The Mission: Impossible franchise can be boiled down to its single most important component: Tom Cruise’s hair. That’s right. The extent to which you will enjoy one of these ‘James Bond for middle-schoolers’ flicks correlates directly to how much you can appreciate Cruise’s magnificent coif in each film. From the first Mission back in 1996 (Cruise’s follicles cut short and tight, just like that taut thriller) to the 2015 version (longer and looser yet well-kempt, like Rogue Nation itself), Cruise’s hair immediately alerts us to what kind of Impossible film we’re in store for. You can’t argue with science.
This time around, Tom Cruise and his glorious mane are forced to go dark, as Ethan Hunt evades the CIA in order to infiltrate the clandestine group known as The Syndicate. This rogue squadron of seemingly deceased agents from world organizations has begun to pop up around numerous global disasters, and Hunt believes only he can find Lane (Sean Harris giving a full-on Blofield impression), the man he believes to be the key to the entire operation.
Through happenstance and necessity, Hunt eventually re-enlists his Impossible Mission Force (IMF) in order to stop Lane from his nefarious master plan. For the first time in the series, every one of Hunt’s core team (Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and Jeremy Renner) is a returning member from previous “Mission Impossible” films, making this the most sequel-y sequel in the entire franchise. Also tagging along for the thrills is Rebecca Ferguson as Isla Faust, the ‘is-she-good-or-eeeeevil’ character of the piece, and Alec Baldwin as the head of the CIA and the man most determined to bring Hunt to justice.
Tom Cruise is true-to-form as our ageless hero, proving yet again that he is immune to both critics and genetics by fueling a 20 year-old franchise with enough energy to power at least two more of these outings with minimal effort. He also allows his co-stars to shine, specifically Pegg as Benji, who finally engages in dialogue and hijinks worthy of his many talents. Let’s not forget Rhames and Renner though. Mission: Impossible apparently needed a bit more Murtaugh and Riggs, and now we have it. The unexpected banter between these two is almost worthy of the admission itself. Baldwin is always brilliant in these stoic-leader roles, although his eventual monologue concluding with a ‘Hunt is the manifestation of destiny itself’ line feels a bit forced, like Cruise might have rewrote this section himself while admiring his reflection on-set. Choice dialogue aside, this team works.
The most exciting character outside of Cruise, though, is Isla Faust. We have had several love interests in this Impossible world, but few have been worth the extra footage. Ferguson creates the first fully realized character and foil – both in action and in spirit – for Hunt to interact with. Even better, their perceived romance is handled subtly and logically, unlike the hammer-over-the-head attempt with Thandie Newton in MI:2. If they do an MI:6, Faust is a character worthy of a return.
The funny thing about the Mission: Impossible films – as well as my largest complaint – is how each film is pretty much the exact same story. Megalomaniac devises a masterful scheme, forcing Hunt (sometimes solo, sometimes with his team) to don a few face masks, break into an elaborate location, engage in exciting chase scenes, and conclude with some extremely Bond-ian monologues. Basically, these are the true embodiment of an American version of a James Bond film. It is almost as if Cruise – one of the rare actors to truly understand his audience – knows he doesn’t need to change a thing; he just needs a new director to spruce up the same story.
This time, Cruise enlisted his Jack Reacher director, Christopher McQuarrie, to handle the reins – and dammit if The Cruise doesn’t nail it again! McQuarrie is a writer-director known for playing with audience expectations, and he uses that gift to positive effect throughout this film. McQuarrie has not simply crafted scenes of connecting one set-piece to the next, “Rogue Nation” actually manages to vary greatly in tone as it careens to its necessary destination – for example, an intense underwater infiltration bleeds seamlessly into an exhilarating motorcycle chase – and McQuarrie has a firm enough grip to give Cruise and company that necessary balance.
Repetitious or not, Rogue Nation is a blast. From the opening frame where Tom Cruise insanely clings to an ascending plane for dear life, to the spy-trope-casserole conclusion – this is one hell of a fun summer ride. Does the story explore any new depths? Nope. Not even a little bit. You have seen everything here before, but that doesn’t make this film any less thrilling.
As evidenced by his meticulous head of hair, Tom Cruise and his Mission: Impossible series are showing no signs of aging.