Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4): Cruise strikes again

missionimpossibleroguenation01“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”, the fifth film of the franchise which was started almost 20 years ago, is packed with action sequences to thrill and excite us. Considering all the exhilarating fun we had with the previous films, that is hardly a surprise, but the movie does a good job of maintaining the high level of tension and excitement as driving along its dizzy, convoluted plot full of danger and intrigue, and it is also firmly held by the undeniably enduring star presence of its lead actor who strikes again with commendable results.

The movie begins at the point not along after the closing scene of “Mission: Impossible – the Ghost Protocol” (2011). While Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) puts himself into another daring secret operation as shown during the prologue sequence, his agency, the Impossible Missions Force (IMF – please don’t confuse it with the International Monetary Fund), is in a serious trouble mainly because of what happened in the previous film. The CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who believes IMF has caused more troubles than successes for the US government, wants IMF to be disassembled and then absorbed into his agency, and IMF Agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), representing the currently vacant IMF secretary (you will know the reason if you have seen the previous film), is helpless as Hunley makes his strong argument in front of the Senate oversight committee members.

This is not a very good news for Hunt, who is finally getting closer to a shadowy organization called the Syndicate. Being a sort of ‘anti-IMF’, the Syndicate mostly consists of former government agents presumed to be dead or missing in action, and it is revealed that this organization has been involved in many bad incidents around the world. Their leader is Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), and his brief but striking appearance at the end of one certain scene is more than enough to show us what a ruthless badass this former British Intelligence agent is.

missionimpossibleroguenation03While becoming a rogue agent being pursued by CIA, Hunt keeps tracking down the Syndicate, and some of his colleagues subsequently come to join his independent operation even though they are well aware of the risk of their unauthorized action. Hunt is also helped a lot by a British undercover agent named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), but Faust is not entirely trustworthy as a double agent tiptoeing between both sides, though she saves him from Lane’s henchmen during their first encounter. Is she just pretending to be loyal to Lane as a part of her mission? Or is she using both Lane and Hunt for whatever scheme she has behind her back?

As Hunt and other characters move around various locations including London, Vienna, and Casablanca, the movie serves us with a number of terrific sequences equipped with each own thrill and suspense. In case of that well-known action sequence in which Cruise actually clings to a big cargo plane leaving the ground (well, how can we possibly expect anything less than that from him?), that moment is as thrilling as expected, but it is just a small portion of what the movie is going to provide us. The sequence in which Hunt should carefully move within the Vienna State Opera during the performance of “Turandot” steadily accumulates tension as he comes to discover the Syndicate’s latest operation, and there is a nice Hitchcockian touch reminiscent of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934) and its 1956 remake version. During the sequence unfolded at a covert facility which is so heavily guarded that you may wonder how the hell a certain piece of secret information could be allowed into that facility in the first place, Hunt must succeed in his another nearly impossible task, and I can only tell you that it requires him far more than jumping down into a big hole gaping below him.

The director/screenplay writer Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote the story with Drew Pearce, previously directed “Jack Reacher” (2012), where Cruise played your typical stoic tough guy you cannot mess with. I did not like it enough, but I admired its several good things including Werner Herzog’s uncanny villain performance and an impressive vehicle action sequence reminiscent of those dry, gritty American action films made during the 1970s. While “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is more rapid and explosive in comparison, its action sequences seldom feel disorienting even when lots of things happen on the screen, and they are taut, gritty, and propulsive in the confident execution mixed with style and energy. The editing by Eddie Hamilton is precise and efficient, the cinematography by Robert Elswit makes good use of different locations with slick touches, and the music by Joe Kraemer stands aside whenever it is necessary to use other pieces of music including that famous TV series theme composed by Lalo Schifrin.

missionimpossibleroguenation02Although he is 53 in this year, Tom Cruise shows here that he is still a dependable action movie star as he was in “Mission: Impossible” (1996). Besides doing most of the stunt actions in the film for himself, Cruise is always believable whenever Hunt hurls himself into enormous risk without any hesitation, and he is good enough to make us believe many unbelievable things accomplished by his character and then amused by their improbable aspects later. In “Mission: Impossible – the Ghost Protocol”, I was tickled by how Hunt could draw quite a detailed sketch of his suspect’s face within a very short time, and I can assure you that you will be amazed here by how quickly he can memorize a bunch of long serial numbers – or how he can manage to hold his breath in water during no less than 3 minutes.

Cruise is surrounded by an enjoyable array of supporting performers. As a nerdy computer expert who again finds himself doing more actions than he expected, Simon Pegg is entertaining to watch as usual, and he is particularly convincing when his character gets himself stuck in a dire situation in which he and others around him can be killed instantly if they are not careful. Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames are competent as the other returning supporting characters in the film, and Alec Baldwin relishes his uptight bureaucratic character who gets outsmarted by Hunt at every turn. While Sean Harris exudes understated menace with his cold stare and coarse voice, Tom Hollander and Simon McBurney play two small but crucial supporting characters later in the story, and Rebecca Ferguson is a standout in her breakthrough performance both sassy and feisty. Hunt and Faust may be drawn to each other as seeing an equal from each other, but they must also stay in line due to the constant mistrust between them, and that certainly gives an extra spark to the scenes between Cruise and Ferguson.

As another highlight point of the franchise, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is one of the better blockbuster action films in this year. I wonder how long Cruise will be able to carry the franchise with the same strength and commitment we have observed from him, but the movie gives us a strong assurance that he can handle his continuing mission at least for a while (the production of the next sequel has already been green-lighted at this point), and I come to appreciate more of his star quality which has not been faded yet at all. He was a big bankable star when I was merely a 10-year-old boy, and he still retains his status even after more than 20 years. Not many star actors can do that, you know.

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