Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, dir/wr. Christopher McQuarrie, st. Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Ferguson.
Another year, another impossible mission. Only, you know, it isn't. Impossible. Apparently. It does seem, on the basis of this - the franchise's fifth outing - that when you run out of ideas, just EL James that shit and start over. Thus Rogue Nation has abrasions with authority, megalomaniacal villains, duplicitous twists and turns of character, and of course, set-pieces that seek to up the ante of their predecessors. It's not stale per se - Cruise (ever the case of love the art, not the artist) - is far too magnetic a personality for that ever to transpire, but like Harrison Ford said to George Lucas on the set of Jedi, sometimes killing of a character is the only way to breathe fresh life into a dying beast, and in so doing, give it some much-needed narrative clout. Otherwise, what's at stake? Nothing that ever feels terrifyingly real.
Rogue Nation finds the IMF (not to be confused with the IMF) up in front of a senate tribunal that seeks to dissolve the outfit once and for all due to its recklessness and disdain for authority. Meanwhile, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) seeks the help of colleagues Benji (Pegg) and Luther (Rhames) to prove the existence of and bring down The Syndicate, a lazily-monikered criminal consortium led by the enigmatic Solomon Lane (Harris), an architect of chaos whose evil is immediately identified by how quietly he talks and dispassionately he kills.
No doubt the fifty-three year-old Cruise is on fine form as the be-ripped and fearless Hunt, whether doing that quivery serious-face thing he does when something important's happening, or, like, just running, or biking, or actually hanging on to the outside of planes. And while the much-advertised bomber-clinging opening is a grand testament to the palpitating immediacy of live-action stuntage over CGI, it doesn't really end up having much to do with anything, and this is where we have got to in the franchise; a series of sequences where Cruise continues to hone his USP for Doing Stuff.
To be fair, much of this lies at the feet of director McQuarrie who went from writing the screenplay for The Usual Suspects to The Tourist via Valkyrie in fifteen years. At least Brian De Palma's original MI movie way back in 1996 felt like it had some authorship. Similarly, the subsequent directors - John Woo, JJ Abrams, and Brad Bird - all managed to lend their distinct vision to the franchise. That is, however, I believe how franchises sustain themselves - by evolving and transmuting into something else. Why not have a black Bond? Why not have a female Doctor? Nothing is irreversible. But in truth, Rogue Nation feels like the first MI film that treads water, and while Cruise and Pegg's chemistry is winningly engaging, Rhames' addition seems like an afterthought, and although newcomer Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust (I wonder whose side she's on?) acquits herself with a seductive, whispery grace, there's little magic between her and Cruise.
But whatever the content, the numbers say that there's still a healthy appetite for those who love to watch Hunt run, and while it's unlikely the tone of the franchise will change tack, it will be interesting to see whether audiences will be as keen to see the IMF team alive and kicking for another 19 years.