Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson (II), Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Zhang Jingchu
Runtime: 2 hrs 12 mins
Rating: PG13 (Violence and Brief Nudity)
Released By: UIP
Official Website: http://www.missionimpossible.com
Opening Day: 30 July 2015
Synopsis: With the IMF disbanded, and Ethan (Tom Cruise) out in the cold, the team now faces off against a network of highly skilled special agents, the Syndicate. These highly trained operatives are hellbent on creating a new world order through an escalating series of terrorist attacks. Ethan gathers his team and joins forces with disavowed British agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who may or may not be a member ofthis rogue nation, as the group faces their most impossible mission yet.
“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” starts off with its most talked about stunt performed without any CGI by Tom Cruise himself. In order to retrieve a cache of nerve-gas missiles on board a military cargo plane piloted by a band of Chechen separatist fighters, Cruise’s IMF agent Ethan Hunt hangs on for dear life from the side door of the plane, waiting for his trusty tech genius associate Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) to work his way remotely through the plane’s computer to get it open. It must take some gall for writer-director Christopher McQuarrie to choose to open his movie with what others would reserve for a nail-biting climax, but thankfully that bit of derring-do isn’t just a red herring.
Instead, McQuarrie’s maiden attempt at the 19-year-old spy franchise builds on Brad Bird’s franchise-reviving entry to deliver a genuinely gripping tale of espionage along with the requisite jaw-dropping action for arguably the best ‘Mission Impossible” yet – and that is no small feat, considering that the alums of the series include no less than Brian De Palma, John Woo and JJ Abrams. In ‘Rogue Nation’, Hunt meets his most formidable nemesis yet in a shadowy “anti-IMF” terrorist organisation nicknamed “The Syndicate”, made up of former intelligence operatives from all over the world who have since been presumed dead. Led by former Special Forces operative Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the organisation’s aim is to destabilise the current global order, and are now taking their ambition to the next level by targeting world leaders for assassination.
Unfortunately for Ethan, the Syndicate are so good at what they do that no one outside the IMF believes in their existence, a fact which CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) exploits to justify the IMF’s obsolescence. After a Congressional hearing agrees with Alan’s assessment that the IMF should be held responsible for the wanton damage wrought in ‘Ghost Protocol’, Benji and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are both assigned to work at CIA Headquarters, leaving Ethan to his own devices. But rather than turn this into a one-man show, McQuarrie shrewdly introduces a skilled MI6 agent by the name of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) to play off Ethan when his boys are away, and Ilsa turns out to be a satisfyingly intriguing complement of questionable allegiance to the stoically loyal Ethan.
In classic spy-thriller fashion, Ilsa saves his life when he is abducted by the Syndicate and strung up for interrogation by someone called the Bone Doctor (Jens Hulten) who specialises in such torture, but hoodwinks him to steal a much sought-after file supposedly containing a ledger of the Syndicate’s members. Knowing McQuarrie, one expects Ilsa to be more than just the equivalent of a Bond girl, and true enough, she proves to be his equal not just in wit but also in agility, such that their ensuing romantic tension is well-earned. But it isn’t just their dynamic that is rooted in the tropes of the best spy thrillers; indeed, McQuarrie’s twisty plot involves lies, deception, subterfuge, and double/ triple-crosses, and the fact that this boasts the strongest Blighty connection of any entry of the series also lends it a distinctly English-style cloak-and-dagger feel.
Yet the language of the ‘Mission Impossible’ films has always been action, and so rather than bog his picture down in exposition, McQuarrie roots the twists and turns in a succession of glorious action set-pieces. An early sequence has Hunt attempting to stop the assassination of a key European leader in the middle of a performance of Turandot, which is itself a masterwork of suspense building and clockwork timing leading up to a vertiginous fistfight up in the rafters of the Vienna State Opera House. Before we can catch our breath Hunt is infiltrating a highly pressurised underwater cavern housing a critical server bank, which is followed as soon as it is over by a vehicular chase through the narrow alleys of Casablanca and a high-speed motorbike dash along its highways and winding mountain roads.
Rather than trying to top itself at every turn, the final act however slows down to build emphasis on character and intellect, including a brilliant sequence of duplicity involving Hunt, Brandt, an unwitting Hunley, the British Prime Minister and his MI6 director as well as a cat-and-mouse chase through the darker streets of London which culminates in a most satisfying game of wits between Hunt and Lane. Even more so than in ‘Ghost Protocol’, the team dynamics between Hunt, Benji, Brandt and Luther Stickwell (Ving Rhames) are a delight in themselves, so even though Ethan is often the one putting himself in the line of fire, there is no doubt how much of an asset his other team members are. In part, that is also credit to the strength of the supporting ensemble – Pegg the trusty sidekick cum comic relief, Renner the super-ego to Cruise’s id and Luther the trustworthy ally since his first ‘MI’ days.
There is no forgetting however this entry’s most prized addition – the Swedish actress Ferguson, who brings an athletic beauty and a sexy, enigmatic air of mystery to her character. She is easily the series’ strongest female character ever, and it doesn’t hurt that she and Cruise have sizzling chemistry. And at 53 years old, Cruise continues to be the defining face of this consistently excellent franchise, not least for the fact that, despite his age, he maintains performing each and every one of the audacious stunts live. But in ‘Rogue Nation’, there is even less of the self-consciousness or vanity that his detractors have often accused him of, not only in the way that Cruise plays underdog in order to let the other performers have their individual moments at various points in the movie but also in how he is willing to let McQuarrie insert a self-conscious commentary on how his character personifies destiny or concede on his real height in the up-in-the rafters fisticuff.
It is no overstatement that the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise is at a new peak with the relentlessly thrilling ‘Rogue Nation’, and more than just a triptych of spectacular action sequences, this entry boasts a smart gripping tale of old-school spy intrigue that will keep you guessing. Like we said at the start, it says a lot when a summer blockbuster kicks off with its most publicised stunt, but McQuarrie has wisely established this entry not on trying to top the CIA vault break-in from the first ‘Mission Impossible’ or the Burj Khalifa climb in ‘Ghost Protocol’ but rather on a winning combination of wit, character chemistry and skulduggery. Going rogue has never been this exhilarating, nor this immensely satisfying.
(The best 'Mission Impossible' yet, thanks to Tom Cruise's usual practical stuntwork and a smart, gripping script that emphasises plot and character chemistry over empty visual spectacle)
Review by Gabriel Chong