Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
Over the course of nearly 20 years, the Mission: Impossible series has remained one of the most remarkably consistent franchises in Hollywood, and the new fifth installment, subtitled Rogue Nation, continues that tradition of quality, even if it reuses a lot of the ideas of preceding episodes. Perhaps the smartest strategy producer/star Tom Cruise and his collaborators have taken with the series is to hand each edition to a different director with a clear vision, making this a uniquely auteur-driven franchise, even as it maintains its internal continuity and stylistic consistency. Following in the footsteps of Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird, Cruise’s Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie takes over for Rogue Nation, and while he isn’t the visual stylist that some of his predecessors were, he puts his stamp on the story in its twisty plotting and robust action.
McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for writing The Usual Suspects, also wrote the screenplay for Rogue Nation, which recalls the series’ first movie in its sometimes convoluted story, featuring Cruise’s secret agent Ethan Hunt once again on the run after being disavowed by the very government for which he works. This time, his entire agency (the goofily named Impossible Missions Force) has been disbanded thanks to the efforts of the vindictive CIA director (Alec Baldwin), and Ethan and his allies must stop the shadowy, all-powerful criminal organization known as the Syndicate from doing … something. The specifics get a little lost in the twists and turns, especially the constantly shifting allegiances of alluring British spy Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who both entices and challenges Ethan.
But confusing, overly elaborate plots are one of the essential elements of the Mission: Impossible series, and if nothing else McQuarrie keeps the audience on its toes. As a director, he sticks to the basics, but that allows him to deliver impressive, no-frills action sequences, including an elegantly choreographed fight in a Vienna opera house and a relentless car chase through the streets of Casablanca. McQuarrie also balances the supporting characters well, giving returning players Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames just the right amount to do. Pegg in particular shines in a role greatly expanded from his appearances in the previous two movies.
If Rogue Nation loses momentum toward the end and ultimately falls short of Bird’s Ghost Protocol and De Palma’s 1996 original, it’s still an entertaining and exciting ride, a strong example of the best in blockbuster filmmaking.