“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” is the fifth installment of the “Mission Impossible” franchise. It sees agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) back in action, joined in the field by Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames). The film picks up where the fourth installment left off: with Hunt on the prowl for the mysterious, potentially fictional shadow group known as The Syndicate. At the same time, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), leader of Hunt’s Impossible Missions Force (IMF), is back in Washington, attending a Senate inquiry into the IMF’s actions, and CIA Chief Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) calls to dissolve the IMF completely. Hunley wins out, and the majority of IMF agents are folded into the CIA’s rolls — all with the exception of Hunt, who goes rogue, remaining in the field, searching for The Syndicate.
The Syndicate is, of course, quickly proved to be real, and Hunt begins a game of cat and mouse with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an MI6 operative who is working as a double (triple?) agent inside The Syndicate itself. What follows is a film that is surprisingly unlike any “Mission Impossible” installment before it, in ways both good and bad.
One thing that the “Mission Impossible” films have all done remarkably well is handle the aesthetic. While the film franchise has taken major liberties with the source material and characters from the TV show, they have all retained the kind of “poor man’s James Bond” feel of the show and made ample use of gadgets, identity-stealing masks and over-the-top action sequences, the latter of which have been augmented by Cruise’s physical ability and willingness to do stunts live rather than in front of a green screen.
To help make all of the above come off as convincingly as possible, the previous films have been directed by action film stalwarts like John Woo and JJ Abrams. “Rogue Nation” Director Chriopher McQuarrie, on the other hand, is a relative neophyte, with only 2000’s “The Way of the Gun” and 2012’s “Jack Reacher” under his directorial belt. Consequently, “Rogue Nation” shies away from the action sequences that typified previous installments (though the action scenes the film does contain are beautifully shot), and instead tries to make itself into more of a psychological whodunit. In reaching for that goal, the film becomes a little sluggish in parts and crawls up inside its own navel a bit, trying to be smarter than it really is. There are a series of plot twists toward the end that are nothing more than one deus ex machina after another, as Hunt and Syndicate leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) are given nearly God-like precognitive abilities that only grow stronger as the film goes on.
Ultimately, “Rogue Nation” is the kind of summer blockbuster that would have been perfectly at home in 2002, an age before Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon showed everyone that tentpole action films can also be smart and witty. This is the kind of film that practically begs you to turn your brain off and just be wowed by the experience. If you can manage it, “Rogue Nation” can be a blast. Tom Cruise will (or certainly should) go down in history as the greatest action actor of all time. But if you find yourself unable to be lead unquestioningly from one suspense-less plot point to the next, never once doubting the final outcome or genuinely wondering which characters will wind up where, then “Rogue Nation” will leave you feeling little more than frustrated and $12 poorer. CV