MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — ROGUE NATION
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Christopher McQuarrie
STARS Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner
Mad Max can breathe easy, as his jaunt down Fury Road still stands as the best action that money can buy this summer. But for a good while, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation looked like it might just usurp that title.
To be honest, Rogue Nation ultimately isn't even the best of the five M:I films to date, as it fails to match the stylized sleekness of I, the character dynamics of III or the needle-to-the-heart adrenaline charge of IV (aka Ghost Protocol). But for a franchise that began nearly two decades ago (and was a hit TV show before that), here's one that somehow manages to retain its freshness. Only the daft II was a dud; otherwise, this series continues to satisfy at a fast and furious clip.
The Avengers, the Barden Bellas and the Kings of Tampa aren't the only outfits having trouble keeping it together this summer — in the case of the Impossible Mission Force, it's being disbanded at the behest of CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). More's the pity, since IMF agent extraordinaire Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) needs all available resources to help him track down Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a particularly nasty character who heads a terrorist outfit known as The Syndicate. But since Hunley views Ethan as a maverick (no Top Gun cross-reference intended) whose methods are too reckless, he not only won't help him but actively seeks to have him arrested. As for the other IMF agents, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) has been turned into a neutered office lackey, Benji (Simon Pegg) has been locked down behind a computer monitor, and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) has seemingly gone back into retirement. Clearly, these troops will need to be rallied in order to confront the global threat looming before them. Ethan can count on Benji and Luther, but Brandt? Even more of a question mark is Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an international woman of mystery who might be a Syndicate assassin, a British intelligence agent, or something else entirely.
As bro-centric as any spy game out there — the males remain from picture to picture while the females get swapped out like hotel linen — the series at least has created some memorable heroines in the later installments, from Ethan's fiancée Julia (Michelle Monaghan) and the doomed Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell) in III to kick-ass IMF agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton) in Ghost Protocol. Ilsa Faust follows suit, and Ferguson equips the character with the proper mix of wariness and weariness. Harris, soon to be seen as Macduff in the Michael Fassbender version of Macbeth, provides a genuine strain of whispery menace as Solomon Lane, and it's always amusing to watch Baldwin bloviate.
As for Cruise, he can be dependably found at the center of all of the film's complicated set-pieces. If Christopher McQuarrie isn't quite as skilled as his predecessors in the director's chair (Brian De Palma on I, J.J. Abrams on III, Brad Bird on GP) at milking the action sequences for maximum impact — the vehicular chases tend to drag – he still gets enough juice out of the more unusual set-ups, such as Ethan hanging onto the side of an ascending airplane or holding his breath underwater as he's battered every which way including loose. But, guys, enough with those face-swapping masks, OK?