It’s been almost 20 years since the Brian De Palma-directed Mission: Impossible was making big waves in the cinemas in 1996. With the exception of John Woo’s heavy-handed second instalment of Mission: Impossible II (2000), the franchise got better with each succession over the last two movies (J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III in 2006 and Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in 2011). Thankfully, the same positive streak continues with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
Picking up where Ghost Protocol left off with IMF secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) investigating the terrorist organisation known as The Syndicate, he finds himself in jeopardy after being labelled as the most wanted fugitive by the CIA. Things get worse when the CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) demands the IMF organisation to be stripped off immediately. Hunt has no choice but to go rogue and enlists his trusty IT expert Benji (Simon Pegg) to help him track down the leader of the Syndicate named Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Complicating matters is a mysterious woman named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who may or may not siding Hunt or the Syndicate.
Ever since Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects (1995), his subsequent career either as a screenwriter or a director was wildly inconsistent. His last two directorial efforts — The Way of the Gun (2000) and Jack Reacher (2012) — were both creative disappointments, which left me sceptical when he was enlisted to direct a new Mission: Impossible movie. Fortunately, McQuarrie has improved a lot in his directing skill.
First off, the pace rarely flags from the moment the movie opens with a spectacular James Bond-like prologue. Well, it’s none other than the scene where Cruise is seen clinging on the side of the plane during takeoff. And it gets better from there, with McQuarrie and Drew Pearce’s razor-sharp script manages to make the same old espionage plot feels fresh and animated. Somewhere in between, McQuarrie even able to pop up a few surprises, including the one involving Hunt accepting the mission from a device, and more so from Ilsa’s questionable motive.
The movie is also a triumph of sound and visual. Thanks to McQuarrie’s technical know-how on camera placements and Eddie Hamilton’s skilful editing, the action is top notch. Best of all, they are mostly executed with minimum CGI but more on practical stunts. Apart from the aforementioned daring plane stunt during the opening scene, the elaborate Morocco-set action sequences involving underwater, car and motorcycle are equally thrilling.
Speaking of stunt, 53-year-old Tom Cruise still has what it takes as an action superstar. At this stage of his career, he could have taken things slowly. But Cruise continues to defy his age and proves to the world that he’s capable to do (most of) his own stunts including the aforementioned plane takeoff scene. No doubt he is fun to watch for, who made his iconic Ethan Hunt role an engaging and witty character as always.
Although the Mission: Impossible movies are often Tom Cruise-centric, I’m glad that McQuarrie continues J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird’s tradition of allowing the supporting cast to shine in their respective roles as well. It’s nice to see Simon Pegg’s role gets expanded than ever before, while Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames are equally worthwhile. Alec Baldwin is perfectly typecast as the no-nonsense CIA director, and Sean Harris delivers a chilling performance as Solomon Lane. In fact, I would say he’s one of the best villains since the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian character in Mission: Impossible III.
But curiously, it was Rebecca Ferguson who steals most of the show as Ilsa Faust. Not only she’s a stunner (particularly loves the way she pulls off that evening gown), but also proves to be a versatile actress in both dramatic and physical fronts. On top of that, Ferguson and Cruise deliver terrific chemistry together.
If there’s a weakness in this movie, it was the final act that opted to go slow with a low-key ending rather than an all-out mayhem. Personally, I thought it would be better if McQuarrie follows a consistent pattern shown earlier in the movie.
Minor flaws aside, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation proves that the franchise is still going strong after all these years. A must-see for all action fans.