“He is the living embodiment of destiny, and he’s made you his mission.”
After four films, not to mention hundreds of episodes of television, the latest Mission: Impossible film, Rogue Nation, is upon us. As an assessment of the franchise and a deconstruction of the philosophies which have driven the Impossible Mission Force since the 1960’s, Rogue Nation adds a very real and world-weary feel to the latest installment, while still retaining the momentum of the high-adventure antics of Ghost Protocol.
Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, and this time he’s adopted a one-man crusade against The Syndicate, a criminal counterpart to the IMF. The only problem is nobody believes him and his superiors all understand The Syndicate to be a figment of his own imagination, a fake threat to justify the continued existence of the IMF, itself a dangerously autonomous organization with zero oversight from its government.
The Syndicate clandestinely destabilizes countries and cripples economies, not unlike the IMF in the original TV series, when the plots were less about stopping terrorists or arms dealers and more about toppling Third World countries and arranging attacks on Eastern European heads of state. Jim Phelps would be proud.
Director Christopher McQuarrie, helmer of the excellent Jack Reacher, proves his versatility by firmly establishing this film as being very much an M:I entry, alleviating fears (or hopes) that Rogue Nation would be Jack Reacher: Mission: Impossible Edition. Building off the foundation of each earlier entry in the series, Rogue Nation combines the humor of Ghost Protocol, the action of III, a much improved version of the villain from II, and the tension from the first movie, all while acknowledging the DNA of the original series.
There was a huge fear when the release date of the film was pushed forward six months to avoid competing with Star Wars: Episode VII, but Rogue Nation hardly suffers for it, occasional bits of spotty CGI notwithstanding. Again, it’s a testament to Christopher McQuarrie, who, in addition to directing, also wrote the tight screenplay. While it’s a bit too fast for its own good, jumping from continent to continent like it’s foreign box office depends on it, the way it juggles all the moving pieces of a genuine spy thriller while simultaneously serving the characters and the action is nothing short of admirable.
Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has always been a patriot, dedicated to his country and his mission before anything else, and his obsession with taking down The Syndicate is played very seriously; Hunt is a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with his enemies always one step ahead of him, and thus the stakes feel especially personal on this Mission. Adding to the tension is Rebecca Ferguson as one hell of a double-agent whose allegiance is always in question. Sean Harris plays the leader of The Syndicate, his soft-spoken dialogue only accentuating his unnerving creepiness. His excellent writing and character development is a slap in the face to The Dark Knight‘s Joker and the deluge of derivatives it inspired (I’m looking at you, Skyfall…). He feels real and intelligent, not just obnoxiously omniscient.
It’s also great to see Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Jeremy Renner return to their familiar roles; pairing up Pegg and Cruise has always worked for the series, and Rogue Nation pushes their growing bond further than ever. The only casting problem is Alec Baldwin as the CIA director. Baldwin, inexplicably in 30 Rock mode, has no clue how to act in this movie, sticks out like a sore thumb in every one of his scenes, and is a strong source of unintentional comedy.
Rogue Nation is an iterative entry in a series known for constant reinvention, but that just means that its differences and advancements are more subtle, more closely related to the script and the growing characterization of its lead characters than to any aesthetic stylings or directorial flourishes, though there are plenty of those to be had, as well. Christopher McQuarrie makes his living blowing away audiences, proves himself to be the perfect director for Mission: Impossible. Rogue Nation takes everything that came before, distills it, and the result is one hell of an episode in the continuing adventures of Ethan Hunt and the Impossible Mission Force.