Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

If you thought scaling the Burj Khalifa was the biggest stunt given the risk to reward ratio (plus the insurance policy that must have been taken out) the Mission: Impossible franchise would even consider attempting with their star, guess again. The franchises 5th installment subtitled Rogue Nation politely asks its predecessor to hold its beer and doubles down on pushing the boundaries for what an action film can accomplish. This time, there’s a plane and protagonist Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) runs across the wing and gets his feet planted onto a small platform where he holds on for dear life as the plane takes off, Ethan dangling in the wind.

This stunt comes right at the beginning of Rogue Nation. It lasts for roughly 10 or so minutes movie time out of 131 minutes and continues to separate the franchise from the competition. Tom Cruise performing his own stunts like this, scaling the tallest building in the world and swinging from building to building like Spider-Man all but confirm his commitment to authenticity, being the last remaining action stars of our time. There will never be anyone this out of their mind, putting their body on the line for the pure entertainment value added to a film.

With a rush of adrenaline to kick off the events of Rogue Nation, co-writer’s Christopher McQuarrie and Drew Pearce, the former also serving as director raise the bar that it’s predecessor Ghost Protocol already set a high standard for. And in their fifth installment, the M:I franchise once again reinvents itself from top to bottom, keeping its core foundation with Cruise front and center and building around him. Of course, the main supporting characters return to assist Ethan – field agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner). With these characters returning, Rogue Nation keeps its consistency adding only a couple new key players in Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a disavowed MI6 agent deep undercover, and CIA director Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin).

Whereas the narrative picks up right where Ghost Protocol left off. If you remember correctly, Ethan is given a job to take down the rogue group known only as “The Syndicate”. This group consists of dead or presumed dead  government operatives from every country and led by the sinister Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a former MI6 agent. The meat and potatoes of the plot come when Lane attempts the theft of a data drive known as the Redbox with access to the drive only authorized by the British Prime Minister.

McQuarrie’s screenplay keeps the film grounded and intimate while simultaneously performing high wire death defying action sequences that no person should think of attempting. As pulse-pounding as it is quiet and reflective, the contemporary setting provides the winning formula for the franchise. Dialogue is sharp and sincere, the atmosphere is full of tension, and the structure of events never relent. McQuarrie writes his spy thriller that will keep us all guessing – no one can be trusted except for the core four field agents that hail from the decommissioned IMF.

Just by their on-screen comradery, Cruise, Renner, Pegg and Rhames form an unbreakable bond. There is no weak link between them, and one would easily sacrifice themselves for the other. At least with this group, we don’t have to second guess their loyalty or be blindsided by a gimmick of becoming a rogue agent within the group. But still out of the group, Luther and Ethan have the most gravitas between them – Rhames being the only member appearing in all 5 entries other than Cruise. Pegg has now appeared and 3 and Renner in 2, but whose keeping track?

Since its reinvention, each new installment in the franchise has seen a growth in the villain. Sean Harris coming on provides the best megalomaniac IMF in whatever shape they’re in has gone up against. He’s dangerous, unpredictable and plays the role with enough edge to warrant a globetrotting manhunt. McQuarrie reinventing the formula provides an unexpected twist at the beginning of the film, to keep not only Ethan but us all on our toes during the events that would follow. The Syndicate may be the most formidable villainous organization since Blofeld and SPECTRE.  

Given the spectacle of the opening action sequence, I would argue it isn’t the best of the film. About halfway through, Benji, Ilsa and Ethan hatch the plan to steal the Redbox before Solomon – thinking they’ll be one step ahead of him. Benji is the one to bypass all security locks, biometrics and face scans while Ethan switches the data profile of a cleared agent in an enclosed tube under water. With only a 3-minute window for success for Ethan to make the switch the margin of error is the slimmest it can be, and McQuarrie cranks up the anxiety with added unforeseen variables.

Normally, the longer a franchise goes, the less of an impact its characters make when saving the world from the next villain and the more played out the schtick becomes. But not M:I, each installment since 3 has gone above and beyond its predecessor, pushing the envelope in every aspect. Stunts and action sequences have only gotten bigger and riskier with the payoff hitting the mark as if it was the easiest stunt ever conceived. Christopher McQuarrie makes the spy thriller look cool paired with sleek visuals and a fast pace. Michael Giacchino’s added adrenaline fueled score is surely missing but Joe Kraemer steps in and doesn’t miss a beat. The theme from the original series has been given a modern update and it has yet to disappoint.

These films know exactly what they are, and overall, they’re entertaining popcorn blockbuster flicks with added depth, stakes, charm and dimension to its characters.

Screenplay By: Christopher McQuarrie

Story By: Drew Pearce & Christopher McQuarrie

Directed By: Christopher McQuarrie

Music By: Joe Kraemer

Cinematography: Robert Elswit

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Simon McBurney

Where to Watch: Paramount Plus

Edited By: Eddie Hamilton

Release Date: July 31, 2015

Running Time: 2 Hours 11 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

Based On: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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