Tom Cruise hit on a tangy idea when he decided to turn the old-school CBS series Mission: Impossible (1966-1973) into a film franchise. As producer as well as star, Cruise puts a new director in charge of every movie. So far at the helm, since 1996, we’ve had Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird (his Ghost Protocol is my fave and the biggest box-office hit in the bunch). Cruise, 53, will presumably play IMF (Impossible Mission Force) undercover agent Ethan Hunt until he’s eligible for AARP. Fine by me. Back in a galaxy far, far away (1986’s Top Gun), Cruise had a killer line: “I feel the need, the need for speed.” He’s still feeling it. This dude can run, jump, climb, ride and fight like a muthafucker, often shirtless.
Cruise is back in action for the fifth time, and no worse for wear, in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. The director is Christopher McQuarrie, who cooked up something moody and intense with Cruise in 2012’s Jack Reacher. But McQuarrie has never worked on this huge a scale, and the strain to go big and bigger sometimes shows. The movie begins with Ethan hanging from the side of an Airbus A400M cargo plane during takeoff. Why? That kind of question is irrelevant in a franchise in which action trumps logic at every turn.
And yet, McQuarrie — an Oscar winner for his script for 1995’s The Usual Suspects — has an ace to play. That’s the indie sensibility he brings to the usual Hollywood FX. Don’t get me wrong. Rogue Nation doesn’t skimp on the wow factor, especially a Moroccan motorcycle chase and an underwater sequence that has Ethan whooshing around like a sock during spin cycle. And the laughs kick in whenever Ethan gets help from his miracle-working teammates Benji (Simon Pegg, priceless) and Luther (Ving Rhames). The plot, such as it is, involves Ethan and Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) trying to save the IMF from extinction by the CIA, led by an exposition-spouting Alec Baldwin. No one believes Ethan that a mysterious Syndicate is hellbent on seizing global control.
McQuarrie borrows elements of mythical evil from Suspects when Ethan and the double-dealing British agent Ilsa Faust (a ready-to-rock Rebecca Ferguson) lock horns with mega-creepy Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a villain cut from the same cloth as Keyser Söze. Harris, best known for The Borgias, can’t compete with Kevin Spacey’s iconic Söze. Neither can Rogue Nation, which succeeds best when McQuarrie channels his inner film geek and stages a spectacular shootout at the Vienna opera house that evokes Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. This knockout sequence, in which Cruise fires up everything he has as actor and athlete, shows that Mission: Impossible still has gas in its tank even when its engine sputters.