Mission: Impossible with my parents way back when it hit VHS (yeah, I'm old) and being thoroughly confused and entertained. I never thought it would become a franchise such as it has, especially after the big gaps in years in between the first and second sequels. Yet...here we sit. It's 2015, and the series is going as strong as ever. Case in point? The recently released Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, beautifully schizophrenic and action-packed, a movie that dares you NOT to like it.
For most of a year, IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has been on the trail of a dangerous organization that seems to have its hand in everything. Their name? The Syndicate. Try though he might though, Ethan can never quite get his hands on the organization until finally, the Syndicate comes after him instead. With the IMF disavowed by the CIA and the U.S. government because of some of Ethan's more aggressive methods, Hunt now finds himself a fugitive on the run, turning to some old friends for help in not only staying alive but also bringing the Syndicate to justice. On top of any number of other problems, he has a new wrinkle to deal with. A mysterious agent, Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), who seems to be playing all sides against each other, and she seems to be after the same thing Ethan is. Who's who? Who can be trusted? What crazy action sequences can be filmed in the process?
I love these movies. Released four years ago, M:I Ghost Protocol took the series/franchise to a crazy level as one of the most ludicrously entertaining action movies I've ever seen. Naturally, I was slightly kinda sorta interested in seeing this newest venture. The verdict? Not quite as good as 'Ghost,' but pretty damn close and really freaking good. Nice work, director Christopher McQuarrie! It earned across the board positive reviews and is raking in the dough in theaters as we speak. And not surprisingly, as Cruise admitted last week, there will be a sixth M:I movie. No way I'd miss out on that. The series is just too good, too fun, too entertaining to pass it up.
There's just something perfectly straightforward about these movies. They cut away any excess fat and go to work. These are action movies on steroids full of gadgets, car and motorcycle chases, exotic locales, large and small-scale fight scenes, improbable stunts, great characters, and bad guys you just know can't and won't win in the end. The Bond movies are some of my all-time favorites (and always will), but it can be refreshing to watch a movie like this that is trying to blow your socks off. Literally, 'Rogue' wants you jumping out of your seat at some of the stunts. So is the story somewhat derivative of the original? Are some of the premises tweaked and twisted from the other movies? Yeah, but you're having too much fun to give a damn. 'Rogue' clocks in at 131 minutes, but that time absolutely flies by. There are better movies out there, deeper and darker with more story, but in terms of pure fun, you'll be hard-pressed to find one better than this.
That Tom Cruise fella, he's still as cool as ever. As one of his most famous/iconic characters (up there with Maverick I'd say), Cruise seems to have shaken off his off-screen, personal issues (G-O-O-D) and just focused on the movies again. He's always been a daredevil, an adrenaline junkie, and he takes that to the max here. That well-advertised shot of Cruise hanging off the plane? That's actually him, that's actually a plane taking off, and N-O, there's no CGI involved. HE STRAPPED HIMSELF TO A PLANE AND IT TOOK OFF FOR GOODNESS SAKE! That's Cruise, and that's the incredible energy, focus and seemingly, pure joy he's brought to the franchise. His Ethan Hunt isn't tortured or in emotional turmoil. He's a secret agent, a damn good one, and he's going to get the mission done no matter how impossible. Cruise brings all that charisma and energy and it shows with scene-in and scene-out.
Now let's give Cruise credit. He's the star, the face of the franchise, but this isn't a dictatorship. Through all the movies, he's welcomed in other stars who end up being perfect fits, whether as good guys or bad guys. The scene-stealer here is Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa, an agent with too many secrets to mention. Her chemistry with Cruise's Ethan is spot-on, sexually charged a bit but never too much, and as an action counter, she more than holds her own (and looks good doing it). I'm hoping this is a character who's in the franchise for the long haul. Because it is an action movie, we need some testosterone, and we get it via Jeremy Renner's Brandt, Ving Rhames' Luther, and Simon Pegg's Benji, the smart-mouthed, one-line slinging tech expert. Pegg is excellent as Ethan's sidekick of sorts with Renner and Rhames not given as much to do but still cool because they're Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames.
One of the more underrated parts of 'Rogue' is the screenplay from the director himself, McQuarrie. Because we can't have just action scenes (Okay, Mad Max could), there are at least a couple scenes of exposition, setting up a character, or a mission or an objective. The scenes of the team piecing things together are excellent, especially one at a Moroccan desert bar when everything has blown up and nothing gone according to plan. These are the brief slow-down scenes that every movie needs. As an audience, we get to catch our breath (even for a second), and on-screen, the cast gets to show off their excellent chemistry. Oh, that Alec Baldwin guy gets a solid supporting part, chewing the scenery as only Alec Baldwin can. Also look for Sean Harris (as the villain), Simon McBurney (of British intelligence), Tom Hollander (the Prime Minister) and Jens Hulten (as the bad guy's brutal enforcer).
Seriously though, guys....the action. My goodness, the action. The opening scene -- Cruise hanging off a plane taking off -- is quick and hard-hitting, smacking you in the face to get things moving. 'Rogue' never goes too long with a follow-up, whether it be a car/motorcycle chase (my personal favorite), an impossible heist at an underwater vault, a fight to the death with gunmen everywhere at a Vienna opera, and over and over. It never gets repetitive and is always done in expert fashion. This is a crew, a director, a cast, everyone involved, who knows what they're doing. As far as action movies go, there are few equals to the caliber of what's on display here.
Could the villain have been stronger? Sure. I would have liked more Renner and Rhames too, but you know what? None of my complaints are enough to even remotely turn me off from this movie. Cruise and Ferguson and Pegg and that action -- THE ACTION -- just continue to take this franchise forward and into the stratosphere. Where will it head next? On the shoulders of the ageless Tom Cruise and that winning formula, I'll be there for the whole ride until they one day decide they've had enough. Go out and see this flick now!
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015): *** 1/2 /****