"M:I" Series Stays Strong With "Rogue Nation"

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” begins with Tom Cruise running, as it should. Not only has the Cruise-sprint become the star’s trademark; there’s no better metaphor for the franchise’s propulsive, seemingly inexhaustible forward momentum.

With the series having gone largely undervalued until 2011, fourth entry “Ghost Protocol” cemented its status as the premier action series of its day. Maybe of all time. Some of the thrill of “Ghost Protocol” was lost in translation from big screen to small, but watching Cruise – in his own insistence, as ever – dangle from atop the world’s tallest skyscraper, filmed in native IMAX, was a cinematic adrenaline rush second to none.

With a newfound air of success, producers looked to follow filmmakers Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird with a similarly well-fitted talent. They didn’t have to look far. Cruise’s “Jack Reacher” director and “Usual Suspects” writer Christopher McQuarrie and his coolly confident plotting and witty dialogue seemed an obvious fit to counteract the occasionally lean storytelling of “Ghost Protocol” – its only major fault.

The good news? “Rogue Nation” is the series’ most elegant chapter to date, peaking early on with a brilliant, literally operatic fight scene. The mostly dialogue-free, opera-set sequence is a thing of blunt-force beauty, choreographed, executed, and shot as well as any fight scene ever. In fact, the first third of the film is such an embarrassment of riches that what follows has long odds of matching up.

IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has once again found himself in a pickle, inadvertently uncovering a group of rogue secret agents known as the Syndicate. With the IMF in the process of being absorbed by the CIA, director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) disavows the super spy.

Since Hunt’s team – Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) – is only able to help from afar, he’s forced off the grid in an effort to track serpentine villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).

Corrupt MI6 agent Elsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is but another wrench in the works, flip-flopping so hard and so often that it seems possible she doesn’t even know what side she’s on.

The accompanying setpieces are mostly thrilling, with the aforementioned opera sequence living up to the best of Ethan’s past exploits. And the screenplay’s increasingly addled game of cat and mouse is an equal opportunity confuser, dumbfounding characters and viewers alike.

The bad news isn’t such bad news. The cost of said elegance is that “Rogue Nation” isn’t as much fun as the other films in the series. Often restrained to a fault, it’s not as funny as the last two films and not as clever as the first. And apart from a memorable climax, its third act is shockingly verbose, with a final scene that plays like less than an afterthought.

But considering the extraordinary position of the franchise – expectations rising at a point where most series are on life support – McQuarrie, Cruise, and company do right by themselves and audiences, both.

Bonus points to McQuarrie for paying homage to all four previous missions. A late game motorcycle chase is a fond reminder of John Woo’s eternally underappreciated “M:I-2”, Joe Kraemer’s score is lovingly fashioned from that of De Palma’s original film, and Cruise’s instantly famous airplane stunt knowingly ups the “Mission: Impossible” ante in a meaningful way.

If “Rogue Nation” isn’t the caffeine high that “Ghost Protocol” was, it’s still a handsome thrill ride that should have no trouble boosting the series to a sixth entry.

“Mission: Impossible” and Tom Cruise should be undervalued no more. They’ve left more of a mark than any actor-spy series combination in history. James Bond’s MI6 was able to soldier on without Sean Connery. It’s hard to imagine the same thing for the IMF – the highest of compliments to the most committed of movie stars.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: July 31, 2015
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Screenwriter: Christopher McQuarrie, Drew Pearce
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity)