It’s a sign of the times in Hollywood that the number of films in each franchise is creeping up way beyond the old trilogy formula. We have four Indiana Jones, Mad Max and Jurassic Park films, seven Star Wars, and five Die Hards, Terminators and, now, Mission Impossibles. All have had weaker series entries in their later additions (with the notable exception of Mad Max), as the stories have come to run out of steam. Paramount’s M:I franchise has remained a solid entity throughout, for, aside from John Woo’s stylistic departure with M:I 2, the films are the cinematic equivalent of your favourite fast food; trashy and throwaway, yet satisfying, enjoyable and consistent. They are also Tinseltown’s answer to 007, and the latest installment should tide the legion of Bond fans over nicely in the run up to Sam Mendes’ hotly anticipated Spectre.
It’s full credit to star and producer Tom Cruise that the series has remained as successful as it has. Regardless of your thoughts of the man’s personal life, on screen as Ethan Hunt he has remained as engaging, physically fit, focused and impressive at handling the big stunts as he was in the original almost 2 decades ago. No Bruce Willis sleepwalking his way through A Good Day to Die Hard here. Behind the camera, he has continued to attract strong directing talent to the series, from DePalma’s Hitchcock-referencing original, to Abrams’ feature directorial debut, to Oscar winner Brad Baird (The Incredibles) to Usual Suspects scribe Christopher McQuarrie. Mission Impossible has also seen some formidable acting talent line up to play alongside the man, and the series has now seemingly happily settled into an IMF team Hunt picked up along the way, consisting of Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner.
Rogue Nation feels like a greatest hits of the franchise, with the finest ingredients from the previous films thrown into a blender to create great a heady cocktail that rarely lets up. This means none of it feels particularly new but it’s still a fun ride. Hunt, in typical style, dynamically jumps into the action to save the day in the pre opening credits scene. Much was made in the film’s pre-release publicity about Cruise genuinely hanging from the side of a huge military plane during takeoff, but when you see it on the big screen in the context of the plot it’s riveting stuff that you can tell creates a surge of excitement in the audience. Once we get into the main plot, we learn that the IMF has been disbanded and the agents are left out in the cold, with no plots to to use their immense skills on. While Renner’s Agent Brandt acts as a diplomat to Alec Baldwin’s CIA head, Hunt stays off the grid, intent on proving the existence of an underground ‘rouge nation’ known as The Syndicate. His search takes him from Cuba to London to Vienna, swiftly enlisting Pegg’s tech expert Benji for help. Rebecca Ferguson also makes a welcome addition as an agile double agent.
McQuarrie handles the premise and action very capably, and his flare for dodgy dealings and menacing heavies so evident in The Usual Suspects come very much into play here; he clearly learned a lot from Bryan Singer’s impeccable handling of his script years ago. The action sequences are as spectacular as we’ve come to expect from the series too. Hunt goes from a thrilling Viennese opera house fight during an assassination attempt on a government official, to a daring raid on an underwater security system (rivaling the great disk theft in the original), to a knock-out backwards car chase in Morocco. It’s testament to McQuarrie’s direction that the one or two serious dialogue scenes give the viewer some needed breathing space before the frenetic chase continues.
On the downside, many of the above scenarios have been seen before elsewhere in the series. It feels intentional that the producers have stopped adding a number to the title of each film so that the audience will hopefully lose track of the number of times we’ve been here before. A bike chase in M:I 2 was shot very similarly to the one here. There’s often a lead female role whose loyalties are unclear throughout, but is likely to wind up romantically linked to Hunt. The macguffin is often a disk of some sort (here it’s a USB stick). The IMF agency is always on the verge of being closed down and there’s often someone in the organisation you either don’t trust or don’t like. Subsequently, Hunt is often on his own mission, operating outside of his own agency. Just once in five films, it might have been fun to see multiple teams interact and the full extent of the agency’s headquarters involved, and perhaps a nuclear bomb fall into the wrong hands rather than information in danger of being leaked. For these reasons it loses half a star in this review, but it’s a small niggle about an otherwise cracking summer blockbuster.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is out now in UK cinemas