Tom Cruise and company stick to a tried-and-true formula in the quick-moving ‘Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation’

January 24, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 24, 2018

Author’s note: I interrupt my string of Scrabble tournament recaps for at least one movie review. Don’t worry, I’ll recap this year’s “late-bird” event shortly. As always, thanks for reading! MEM

2015’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, the fifth in the action-adventure series based on the old American TV series, has got all its moves down pat. The Tom Cruise vehicle efficiently delivers plenty of fights, thrills, gadgets and clever plot twists, along with a side of comic banter involving Simon Pegg and other supporting actors.

There’s nothing particularly eye-opening or surprising about Rogue Nation, but it’s fun, undemanding entertainment. The plot briskly transports superspy Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and cohorts from London to Vienna to Casablanca and back to London again. There are also brief stops in Havana and Paris and some repeat trips to Washington, D.C., for bureaucratic wrangling between vindictive CIA director Alan Hunlee (Alec Baldwin) and Impossible Mission Force chief William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, reprising his role from the 2011 outing Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol).

Much as in Ghost Protocol, the Impossible Mission Force is effectively disbanded, with Hunley gaining control of its assets. Unfortunately for our protagonist, this happens at virtually the same moment Hunt finally uncovers tangible proof of the existence of a mysterious terrorist organization called “the Syndicate” — a group that’s managed to penetrate the IMF.

Because Hunley is intent on cracking down on what he sees as unaccountable IMF agents like Hunt, the hero is forced to go into hiding and cut off from his usual associates: Brandt, Benji Dunn (Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames). However, he has a very slender lead that might help him uncover more about the Syndicate’s leadership and intentions, and his friends turn out to be willing to come to his aid when summoned.

The villain of the piece is one Lane (Sean Harris), a former British intelligence agent who always seems to be whispering. Lane blames the (ill-defined) “system” for turning him into a ruthless murderer, although he shows no qualms about killing even more innocent people in his crusade to upend the corrupt system of nation-states, or whatever.

Lane is alternatively aided and abetted by possible double agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), another former British agent, who develops a soft spot for Hunt. Faust was officially declared dead a few years back, but she’s definitely alive, and she may still be working for her majesty’s government under the auspices of a calculating intelligence director named Atlee (Simon McBurney).

The movie has some weak spots. Atlee’s motives at one key point are never clearly explained; the infiltration of a power plant drags at times; it beggars belief that a character who’s just been resuscitated would be able to participate in a dangerous car chase; some of the humorous banter among the team members falls flat; and the Moroccan motorcycle pursuit chase seems like a pale imitation of the one from The Matrix Reloaded. (I am skeptical that the highway motorcycle chase from that 2003 movie will ever be topped.)

Then again, one watches works like Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation to be entertained, and this PG-13–rated feature reliably provides that in regular doses. This is another solid production by director Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote and directed 2012’s Jack Reacher and helped write the excellent Edge of Tomorrow. (He first made a name for himself by scripting the terrific 1995 crime thriller The Usual Suspects.) McQuarrie collaborated on Rogue Nation’s script with Drew Pearce, one of the writers on Iron Man 3.

McQuarrie is reuniting with Cruise and a number of the players from Rogue Nation for another Mission: Impossible film, due out this July. If they can find a few fresh twists on the formula on display here, the sixth entry in the franchise ought to be great fodder for the summer popcorn-munching crowd.

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