Over the past 19 years,Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible movies have become synonymous with its star’s fearless, adrenalin-rush stunts. Each installment in the series seems to showcase at least one top-this set piece where Cruise takes his life into his hands as if he were out to prove that there’s still one old-school A-lister who’s willing to go to the daredevil extremes that his peers pawn off on their stunt doubles.
In the previous chapter, 2011’s Ghost Protocol, Cruise wowed audiences by hanging from the side of the world’s tallest skyscraper, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, with the help of a pair of electrified adhesive gloves. Now, in the latest sequel, Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation, director Christopher McQuarrie understands that Cruise’s signature without-a-net show-stopper is what we’re all primed for. And he wastes no time serving it up, opening the film with its biggest money shot, as Cruise sprints and leaps onto the wing of a Russian cargo plane speeding down a Minsk runway and proceeds to cling by his fingernails onto its side after it’s taken flight. As he gets violently sucked into its hull (in a natty suit, no less) and parachutes out with a payload of bombs laced with VX nerve gas, all you can do is pick your jaw off your lap and grin at the breathtakingly bananas spectacle you’ve just witnessed. Because, make no mistake about it, even at 53, Cruise is still Hollywood’s hungriest leading man.
Regardless of whatever off-screen P.R. briar patches or on-screen missteps Cruise has weathered over the past decade, the Mission: Impossible films have remained the actor’s safe harbor—his Teflon franchise. He’ll always be embraced as a returning hero as Ethan Hunt. Maybe that’s because it’s one of the few remaining series (along with 007) where slick, globe-trotting derring-do is still appreciated. Rogue Nation may not be the best, the tightest, or even the most logically coherent M:I flick, but there should be more movies like it: relentlessly thrilling, smart entertainments for folks who can’t tell the difference between Quicksilver and The Flash—and aren’t particularly interested in trying to learn the difference either.
After Rogue Nation’s opening salvo, we quickly learn that these are dire times for Hunt and his top-secret IMF posse (Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, and the comic-relief maestro Simon Pegg). The U.S. government, egged on by Alec Baldwin’s CIA heavy, have gotten tired with Hunt’s cavalier brand of espionage and have called for their retirement. Of course, they’re not about to start taking golf lessons without one last mission. Fortunately, one’s
provided thanks to a rogue terrorist organization called The Syndicate, led by a somewhat bland villain named Solomon Lane (Prometheus’ Sean Harris). While on the run from the CIA, a spy in the cold, Hunt is captured by Lane’s henchmen and rescued from a beating by a beautiful Syndicate badass named Ilsa (Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson) who quickly slips away from Hunt and hightails it to Casablanca. Ilsa? Casablanca? Somewhere, the Humphrey Bogart Estate awaits its royalties.
Can Ilsa be trusted to work both sides against the middle while Hunt and his crew work their way up the Eurobaddie food chain to Lane and clear their names back at home? Cruise’s franchise is too valuable to Paramount to ever put that question in doubt. But like all Mission: Impossible films (of which there’s yet to be a dud), it’s not so much about the outcome as it is the breathlessly thrilling journey Cruise takes us on to get there. B+