After almost 20 years and five movies, it seems inevitable that a franchise would start running out of steam. However, that certainly isn’t the case with “Mission: Impossible.” The latest chapter in the spy franchise, “Rogue Nation,” feels just as fresh and exciting as the films that came before it, and it’s a strong follow-up to 2011’s well-received “Ghost Protocol.”
“Rogue Nation” finds veteran IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) operating off the grid to try to prove the existence of a shadowy criminal organization known as the Syndicate. Pursued by both the CIA and the Syndicate, Hunt must search for clues while trying to avoid capture. Hunt calls in trusted members of his team: tech expert Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and former agent Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames). He also must decide whether or not he can trust Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a disavowed British agent who seems keen to help them but may have dangerous ties to the Syndicate. Hunt matches wits with the Syndicate’s leader in a final chase through London that will end either the Syndicate — or the IMF — for good.
Say what you will about Tom Cruise, but the actor never turns in a half-hearted performance. I respect the fact he performs his own stunts, including a genuinely death-defying scene at the start of the film which finds Hunt hanging onto the side of an aircraft during take-off. While I continue to be amazed at how far film CGI technology has come and how realistic computer graphics now appear, there’s still something magical about well-executed practical effects — and there are plenty of those in “Rogue Nation.” The scene with the aircraft taking off felt more intense and authentic because I’d heard Cruise really did perform the stunt, and not just in front of a green screen.
The plot is fast-paced and there are several good action set-pieces throughout. Sometimes it seems tough for studios to come up with fresh material for action movies these days, but I felt there were some nice stunts audiences haven’t seen before. In addition to the airplane take-off, there’s also a tense scene where Hunt dives into a submerged vault without oxygen — and then gets trapped. Exactly why Hunt is in the vault is a long and spoiler-filled story, but it’s a new twist on Hollywood’s well-used “ticking clock” scenario.
Cruise is backed by a strong supporting cast, including several favorite characters from previous films. Simon Pegg is one of my favorite actors, and I like how his character Benji is both smart and funny; he’s able to provide comic relief but is also a definite contributor to the spy team. I also thought Rebecca Ferguson did a good job as a newcomer to the franchise. While Ilsa is pretty much the only female main character (note to Hollywood: it’s OK to have multiple female characters in the same action film!), it’s nice to see a female character portrayed as more than just a love interest (in fact, in both “Ghost Protocol” and “Rogue Nation,” there’s really not much of a love story at all). Ilsa more than holds her own as a spy, and there’s also some genuine doubt as to exactly which side she’s on.
The film hints at some deeper themes that have been popping up more frequently in espionage movies: Are spies above any kind of moral code? Is committing an illegal act justified if it saves lives? And if spies are allowed to operate outside the law, who monitors them and decides when they’ve crossed the line? “Rogue Nation” doesn’t delve too deeply into these themes, however, and that’s actually OK. It’s a fast-paced action film providing a few hours of summer escapism that’s still meant to feel smart.