Prepare for gushing. This movie has earned it. “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation” is the best movie of the summer by leaps and bounds. An absolute masterpiece of espionage thrills, it is so much more fun than any fifth movie in a franchise deserves to be. Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie (“Jack Reacher”) have crafted a blockbuster that is smart, cheeky and fun. As I watched the movie, I kept laughing at how effortless they make it seem. At a time when big-budget studio movies feel less and less inspired, “Rogue Nation” takes a very familiar formula and still manages to deliver, pound for pound, the best theatrical experience in ages.
The “Mission: Impossible” series has been an interesting examination into the dynamic of the film franchise. The first was a slow-burn thriller, more focused on mystery than manic action. Then, John Woo did the exact opposite by delivering his signature slow-motion gun-fighting in a baffling sequel. J.J. Abrams cut his big-budget chops on the underrated third entry. With Brad Bird in the director’s chair, it scored big and successfully combined all the best aspects of the first three movies. “Mission: Impossible” is a franchise that has always been interesting, with each installment feeling quite different from the last.
Christopher McQuarrie is a filmmaker with a very unique pedigree. He won an Oscar for writing “The Usual Suspects” and has ventured from the keyboard to the director’s chair with compelling results. “Way of the Gun” is an underrated gem, and “Jack Reacher” was an entertaining (if not groundbreaking) movie. “Rogue Nation” is his coming-out party. There are so many beaituful touches and flourishes throughout the movie; little things elevate a pretty stadard spy flick into something funky fresh.
The plot is pretty boilerplate for a “Mission: Impossible” movie: Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team of IMF agents are dealing with a sinister organization of former secret agents, known as “The Syndicate.” Hunt is disavowed and has to perform a series of cloak-and-dagger greatest hits to steal some data from a hard drive and stay one step ahead of a curmudgeony CIA director (Alec Baldwin) who wants to try him for treason. It’s just a typical day for the Impossible Mission Force.
The devil (and the delight) is really in the details. The movie’s stunts are mind-blowing. Whether it’s Cruise hanging from the side of a plane, or a car chase through the alleys of Morocco, everything is beautifully staged. The action is well-staged in relation to the story, too. They avoid lazy franchise clichés of excess. I was amazed at the restraint during many scenes in the third act. This is when most movies throw everything and the kitchen sink on screen to assault the audience’s senses. There’s none of that in “Rogue Nation.” The last act is remarkably small in comparison to other summer films, but it’s so much more satisfying.
People seem to be warming up to Tom Cruise again. The 21st century has been an interesting, albeit awkward experiment with the world’s biggest movie star. There was that whole Katie Holmes relationship debacle, and every time we heard his name it was quickly followed by the word “Scientology.” Cruise the man might be a skeleton-filled closet of unmentionable strangeness, but Cruise the movie star has always been worth watching. The guy seems hellbent on making crowd-pleasing fare, and he hits the mark far more often than not. “Rogue Nation” is another example of how strong a presence Cruise is, and like last year’s “Edge of Tomorrow,” he’s oftentimes starring in the most interesting blockbuster of any given year.
Kudos to a great ensemble cast. Tom Cruise is the running, smirking, hella-intense core of this franchise, but he’s well-supported by great talent, like the always entertaining Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner, and (new to the series) Alec Baldwin. There are few films I have enjoyed enough to see twice. “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation” is one of them. Just a perfect piece of popcorn filmmaking.