With “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” we’re getting the best Bond movie since “Casino Royale” in 2006.
OK, so Ethan Hunt isn’t James Bond and the Impossible Missions Force isn’t MI6, but the “MI” films are essentially Bond movies, with a touch of “Bourne” and a whole lot of Tom Cruise doing what he does best — looking about 15 years younger than his true age (Cruise recently turned 53), performing harrowing stunts, engaging in clever banter with his adversaries, and doing it all with just the hint of a smirk that tells us even when it appears certain Mr. Hunt is facing imminent death, he’ll find a way to free himself from the clutches of even the most dastardly, sneering villain.
Because he’s Hunt. Ethan Hunt.
Believe it or not, it’s been 19 years since the first “Mission: Impossible,” a high-powered mess directed by Brian DePalma. With the fifth installment of the franchise, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie matches the style and edge of “Mission: Impossible III” (2006), directed by J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird’s “Ghost Protocol” (2011.) This is the rare instance of the later movies in a series easily exceeding the quality of the original.
In “Rogue Nation,” we get the classic spy-out-in-the-cold scenario. The great Alec Baldwin hams it up nicely as Hunley, the gruff and fantastically clueless head of the CIA, who forces the IMF out of existence because that’s what gruff and clueless government bureaucrats do in movies like this: They refuse to listen to logic and disregard the facts because they don’t care for these hotshot rogue types who don’t follow protocol.
Just because IMF has been disbanded doesn’t mean Hunt will relent in his pursuit of “The Syndicate,” a mysterious (and some say purely mythical) organization of former good-guy operatives now working in the shadows to spread evil and blow things up and kidnap world leaders and BRING THE WORLD TO ITS KNEES, BAHAHAHAHAHA!
Rebecca Ferguson does stellar work as the beautiful and deadly and alluring Ilsa Faust, an agent who also might be a double agent and could even be a double-DOUBLE agent. Ilsa and Ethan exchange smoldering glances even as Ethan is trying to decipher whether she’s trying to kill him or save his life, but there’s no time for romance in “Rogue Nation,” not with so much intrigue and suspense lurking around every corner.
Much has been made of Cruise doing his own stunt work in an amazing sequence in which Ethan clings to the side of a Russian cargo plane as it takes off from a Minsk runway, and it IS a fantastically ludicrous sequence — but it’s not even the second best action set piece in “Rogue Nation.”
Director McQuarrie stages a beautifully shot, extended scene in the Vienna State Opera house in which Ethan must outwit, outlast and out-shoot multiple potential assassins. It’s reminiscent of Hitchcock — or the aforementioned de Palma when the latter was doing his best Hitchcock impersonation. Just breathtaking, thrilling action cinema.
Later, Ethan and Ilsa team up to breach a seemingly impenetrable fortress that includes a secure underwater tank. They need to do this because they have to switch a code so Ethan’s sidekick Benji (Simon Pegg, excellent comic relief) can access a facility in order to, you know, thwart the bad guys.
At times the deception and the intrigue and the twists and turns make it nearly impossible follow every detail of the plot, but even when things get muddled, we know Ethan’s our hero, and we know we’ll eventually learn the true intentions of Ilsa and the rest of the players.
One relatively weak spot: Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane isn’t a particularly memorable villain. He’s medium-insane and he loves to taunt Ethan, but he looks about as frightening as your accountant after a long weekend. It’s an interesting move to go with such a meek-looking bad guy, but I just don’t find Lane all that chilling or memorable.
Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames turn in fine performances as Ethan’s fiercely loyal teammates. Simon McBurney is absolutely brilliant as a British Intelligence official with questionable motives.
Of course, this is Cruise’s movie, Cruise’s franchise — and Ethan Hunt has become one of the signature characters of his 35-year career.
Paramount Pictures presents a film written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Running time: 131 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity). Opens Friday at local theaters.