The Mission: Impossible series seems to have a good thing going for it. Five films in, the franchise itself seems unlikely, or impossible, if not for the tragic John Woo-directed M:I2. Each film has had a different director and writer at the helm, with wildly different tones, and yet there’s a consistent quality at the heart that makes it worth the price of admission every time. Maybe it’s that Tom Cruise-charm, maybe it’s some magic in a bottle, either way, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation continues the trend.
This time around the bold transition between sequels is a little more muted, with Rogue Nation playing more like a direct sequel to 2011’s Ghost Protocol. That film built the team and seeded the premise for a sequel in its ending, and Rogue Nation appropriately follows through, with Ethan Hunt and team tracking down a mysterious organization known as the Syndicate.
One noteworthy omission: Paula Patton’s character in Ghost Protocol is absent (apparently due to scheduling issues during filming), making the core team Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Brandt (Jeremy Renner), with series’ standby Luther (Ving Rhames) picking up the slack. I’m not usually one to dwell on something like this, but the resulting team and the film as a whole is a total sausage fest. It’s obvious enough to be distracting, with the one female exception — a new spy, Ilsa Faust — being oogled by the camera in a pretty overt manner. Rogue Nation rises above all this thanks to solid writing and fun action, but I expect at least a few “Rogue Nation has a woman problem” thinkpieces in the coming days.
Anyway, the film still gets points from me for focusing on the dynamic between Ethan and Benji, with the two sharing the majority of the screentime alongside lone female-maybe-double-triple-quadruple-agent Ilsa. Once again the team is thrust into an all-or-nothing situation — with the entire IMF dissolved by the CIA, who doesn’t believe the Syndicate is a threat or even exists. The resulting cat-and-mouse game of wavering allegiances and multinational espionage missions is as twisty as you’d expect.
Tonally Rogue Nation is neither as convoluted as the first film, as character-driven as MI:3, nor as brilliantly adventurous as Ghost Protocol was. Instead, the film seems to ride in a comfortable spot between all three. It’s not the most interesting or special of the films, but it’s possibly the most confident and sure-footed. Rogue Nation feels like the series in its groove (aside from a slight third-act lull) from beginning to end.
And in case you had any doubts, yes, this Mission: Impossible is as much a Tom Cruise vehicle as any other. As always he shines as Ethan Hunt, managing yet another suite of insane stuntwork and following through with his usual vim and vigor. At 53, Cruise performs like the ageless super spy he portrays. It will be a huge bummer when he can’t do these films anymore. Recasting Jason Bourne didn’t work, and I can’t imagine Ethan Hunt would survive without Cruise either.
I still call Ghost Protocol the series’ peak, but this fifth entry maintains Mission Impossible’s inexplicable greatness in a tired genre. Rogue Nation has everything you'd want in one of these films — impressive action, a twisty and engaging plot, cool toys and spy setpieces, and some great Benji moments. It's even self-aware, unafraid to poke fun at how many times Ethan and crew have avoided death. A sixth one might seem like a stretch at this point, but a fifth one was too, and Rogue Nation managed the impossible.