The Impossible Missions Force has been at it for a long time indeed: “Rogue Nation” is the fifth iteration of this astoundingly resilient franchise, a smash-bang-pow extravaganza that closes out the summer film season in fine fashion.
In the wake of the nail-biting events that capped off the fourth film, “Ghost Protocol,” the CIA has pushed for a shuttering of the IMF. Star agent Ethan Hunt (the seemingly indefatigable Tom Cruise) is subsequently driven under deep cover…only to resurface when the evil Syndicate, a transnational criminal organization, starts stirring up global disorder. Along with ambiguously European secret agent counterpart, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), and techno-sidekick Benjy (Simon Pegg), Hunt sets out to clear his name and thwart the Syndicate’s villainous plans.
It’s all highly entertaining material, if not particularly inventive, and the cinematography is brilliant – most notably in a Moroccan motorcycle chase suffused with GoPro-level energy. There’s a heist-type scene involving laser sensors and underwater data banks that feels delightfully evocative of the original film, as well as some superbly staged fisticuffs in and around an opera set. Moreover, Cruise and Ferguson are great leads. For all the flak he’s taken over involvement with Scientology, Cruise is still Hollywood’s consummate action hero, and Ferguson (playing a fully independent character, not just a romantic foil for Cruise) is more than a match for him. (Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames also show up briefly, but don’t have much to do).
Like “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” “Rogue Nation” feels far more episodic (i.e. “adventure-of-the-week”) than trajectory-shifting. The existential stakes here – dissolution of the IMF, disavowal of Ethan Hunt, emergence of a global-scale threat – are ostensibly massive, yet there never seems to be much of a “bite” to them (“Kingsman,” for instance, did a good job of developing the imminence of its catastrophe-scenario). Michelle Monaghan, the emotional keystone to Cruise’s character, is sorely missed; “Rogue Nation” has plenty of slick action and tension, but lacks a gut-level emotional punch. Things just never get as edge-of-your-seat intense as in “MI3” or “Ghost Protocol.” For a fifth film in a multi-decade saga, though, it’s plenty solid.
Ultimately, what the franchise needs most is to embrace its distinct je ne sais quoi beyond the iconic theme tune: “Bond” has fifty years of nostalgia to draw upon; “Bourne” featured a manic camera and ultra-grim plot; “Kingsman” leaned hard on its retro-Anglophile ethos. For its part, “Mission: Impossible” is at its best when it’s relying on a tag-team dynamic between different specialists – just like the original TV show. As great as Cruise is as a lead, the series works best when he’s not going it alone in generalist-mode.
Is “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” entertaining? You bet. Is it the best of its franchise? Probably not (that honor likely rests with “Ghost Protocol”), though it’s still a satisfying sequel.
A consistently diverting – if not groundbreaking – installment in the long-running series.
Normalized Score: 2.4