’s purposefully concealed history and motivations, and projects much subtle anguish through the mildest ticks and through her eyes (Oh goodness, those eyes). Outside of the team, newcomers also include Alec Baldwin as a reliably stern CIA director disillusioned with the questionable means and outcomes of the IMF, and Sean Harris (aka. The “I love rocks” guy from Prometheus) playing cold and calculated as the closest thing the series has had to a fully realized villain.
McQuarrie treats much of the action of the film with an underlain intensity and nail-biting use of practicality, further expanding on Ghost Protocol’s balance of full throttle action and pulse-pounding stealth, as always featuring Tom Cruise in his usual daredevilry fashion. Immediately starting the movie off is the highly advertised sequence in which Ethan Hunt clings for dear life to the side of a cargo plane taking off, and that one image is such a rush that you wonder how they can possibly top it. Well, top it they do. Further highlights include an extended opera house infiltration, in which all of the smallest actions and struggle are calibrated seamlessly to Puccini’s Turandot, and a duo of back to back motorbike chases in Morocco, including one where Ethan and others are forced to make hairpin turns on twisting mountain roads at high velocity. McQuarrie shoots and edits all of the action sequences with meticulous attention, embraces the very throwback nature of the film with a delightful wink and smile, and never once does the film’s extended two hour running time become apparent.
This has easily been the most thoroughly entertaining time I’ve had at the movies this year, and while it may not be at the same quality of Ghost Protocol, it’s incredibly close and sets a high bar for the remaining blockbuster action fare in 2015. Grab some popcorn and prepare to be thrilled.
****1/2 / *****