Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation Review: This Franchise Is Just Getting Started

By  · Published on July 29th, 2015

Paramount Pictures

With Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol director Brad Bird took this franchise to another level. While Brian De Palma’s first film holds up as an exciting thriller and J.J. Abrams salvaged the series after John Woo’s sequel, Bird made the biggest, funniest, and most cinematic entry in the franchise. He sent the series off with promise – a promise which writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) has delivered on with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

Once again Hunt and his team are left to their own devices. The IMF, because of their arguably reckless missions, has been dismantled – and at the worst possible time. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is chasing down the Syndicate, an anti-IMF. C.I.A. director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) believes the Syndicate is a lie created by Hunt. Hunley’s mission is to capture Ethan Hunt, dead or alive. As the super spy is on the run from his own country, he attempts to track down two people: Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), a mysterious figure who works for the Syndicate, and Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the head of the evil organization. Because the C.I.A. is keeping a close eye on Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Luther (Ving Rhames), Hunt often has to fight his biggest uphill battle to date on his own.

A part of this series’ appeal is that directors with identifiable voices have the opportunity to bring their own style to the franchise. As for McQuarrie, he’s a filmmaker that thrives in clarity and efficiency. The rules, stakes, motivations, and story are cleanly and clearly laid out, and it’s refreshing to see a summer movie accomplish this without a boatload of exposition, because too many blockbusters these days are packed with those storytelling pitstops. Most of Rogue Nation’s story is told through action, and when there is exposition, like when Benji is explaining an impossible mission where Ethan has to hold his breath for three minutes, it’s actually fun to watch.

It was a wise move to give Cruise and Pegg so much screen time together, because their chemistry provides some great laughs. Once again, Cruise shows how skilled he is as a comedic performer. Hunt’s bewilderment towards his amazing, death-defying feats is never not funny. Mission: Impossible is a franchise that isn’t afraid to have a lightness about it. These movies take themselves just seriously enough, never going too dark or too light.

The set pieces are consistently excellent. The use of practical effects is most exhilarating during a motorcycle chase. There’s a lovely little moment where Ethan Hunt’s knee hits the road when he’s speeding around on a bike, and it lends the set piece an undeniable authenticity. The danger is real, both for Hunt and Cruise. McQuarrie doesn’t use any cheats, either. There’s no fast cutting and hardly any set pieces are set at nighttime. This is daylight action with a crystal clear sense of geography. Eddie Hamilton’s editing is insanely concise. There’s an opera house scene that has many moving pieces and players involved, and the sequence flows beautifully. You can get a small taste of it in the clip below.

That big chase sequence is the film’s largest set piece, and it’s a good thing McQuarrie doesn’t attempt to top it. The final action beat is a personal, small-scale foot chase. If Rogue Nation ended with some explosive, epic action, it would’ve been exhausting. Plus, because of the foot chase, there’s more time to spend watching Rebecca Ferguson and Cruise act together. Ferguson has a magnetic presence. In the opera house sequence, she’s wearing an extraordinary dress that McQuarrie and DP Robert Elswit just revel in, and it has an almost dreamlike effect. Ferguson’s performance is both fierce and vulnerable. If it wasn’t for the rest of the cast all being on their A-game, she would’ve stolen this movie.

As for Sean Harris, he’s certainly the most intimidating villain in the Mission: Impossible franchise. This isn’t much of a problem, but these movies are so focused on Hunt and his dynamic with his team that the villains rarely have an opportunity to standout. Harris is a believable threat as Solomon Lane, though, and overall it’s a vast improvement over the material Michael Nyqvist had to work with in Ghost Protocol.

Five movies in and the Mission Impossible franchise exhibits no signs of slowing down. McQuarrie’s sequel is familiar but new – giving audiences what they expect from this series, while also exploring new facets of this world. This is the first Mission Impossible film to come out and say it: Ethan Hunt and the IMF often succeed when they shouldn’t, thanks to plenty of dumb luck. That’s probably not the smartest strategy to to save the world, and this movie questions that method, but that incredibly dumb luck is also immensely satisfying to watch unfold.

The Upside: As always, Tom Cruise is in fine form; a variety of killer set pieces; Rebecca Ferguson is wonderful in every way imaginable; Joanna Johnston’s gorgeous costume designs; Alec Baldwin is a welcomed addition to the cast; Eddie Hamilton’s energetic and clean editing; a modestly scaled finale; a better villain this time around.

The Downside: Villains still aren’t this series’ strong suit; a few noticeable but minor leaps in logic.

On the Side: Tom Cruise declined starring in another upcoming spy movie, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.