After five movies and nearly two decades, you would think that the Mission: Impossible series would begin to lose its momentum. Remarkably, the series is still just as strong as ever, maybe even more so, with both Ghost Protocol and the latest, Rogue Nation now peaking as my top favorites. Even more impressive is Tom Cruise in the lead role, who has proven yet again that he is still one of the world’s top action stars, even if he has aged since the first movie (not by much, though). Whether a follower of the series from the start, or just hopping aboard, it’s hard not to get a kick out of Rogue Nation.
Tom Cruise vs. the World
In Rogue Nation, the IMF is in dire straits yet again, though this time it is by an organization as cunning and professional as themselves, called the Syndicate. Trained in a similar manner as the IMF, their goal is to spread world-wide terror through any means necessary, including bombings, airplane crashes, and assassinations of high-ranking government leaders. It almost seems like too much for Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) to handle.
Since Hunt cut his ties to his familial duties at the end of the third film, Cruise is now left to play the character in the best ways he has in the past: as a ruthless, cunning, unstoppable force. Though I have always believed Cruise to be a better actor than people give him credit for, he really was built for this type of role. As an action star, he flourishes, and any attempt to humanize Ethan Hunt only seems to backfire by the end (such as with the hokey, unbelievable romance of Mission: Impossible 2, which remains the series’ lowest point). Here, just as in Ghost Protocol, the emphasis is on the mission itself and the dangerous tasks that go with it, and though some personal crises may get in the way, it is never as disruptive as it was in the past.
The High Points
Some of the high points of the Mission: Impossible series (literally) are through the incredible stunts, an aspect for which the directors seem to try to outdo themselves with each film. Though nothing could quite equal the nail-biting intensity of Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol, there are still some comparable elements here. The highlight will obviously be the airplane scene, where Cruise is hanging on to the door of a plane as it takes off. The very thought of it makes my palms start to sweat, and even more so after watching some behind-the-scenes photos of Cruise filming it. The only real problem, if any, that I had with the scene was that it was in the first few minutes of the film. It would have been nice to have a build-up to it instead, but I guess you can’t have everything.
Director Christopher McQuarrie, who previously directed the underrated Jack Reacher, has a knack for directing action scenes. He may not possess the seamless flow of Brad Bird‘s direction in Ghost Protocol, but he does have talent nonetheless. Some of the highlights of Rogue Nation include a motorcycle chase on high-rise cliffs in Morocco, a dive through an underwater tunnel in a heavily guarded power station, and a rather dangerous fist-fight on a catwalk. Although the conclusion did feel a bit lackluster, at least compared to the rest of the film, it was at least unexpected and caught me off-guard, which is something that I always appreciate.
The Newcomer (and the Rest)
Ilsa Faust, played by Rebecca Ferguson, is easily the strongest female character that the series has yet produced. Paula Patton‘s character from the fourth film is a close second place, but her character was not nearly as interesting, since we always knew where her loyalties lie. In contrast, Ilsa always seemed to have her own agenda, and it’s not necessarily either good or bad, but at the same time you know that she has planned it from the start. At times, she reminded me heavily of a femme fatale character from a classic film noir. Ferguson plays the character with robust energy, using not only her good looks but her cunning wit to get by.
Characters like Ilsa give me hope for the future of female roles in movies, especially in action films where they are often neglected. Between Rogue Nation and Mad Max: Fury Road, it appears that women are finally getting the credit they deserve.
Returning to the series from the previous film is Simon Pegg as Benji, Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell, and Jeremy Renner as William Brandt. Though Rhames and Renner’s characters were unfortunately not as utilized as in previous films, the same cannot be said about Pegg, who here is given a elevated role. Pegg, who is one of my favorite actors, provides the comic relief for Rogue Nation, and his timing is often much more precise than that of his costars. Sean Harris is also just the right touch of uncannily creepy as Solomon Lane, the leader of the Syndicate, although his character did feel a little underused.
It’s almost hard to remember that Mission: Impossible was originally a TV show, as the legacy of the films now seems to overshadow it (or perhaps I am also too young to remember the show). Twenty years and five movies later, the series has reached a new peak in terms of strong, developed characters, well-fleshed and interesting stories, and a heck of a lot of adrenaline-pumping action. Tom Cruise may be over 50, but he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon. Let’s hope that the series continues to follow suit.
(top image source: Paramount Pictures)