The five (and counting) installments in the "Mission: Impossible" film franchise have been successful to varying degrees, but they have all been consistently good in generalnot too shabby for a 19-year-old series based on a TV show from the 1960s. The previous entriesBrian De Palma's "Mission: Impossible" (1996); John Woo's "Mission: Impossible 2
" (2000); J.J. Abrams' "Mission: Impossible 3
" (2006), and Brad Bird's "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
" (2011)have had their own visual styles and auteur imprints, allowing each one to feel like a contemporary rejuvenation rather than a progressively stale case of déjà vu. If "Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation," written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (2012's "Jack Reacher
"), doesn't quite have that same individualistic touch that assuredly sets it apart, what it does have is a similar confident skillfulness that keeps most of the film humming along from one noteworthy action set-piece to the next. The script, pacing, and use of its returning characters are perhaps a little more standard than what has gone before, and the third act proves distinctly anticlimactic in the shadow of all that it follows, but when it works (which is often), it really cooks.
At the end of the terrifically crackerjack "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol," Impossible Mission Force senior agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his dedicated new crewBenji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Jane Carter (Paula Patton), and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner)had saved the world from a nuclear warhead and were about to set their sights on investigating a nefarious shadow organization known as The Syndicate. As "Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation" picks up, Carter has been cast aside and forgotten about without so much as a one-line explanation as to where she went, while Brandt is stuck in Washington, D.C., hashing it out with a CIA director, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who wants to dismantle IMF. Hunley claims not to believe The Syndicate really exists, but Hunt knows first-hand that it does, a network of sinister ex-operatives led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) already creating fear and civil unrest via a series of seemingly disconnected terrorist attacks across the globe. Their only hope in infiltrating the group lies with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an agile, sides-shifting British Intelligence agent with enigmatic ties to The Syndicate.
As an espionage actioner favoring practical stunts over computer-generated wizardry, "Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation" devises its most extravagant one right up front, a pre-titles sequence that finds Ethan clinging for dear life as a cargo plane carrying nerve-gas missiles takes off into the big, blue sky. It is an astounding physical feat for Tom Cruise (2013's "Oblivion
") who, at a seemingly ageless 53, really did attach himself to the outside of an aircraft during filming and continues to go above and beyond for every role. The driving plot of the film lacks the urgency of "Ghost Protocol," trading in a nonstop race against time for a more measured, if still death-defying, jaunt around the world. Nevertheless, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie is capable of big deliveries, ones that rely on mounting intrigue and enough perilous falls, vehicle crashes and near-drownings to terminate just about everyone but characters who happen to be starring in a big-budget popcorn movie.
A stop at the Vienna State Opera is possibly the picture's most intricately crafted highlight, with Ethan out to intercept the assassination of the Austrian Chancellor at a performance of Giacomo Puccini's "Turnadot" as rhapsodic aria "Nessun Dorma" swells throughout the theatre. Later, an underwater operation and a high-speed motorcycle chase through the winding streets of Morocco elicit jittery, jolting excitement and sustained clips of suspense. Unfortunately, the film loses steam during its final half-hour, an increasingly plodding climax that strikes as a forgettable, virtually nondescript whimper next to the frequently dazzling fireworks of the preceding ninety minutes. One expects action flicks to rise to a fever pitch rather than peter out in the homestretch, and this one prematurely unloads all of its big guns long before the ending has arrived.
The camaraderie between its ensemble of agentsand the actors playing themwas one of the fresh additions to "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol" that made it so readily enjoyable. While everyone but a noticeably absent Paula Patton has returned, the ensemble aspect feels fractured, with Jeremy Renner (2015's "The Avengers: Age of Ultron
") and Ving Rhames (2014's "Jamesy Boy
"), as Agent Luther Stickell, sitting along the sidelines for far too long. This leaves the commanding Tom Cruise and the immensely likable Simon Pegg (2013's "Star Trek Into Darkness
") to pick up the slack. By now, Pegg has moved beyond mere comic relief as Benji Dunn, while Cruise is all business as Ethan Hunt. What they are lacking here is much in the way of development; they are so committed to their jobs that they have apparently mastered the art of not sleepingeverlet alone having a life outside of the IMF. Tearing into the most fascinatingly complex role in the film is new cast member Rebecca Ferguson (2014's "Hercules
"), a riveting presence as Ilsa Faust. Ilsa straddles the line of being a protagonist and villain all at once, with the viewer right alongside Ethan in trying to figure her out. As more revelations come to light, Ferguson's demeanor of regal ferocity deepens with enticingly vulnerable shades.
"Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation" is a workmanlike entry in the cinematic "Mission: Impossible" canon, and occasionally better than that. The threat of IMF shutting down notwithstanding, the premise this time doesn't have quite the same stakes or humanistic pull that the earlier films did. At the same time, there is plenty to satisfy on the screen, from the heroes' tension-filled exploits to the picture's superb technical credits. Happy to sweep Ethan Hunt on a succession of daring episodes while choosing not to dig beneath the surface or further his character in any significant way, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie instead seems to put his interests in Rebecca Ferguson's captivating Ilsa. In terms of dynamic personal arcs, this is arguably her movie more than Cruise'sand certainly more than Sean Harris' (2014's "Deliver Us from Evil
"), playing central heavy Solomon Lane as a preppy, entitled twerp rather than a legitimately menacing threat. There is undoubtedly life left in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise for further Ethan Hunt-led adventures, but it would be nice if future films concentrated on the person behind the stunts rather than strictly the spectacle of the stunts themselves.