When’s the next one?
Mission: Impossible has propelled itself across the best part of two decades with a flair for taking a fresh approach each time and even on its fifth outing is still capable of making you want more.From De Palma’s double-crossing first entry to John Woo’s balletic bullet-fest first sequel, to J.J. Abrams’s often overlooked third outing (with the series best villain in Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and one of the best pre-credits sequences in the history of forever), it took Brad Bird’s grandstanding Burj-climbing Ghost Protocol to give the franchise a new lease of life and return series frontrunner Tom Cruise (who was, at one point, tipped to be replaced by Jeremy Renner) back to the #1 spot. Fast-tracking a sequel off the back of stupendous box office returns, Cruise here teams up with yet another director in the form of previous collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (the writer of The Usual Suspects and director of the underrated modern western gem, The Way of the Gun).Cruise previously worked with him on Valkyrie, Edge of Tomorrow and Jack Reacher and whilst McQuarrie doesn’t quite put his stamp down with the same distinctive signature directorial trademarks as his predecessors (De Palma’s camera-angles and double-crosses; Woo’s slo-mo, gunplay and doves; Abrams’s cold opens and McGuffins), he delivers an assured, frequently breathlessly kinetic entry which bounds from set-piece to set-piece with fluid motion and blockbuster spectacle, whilst paying keen tribute to previous entries, familiar faces and series (film and TV) trademarks. And with Cruise in the (often very literal) driving seat throughout this is undoubtedly one of the best (if not the best – Fast Five notwithstanding) fifth entries in any franchise.
Despite the seemingly spoiler-centric trailer, it’s not long before you realise that very little of the actual game was given away by the trailer, with a jaw-dropping pre-credits sequence which, whilst not competing with the third film’s powerful cold open, is certainly the most spectacular – and would easily give the Bond franchise a run for its money. Soon we’re faced with the main thread: the IMF, and the globe, under attack from a rogue organisation (introduced at the end of Ghost Protocol) called The Syndicate. With Hunt seemingly the only one convinced of their existence, it falls upon him and a few of his old crew to bring the so-called ‘anti-IMF’ into the limelight and take them down once and for all.
It won't take more than a few minutes of watching this film to realise that you're in store for one of the grandest spectacles of the year.
Right from that pre-credits sequence to the magical signature credits themselves we get the instant feeling that this entry, perhaps more so than any other before it, is intent upon paying tribute to not only the best moments of the previous instalments but also of the classic TV series, with not only the most spectacular opening, but also the best credits sequence in the series thus far. Fans will know that The Syndicate itself is taken straight from that classic series, and that they are the Mission: Impossible equivalent to Bond’s SPECTRE (another good reason, aside from avoiding Star Wars competition, to bring Rogue Nation’s release forward by half a year), and the film establishes the franchise’s strongest opposing force, complete with hordes of disposable gun-wielding assassins (most spectacularly on a fleet of motorcycles).
The story barely pauses to catch a breath for its first two acts, seeing Hunt rollercoaster across the world chasing down the elusive Syndicate frontrunner, a vicious psychopath played with snarling menace by Sean Harris, whilst parrying with a potentially duplicitous assassin played by the gorgeous Rebecca Ferguson. Bringing Simon Pegg’s comic relief along for the ride (again, often literally) lends the film a much-needed lighter tone, which allows the more sombre elements to play out against a backdrop of self-awareness and fan-service.
Indeed, whilst Pegg is on hand for the outright comedy, it’s actually Cruise who gets the biggest laughs, more than happy to poke fun at his age and his stature, whilst even committing to some perfectly-timed physical comedy. At 53, it’s nice that he makes these efforts, but without a doubt the film’s – and the franchise’s – high points often come from the breathtaking stunts which he actually performs himself. Rogue Nation, against all odds, feels like it may actually outdo Ghost Protocol’s Burj-scaling in this respect, with Cruise delivering a whole array of jaw-dropping stunts that require him to drive car and race bikes at breakneck speeds, hold his breath for ridiculous periods of time and just hold on for dear life in some of the most truly insane scenarios that you’ve ever seen.
In an era where CG makes almost anything possible, Cruise’s Impossible antics remind you of the good old days of the Bond franchise’s classic Guinness World Record-making stunts.
McQuarrie cranks up the tension for a superb car chase and a blisteringly fast motorcycle chase, but he doesn’t just deliver blockbuster spectacle, also constructing a wonderfully Hitchcockian opera sequence and a misty shadow-infused final act on the cobbled backstreets of London (although it’s been a while since London’s seen that much fog). The players all suit their roles – Baldwin giving himself high blood pressure as the CIA director tasked with reining in what he thinks is an out-of-control IMF, Ving Rhames lending some further continuity to the franchise, and Renner thankfully staying clear of the action – only reinforcing the fact that this is very much Cruise’s baby, and hopefully always will be.
Ferguson makes for a great female lead: strong and tough, with her own interesting character arc, and with enough romantic allusions and chemistry to give Emily Blunt a run for her money as the best recent on-screen pairing with Cruise, but also enough kick-ass sequences – by herself – to remain arguably the franchise’s most well-defined female character. And yet we will always return to Cruise for being the driving force behind this. Changing up directors but keeping the star the same is a great idea, and the man appears to be able to adapt and shift up whenever required. He propels the piece, and sometimes single-handedly carries it.
Rogue Nation doesn’t strike every single note perfectly – perhaps not quite delivering its more low key third act with the same effortless vitality as its first two – but it remains a great franchise entry, a great summer blockbuster and indeed one of the best blockbusters of the year so far. And with a sixth entry planned to shoot as early as summer 2016, thankfully we won’t have long to wait for the next one.
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