Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)
Featuring possibly the best pre-credits sequence not to appear in a Bond movie, indefatigable Agent Ethan Hunt returns with another un-accomplishable assignment (looking, ahem, impossibly younger, fresher and in better shape than in the last instalment). With a plot-line that's not too dissimilar to Ghost Protocol - with the IMF yet again facing shutdown/disavowal by the US government, the team are once again out on their own to save the day - there is also the much welcome presence of a proper femme fatale (and potentially duplicitous agent) in the shapely form of Ilsa Faust (a star making turn from the lovely Rebecca Ferguson). This time, the antagonist is the dastardly Syndicate - who, in a different iteration, were the main adversary of the IMF in the original TV show - a "Rogue Nation" network of former agents who seek to create chaos and anarchy around the world.
Since Brian DePalma's comparatively low key first big screen adaptation of the popular TV series, the Mission Impossible movies have evolved into a mega action franchise for Tom Cruise, with a USP of its star performing increasingly outrageous stunts with each entry that would have most other pampered Hollywood A-listers quaking in their Gucci boots. As well as the launch pad for Cruise as an action star, the MI films have also proved something of a renaissance (akin to an almost Matthew "McConaissance" style) for the second phase of his illustrious career. Nietzsche's proverb: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger" couldn't be more apt in the case of Tom Cruise and Mission Impossible. After some well documented off screen controversies, Paramount wanted to disavow (see what I did there?) Cruise from his much cherished pet project. Cruise's response was to return with Ghost Protocol and perform his most dangerous stunt yet high above Dubai's vertigo inducing Burj Khalifa building. The rest is history etc. etc.
With Rogue Nation, Cruise re-teams with his Jack Reacher writer/director, Chris McQuarrie; and the result - alongside the now obligatory death defying stunt work - is a fusion of McQuarrie's hard edged, brutal action beats interspersed with a subtle, wry sense of humour that featured in their previous collaboration. Much like Michael Mann's action output, there is an authentic flavour to the gunfight sequences that is a predominant feature in McQuarrie's three directorial pieces to date - the aforementioned Lee Childs adaptation and the underrated The Way of The Gun respectively. Whereas the latter movies were relatively grounded, mainly consisting of firearms based shoot outs and/or fistfights, Rogue Nation delivers a diverse collection of hi octane action set pieces that rank among the best in the series thus far (with the exception of the Burj Khalifa scene in Ghost Protocol). Among these are the blistering pre-credits mission to a bone crunching encounter with Syndicate thugs, and an exhilarating motorbike chase that threatens to urinate all over the one from MI:2 - Rogue Nation contains some of the best celluloid action of the summer blockbuster season (alongside Fast 7, although I've yet to see Fury Road). Also, let's not forget the signature tense "super secure facility" infiltration set piece that wouldn't be a Mission Impossible film without one (although I think it may not have actually featured in MI: III).
Of course, this breathtaking action would be rendered hollow if the narrative wasn't up to standard (as hasn't always been the case, i.e. MI:2). Thankfully, Rogue Nation has a solidly gripping plotline - perfectly paced and flowing much more seamlessly than Ghost Protocol. A key factor is the added dynamic of Rebecca Ferguson's enigmatic operative - a deadly assassin in her own right and one whose loyalties apparently sway from one scene to the next, keeping audiences intrigued through to the end. For the first time in the series, we have a well written female character who is more than a match for Ethan Hunt; and not just poorly written and/or a wallflower that needs rescuing (i present for the court exhibits: Emmanuelle Beart and Thandie Newton). Ferguson is a relative newcomer in Hollywood - her most recent film was the female lead in Hercules - but she makes the kind of impact that Michelle Yeoh did when she starred as a rival agent to 007 in Tomorrow Never Dies. McQuarrie is on a roll at the moment, following on from another strong female part for Emily Blunt as Rita Vraski in Edge of Tomorrow.
Cruise, most likely due to his established working relationship with McQuarrie - who also co-scripted the aforementioned Edge of Tomorrow - has clearly re-settled into his role as Hunt, exuding a relaxed charisma that marks a contrast to the intensity of MI:3 and the slight uneasiness of Ghost Protocol (when Paramount tried to replace him with Jeremy Renner). The latter has now been relegated to a mere support act, whilst the usual suspects of Simon Pegg - doing his usual comic relief schtick - and the returning Ving Rhames are present and correct. This time, Alec Baldwin - a great actor (see Glengarry Glen Ross) who never quite reached his full potential, but I'd watch him in anything - fulfils the role of the constantly exasperated superior. Again, there's a slight reoccurrence of the series' ineffectual villain syndrome as Sean Harris' antagonist struggles to leave a lasting impression, coming across as a poor man's Robert Carlyle in designer glasses.
It's clear that the law of diminishing returns - both in terms of quality and profitability - doesn't apply here as Rogue Nation is a spectacular addition to the Mission Impossible series, improving on the previous entry Ghost Protocol. Whilst the storyline doesn't add anything new to the genre, it provides a solid platform to deliver some truly thrilling action sequences. Christopher McQuarrie directs with pitch perfect precision - a prolific helmer he is not, but this gig proves he has the mettle to tackle a larger scale production. Rogue Nation also marks the fourth creative collaboration between director and star. It's apt that part of the movie is set in Casablanca, as to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart's Rick, Cruise and McQuarrie are clearly in the midst of a very beautiful friendship.
P.s. I've just learnt that Ilsa Faust is apparently inspired by Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca (also called Ilsa). Cool.