While the subtitle to this latest entry in the Mission: Impossible series may be better suited to a Keith Urban song or a right-wing talk show, Rogue Nation actually refers to the Syndicate, a shadowy organization hinted at near the end of 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. IMF (that’s Impossible Mission Force, not International Monetary Fund) leader Ethan Hunt (Cruise) believes this organization is behind a number of disparate international incidents set to destabilize global geopolitics, from vanishing airplanes and financial crises to military coups in third-world countries. Back for the assist are field agents Benji Dunn (Pegg), William Brandt (Renner), and series stalwart Luther Stickell (Rhames). Joining them in this go-round is Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen) as a British intelligence agent with the dubious moniker of Ilsa Faust. Chases ensue. Plots are twisted. Impossibilities become, well, possible.
The pleasures derived from this film franchise are twofold. On the one hand, there is the intrigue of espionage, the parlor game of who exactly is zooming whom, of misdirection and mask-revealing reversals. On the other hand, there are the intricate set-pieces that rely on a series of calculations and circumstances that must unfold just so, high-wire acts that invariably go wrong and cause the audience to gasp as Hunt and his operatives must make split-second decisions to save the day. But beyond that, McQuarrie infuses the story with some existential weariness on the part of Cruise’s character, but not too much (this is an action film after all, not a John Le Carré novel). And while some of those action sequences feel a bit well-worn (Chases with motorcycles! A facility inadvertently designed for stealth infiltration!), there are wonderfully choreographed scenes, notably the in medias res opening mission (that’s Cruise hanging on the side of a plane from the trailer), and a rousingly tense trip to the Vienna Opera House. Ferguson’s Ilsa is a step up from the usual female characters in the franchise, having actual agency and not having to navigate a forced romance with the 53-year-old lead. Overall, Rogue Nation is a solid, mildly subversive entry into the series that will have you humming Lalo Schifrin’s indelible theme music for the rest of the week, but probably not lingering over the finer points of the plot. Accept the mission and pass the popcorn.
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