Saturday, April 13, 2024

Movie Review: “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation”

“Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation” comes from the “more is more” school of blockbusters. Designed as much for the international market as the domestic one, the latest installment of the Tom Cruise franchise is light on dialogue and heavy on exportable physicality: It’s a relentless onrush of elaborate set pieces, each spectacular, nerve-rattling death dodge hurtling at breakneck speed into the next one, leaving your senses rattled and your eardrums a little less receptive.

It’s a good thing the nonstop action is directed with such choreographic elegance and geographic specificity. A fistfight on a scaffold hanging backstage at the Vienna Opera House; a high-speed chase—in cars, vans, and motorcycles, sometimes driving in reverse—on the narrow, sepia streets of Casablanca; a terrifying, oxygen-less plunge into an underwater storage tank.

The director of this fifth “Mission: Impossible” is Christopher McQuarrie, of the Tom Cruise box-office bust “Jack Reacher,” but he lives up to expectations. Since its inception, the “M:I” film series has searched for a unifying directorial style, changing auteurs like light bulbs film by film, but in emulating the athleticism and kineticism of Brad Bird’s approach in 2011’s “Ghost Protocol,” the series seems to have found its crazy, chugging, cheeky voice.

McQuarrie also penned the movie, his series of escalating life-and-death struggles revolving around a Macguffin the size and shape of a zip drive. It contains vital information regarding the existence of a shadow government known as The Syndicate, a “rogue nation” (naturally) that recruits international, presumed-dead spies for secret and nefarious objectives. Its leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), identified as evil by his raspy voice, hollow cheekbones, perpetual grimace and long black coat, is the Bane to Ethan Hunt’s Batman, his most ruthless and merciless adversary yet (or at least since the last movie).

Adding to the challenges and risks is the fact that Hunt is required to work off the grid, without his usual government infrastructure backing him up. Following a series of high-profile extralegal breaches and thanks to an inquiry by the dogged CIA director (Alec Baldwin, who as usual is the best thing in the movie), Congress has mandated a shutdown of the IMF (Impossible Mission Foundation)—a plot point reflecting our universal malaise toward government bureaucracy. Which only means that Hunt’s colleagues William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) have a harder time reaching their indestructible superspy, just as the superspy is having a harder time reaching the indestructible supervillain.

At least Hunt has someone accessible in his corner—or does he? Rebecca Ferguson plays his superheroic frenemy Ilsa, who may be a double agent or a triple agent, or who may be working for Solomon Lane all along. To underline the point that she’s a shifty badass, McQuarrie has provided Ilsa the hilariously unsubtle surname of Faust.

This isn’t the only silly development in “Rogue Nation.” Clichés from action-film yore recur in droves. Hired assassins who can snipe world leaders with single bullets from across crowded theaters can’t even nick Hunt’s shoulder with full magazines and the target right in front of them. Hunt’s ability to walk away, fully cognizant, from escapades that would have instantly stopped the hearts of the world’s strongest men has climbed cartoonish towers of implausibility this time around.

But Cruise and McQuarrie know it, and they know their serpentine plot is full of holes, and they know their intended audience doesn’t queue up to an “M:I” film to listen to minor-key meditations on the nature of secret-agent statelessness. They don’t even necessarily care about the dazzling, Pure Cinema editing rhythms of Brian De Palma’s original, masterful “Mission: Impossible film,” still the one most beloved by cinephiles. They want to see hear bones crush and see things blow up, and in this respect, “Rogue Nation” more than satisfies.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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