The Mission: Impossible series has proven over the years to be fairly reliable in terms of quality. The first movie was solid, while the second was far shakier, but three had a great villain in Philip Seymour Hoffman and 2011’s Ghost Protocol marked a kind of renaissance for the series. Now with the fifth entry in the series, Rogue Nation, the message seems to be, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on the hunt (no pun intended) for a shadowy organization known only as The Syndicate. The Syndicate, as we learn later in the film, operates as the antithesis of Hunt’s organization, the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), using former operatives to conduct terrorist acts and assassinations. In the course of his investigation, Hunt gets himself captured, but is freed by the mysterious Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). On the other side of the world, CIA boss Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is working to dismantle the IMF permanently. William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), who worked with Hunt in the last film, is trying to mitigate the damage, but failing. All the IMF agents are called back, except Hunt, who stays in the field against orders. Hunt is labeled a rogue agent—again—and the CIA is after him. Needing computer expertise, Hunt pulls Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) into the mission and Brandt is forced to bring in Hunt’s old friend Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) to track them down. I won’t go into too many details, so as not to spoil the whole thing, but Hunt heads for a showdown with the mysterious leader of The Syndicate (Sean Harris) in a bid to prove the organization exists and that the IMF is needed more than ever.
Rogue Nation is an action-packed entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise with spectacular set pieces and is a solid movie through and through. The story has some twists, but it’s a fairly straightforward affair. The film never tries to outsmart itself or overthink the plot, keeping Hunt’s objective clear and center stage at all times. However, I will say that it got annoying towards the end when several characters began regurgitating the plot back to me to make sure the audience was on track. However, the biggest problem with the script is that we’ve kind of already seen this film before. The situation for Hunt is not much different from his situation in Ghost Protocol or even M: I 1 and 3. It seems that Ethan Hunt is always fighting both the films’ villains as well as his own employers. It’s time to change that up because A) It’s getting to be a tired trope and B) After the third time, you’d think the U.S. Government would know to trust Ethan Hunt’s play.
One of my major issues with this particular entry in the series is that Writer-Director Christopher McQuarrie has essentially turned Ethan Hunt into a superhero here. All evidence shows that he can physically survive ANYTHING that comes his way and his legend has grown to ridiculous proportions. I remember when he was just a really good disguise man in the first film and that is kind of the issue with the series as a whole. By making Mission: Impossible solely a vehicle for Tom Cruise, it loses a little bit of the team aspect of the premise. Yes, Ethan Hunt still needs his buddies to help him out from time to time, but the first film truly felt like an ensemble piece, while subsequent entries have basically been Tom Cruise and the Gang. I was hoping that the entire team would have carried over from Ghost Protocol considering that was the plan at the end of that film. For Rogue Nation, Pegg and Renner are back along with longtime player Rhames, but where’s Paula Patton? She proved herself to be a highly competent agent in the last film and I think it would have been nice to make room for her on this roster. In fact, I felt like Rhames was just along for the ride for old time’s sake. His role could have easily been filled by Patton’s character as Rhames didn’t really do much hacking—you know, his character’s specialty.
Also—and we’re going to get into some SPOILERS here, so skip down another paragraph to avoid them—while I enjoyed the revelation of The Syndicate’s origins, I found myself really disappointed that they were dispatched in a single film. I expected the organization to be the Mission: Impossible franchise’s version of James Bond’s SPECTRE, a constant thorn in the IMF’s side. For all the buildup, The Syndicate deserved to be more than a one and done antagonist. The same can’t be said for their leader, Solomon Lane. Sean Harris played the villain as a cold, calculating thinker, but I found him to be an uncharismatic bore. The voice he used was distracting, but what really bothered me about him was that Lane was supposed to be the anti-Ethan Hunt and in a film where Hunt’s legend is built up to an epic level, Lane doesn’t come close to matching him. Now, one could argue that the anti-Hunt should be a thinker since Hunt is such a man of action, but it’s just not satisfying when the two of them never really meet face to face until the end of the film. I felt like there should have been another bigger bad pulling Lane’s strings in the shadows. END SPOILERS
Tom Cruise is at the top of his game in this one. He really is still a great action hero, but as I mentioned above, Ethan Hunt is becoming a little too unstoppable. They need to bring him down a peg or two in the inevitable Mission: Impossible 6. Also, kudos to Cruise for continuing to do his own stunts. The infamous plane sequence from the trailer opens the film and it’s a thrill to see Cruise hanging on the side of a plane and know it’s really him. Pegg is great again as the comic relief and the filmmakers try to add a few more layers to his character to make him a bit more three dimensional. Renner and Rhames are also good in their roles, but I thought that Renner was being set up to take over this franchise from Cruise down the road, but that’s clearly not the case—keep looking, Hawkeye. Baldwin is a nice addition to the ensemble and it would be nice to see him show up again, as one of the tropes of these films is that the boss-type characters only make it through one film. Ferguson is a great, sexy addition to the proceedings, but honestly, they already had that combo with Paula Patton. Of course, with Ferguson’s character, you gain someone with nebulous allegiances, which they couldn’t really do with Patton, unless they made her a member of The Syndicate—THAT would have been a great twist. McQuarrie does a nice job with the direction here too, but I have to say, the action editing early in the film gave me whiplash, the cuts were so fast. However, he did what he had to do with Rogue Nation—he continued the upward trajectory established with Ghost Protocol and kept the machine humming with a solid story and solid action. He didn’t take a lot of risks and I fully expect him to be tabbed to direct the next installment of the series considering the good working relationship he has with Cruise, who is also a producer on these films.
Overall, Rogue Nation is a nice addition to the Mission: Impossible franchise, but none of the sequels have ever come close to topping the sleek European-noir of the first film. Though it’s a great action film, the whole thing has a real “been there, done that” feel to it. Ethan Hunt has almost become bigger than the films and definitely needs to be “de-powered” a bit if the series is going to continue. He needs a weakness and this film proves that it can’t be his loyalty to his friends because when one of his compatriots gets captured, you never really feel that Hunt won’t come through—the other characters have built him up too much for him to actually fail. What Cruise and his team need to do now is shake things up and not tell the same damn story over and over. That’s Cruise’s mission…if he chooses to accept it.