‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ Review: Fifth Time’s the Charm
And to think, it only took 19 years.
Although Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the fifth film in this long-running series, it is also the first unequivocally great one. The first Mission: Impossible was tense but convoluted. The second one just sucked. The third film had a great villain but underdeveloped thrills, and the fourth film had great thrills but an underdeveloped villain. Christopher McQuarrie’s entry may not amount to much more than popcorn entertainment, but it is fantastic popcorn entertainment because it finally gets the balance just right.
It turns out that after four adventures in which the “Impossible Mission Force” ran slipshod over due process, dicked with the CIA, and damn near blew up the world, someone was actually paying attention. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation finds the entire organization swiftly disbanded, leaving Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out in the cold, trying to locate and dismantle a disturbingly well organized and disquietingly secret anti-counterterrorist organization by his lonesome. It’s a similar premise to Ghost Protocol, granted, but it works better this time.
And it is a solid foundation on which to build a film that repeatedly screws with its heroes, and screws them up good. McQuarrie’s screenplay can’t let a moment go by without finding some new way to make Ethan Hunt’s life harder. Hunt can’t even climb down a rope without first discovering first that it’s tied to an unstable flagpole. He can’t get in a car chase without potentially suffering catastrophic brain damage beforehand. We’re used to seeing this character save the whole world, kick all the ass and perform repeated feats of athletic insanity, but never before has he seemed so consistently challenged, and by extension, never before have his adventures been this thrilling.
McQuarrie loads his Mission: Impossible with intrigue and revelations and double agents, never losing sight of the fact that although his film is a big crazy action movie, it is also a spy story. The atmosphere is dense and mercurial until it segues – sometimes neatly, sometimes not – into incredible set pieces. Sometimes those set pieces run like elaborate clockwork, like an exhilarating assassination attempt during an opera, and sometimes they are pure adrenaline marvels, like the film’s centerpiece car/motorcycle chase. No two showcases play the same way, and yet all of them are slick.
But exciting action isn’t enough. Old school espionage drama, comic relief, genuine ennui and legitimate personal threat (as opposed to the abstract, nuclear variety) swirl into one another until they form a devilish and cohesive whole. The characters are funny but feel the very real weight of their actions. The plot is complex but distills down neatly into a series of MacGuffins, all driven by understandable motives. And it all concludes with genuine suspense, not just an arbitrary fight scene and a big, dumb explosion.
Stylish and exhilarating, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is a great movie. It’s not a life-changing experience but it’s impressively entertaining and it doesn’t insult your intelligence. It’s the kind of blockbuster that audiences deserve to see more often. Your mission is to see this film. Just accept it.