MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION is lean, mean, and seriously fun. There is not a wasted moment for fans of high-energy, slickly plotted action flicks of the popcorn variety, as this installment of the franchise finds the Impossible Mission Force shut down by the government, but not out of business. Not by a longshot. Their last official mission starts the film, with super-agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) grabbing a plane as it takes off and clinging to it while tech whizzes Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) bicker about getting the plane’s door open. It’s the sort of sequence to which lesser flicks would build as the piece de resistance, but this is merely the amuse-bouche for the even more spectacular hijinks that follow.
Meanwhile, back in Washington D.C., IMF honcho William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is defending the IMF’s unorthodox, and admittedly messy, methods with a reminder of its success rate. He’s defending it in front of a Congressional committee, and his opponent is the head of the CIA (Alec Baldwin), snarky type who wants the IMF absorbed into his own department. He gets his way. Ethan, of course, is undeterred, and determined to bring down the Syndicate, a shadow group he is convinced is behind most, if not all, the nefarious actions happening globally. Is he right? Has one too many blow to the head made him clinically paranoid? And who is that shoe-obsessed femme fatale (Rebecca Ferguson), whose thighs are killer in more ways than one, the one who keeps helping him before double-crossing him?
All things in the fullness of time.
Meanwhile there is plenty of intrigue played out in plain sight, and one credulity-defying gambit after another. From a battle to foil an assassination attempt at the opera that takes place in silence so as not to disturb the audience or performers, to a good old-fashioned knife fight executed with fierce choreography that is the equal of all the gadgetry that goes before and after. There is enough plot, conveyed with clean and efficient exposition, to keep the plot from falling apart, and Cruise, buff, determined, and thoroughly committed, is cool under pressure, but never robotic. Ethan is not above showing a moment of confusion, nor giving a wink to the thug that he’s just both outsmarted and amazed.
Speaking of winks, there is a perfect balance of suspense and a metaphorical tongue placed ever so delicately in an equally metaphorical cheek. At the Congressional hearings where that dyspeptic CIA chief is calling for the IMF’s dissolution, the success rate brought up by Brandt is countered with a deliciously snide comment about that success being as much about luck as skill. This is a film that is not afraid to wink at the audience when it comes to how these operations work. Not unlike the wink sent our way as Ethan and an opponent get to their feet and said opponent towers over Cruise’s solid, but shorter, frame. Even the cliché tropes of action flicks come in for a good-natured ribbing, as Ethan skitters through the seamy backstreets of exotic locales, and dons a tuxedo for chi-chi society events. There’s even the de rigeur moment when the femme fatale rises from the water in a bikini. In case there is any doubt that there is a playful irony at work, we need look no further than the moment someone calls Ethan the living manifestation of destiny.
I’m going to take a moment to once again heap praise on Simon Pegg’s thespianism (for what I said about him in STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS, click here. For what he said to me about THE WORLD’S END, click the link in the sidebar). Sure, he’s the perfect comic barb in the action maelstrom that is just this side of any sort of credibility, but he’s also, when the story calls for it, and this one does, a damn fine dramatic actor. Standing up to Ethan, or being three seconds from a grisly demise, the irony drops, and the moments have a clarity of truth that is, amid all the roller-coaster adventure, set at precisely the right pitch to be emotionally grounding without being cloying.
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION gives us a suitably formidable evil genius (smoothly played by Sean Harris), chases with cars, motorcycles, and even those flying things behind the scenes at the opera. Thugs with catchy monikers like The Bone Doctor, nifty plot twists, and special effects that really do take one’s breath away. For the ones underwater, all but literally. Yet there’s also that irresistibly mordant humor, that dollop of nihilism, that shadow of cynicism, and the firm idealism when it comes to the sacred bond of friendship. This is how an action film is done.