Ethan Hunt (the 53-going-on-35 Tom Cruise) may not be considered a superhero, but he undoubtedly possesses powers that appear to be superhuman. He may not have a web to sling and his most impressive gadget continues to be a ludicrously transformative face-mask—but that does not stop him from attaching himself to the exterior of a skyscraper (as seen in a heart-stopping sequence of Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol in 2011) or dangling from the side of an airborne plane, as gloriously photographed in the opening sequence of the series’ latest installment Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation. Nearly two decades after its migration from TV to the big screen—and more or less averaging an installment every four years during that time—the franchise not only delivers its best and most entertaining chapter to date with Rogue Nation (this time, under Christopher McQuarrie’s direction, with returning cinematographer Robert Elswit), but also attests Tom Cruise has still got the goods—and the abs—to pull off a few more of these “impossible missions.”
Rocking his physical abilities, disturbingly good looks, and tremendous dedication to his craft (if you don’t already know, he does his own stunts), Cruise is arguably what makes Rogue Nation, and the entire series, a jaw-dropping spectacle. The movie star’s (yes, not “actor,” but “movie star”) awe-inspiring screen presence seems to be greater than the sum of his acting skills. It is perhaps with this star quality that the on-screen Tom Cruise can make one temporarily disregard the heavy controversy he drags alongside him off-screen. It’s a hard-to-digest fact that the Cruise who excitedly jumps off the top of the Vienna State Opera House in Rogue Nation is the same man who enthusiastically jumped on Oprah’s couch a decade ago. Or that he even aged since then. Nonetheless, Rogue Nation is his playing field from the moment its whip-smart script (written by McQuarrie also) kicks in.
In accordance with the tradition of the series, Rogue Nation starts off fast with an independent set piece where the IMF—consisting of Hunt, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), the tech-whiz Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames)—is tasked to remove a package from a plane before it takes off. This simple-sounding procedure sets the tone for many more laugh-out-loud moments to come as the story takes shape alongside the tightly orchestrated, craftily edited action sequences. The mission in Rogue Nation is unlike any other as it gets delivered to Hunt by the enemies themselves. The threat is called “The Syndicate,” an extremely dangerous group of spies who commit treason against their respective countries and plot to pull off the most destructive terrorist attacks against mankind yet. Pitted against this rogue collective while Hunt’s own team faces demobilization and fragmentation due to their unorthodox and unruly methods, Hunt does what he does best—he disappears into thin air to take matters into his own hands in cracking “The Syndicate” and piecing his team back together.
Soon enough, the often scene-stealing Ilsa Faust (the fabulous Rebecca Ferguson) joins the action and accelerates the already nerve-racking narrative with her mystifying identity. As she keeps us guessing about whose side she might be on, she evolves into a perfect female action hero—more than holding her own next to Cruise, even saving his neck on more than one occasion. She can outride Hunt on a motorbike, take down thugs all on her own, and in a set piece that will leave viewers short of breath, she proves to have the lungs to pull Hunt out of an almost-failing underwater task (the planning of which salutes the De Palma-directed first film). McQuarrie’s lens respects Ilsa as a skilled spy with intimidating physical strength, first and foremost. And his script doesn’t allow her to be a love interest or sidekick. Even when it tends to admire her beauty—as in the scene where she climbs the steps of the Vienna State Opera House during the film’s longest and most exquisite sequence—the camera captures her tastefully, without a gratuitous focus. Plus, unlike the much-talked-about Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) of Jurassic World, Ilsa is granted with a pair of scenes where she removes her magnificent heels pre-action, unknowingly making a statement against what became this summer’s most wildly successful blockbuster to beat.
Each of the Mission: Impossible installments to date has been under the direction of a different name, from Brian De Palma to John Woo, J. J. Abrams, and then Brad Bird. What McQuarrie, the Oscar-winning writer of the intricate and famously twisty The Usual Suspects, brings to the series is a dialed-up sense of complexity, tension, and smarts that flow with ease, just when one would be inclined to suspect whether there is anything left to squeeze out of this admittedly retro franchise. In his third collaboration with Tom Cruise (after directing him in Jack Reacher, and writing the script of Edge of Tomorrow), McQuarrie proves otherwise, making IMF fans eagerly anticipate another glorious show from Hunt and his team.