Good evening, Mr. Hunt. 36 hours ago, there was a breach in our military’s communication network. Now, an emerging terror organization known as The Syndicate has control over our entire drone fleet. Their targets: Unknown. Your mission, should you choose to accept it…
— the closing “tape scene” of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
With those words, Impossible Mission Force (IMF) Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) stalks off into a vaporous fog that only lifts to show you he’s disappeared. Now, in the opening scenes of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, he’s jumping onto the wing of Airbus A400 cargo plane in the middle of its takeoff sequence, attempting to gain entry and seize control of “the package,” the ubiquitous term so loosely thrown about in movies like these when communicating over radio devices. Set to a lively, pulsating score by Joe Kraemer (with all the requisite interpolations of Lalo Schifrin’s iconic “Theme from Mission: Impossible”), Ethan has to get on the plane before it finishes its takeoff sequence…
… but we all know, from the movie’s trailers and posters, Ethan does not get on the plane, and the package – several pallets full of warheads armed with VX poison gas – is in danger of being delivered to its nefarious destination. From the extensive media coverage this film has gotten already, we also know Tom Cruise performed his own stunts for this sequence, thus making this one of the best, most exciting opening scenes in any film I think I’ve ever seen. This is one of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’s vast strengths: the stuntwork and the absolutely breathtaking chances Cruise takes for the sake of giving his viewers one hell of a ride.
Director/co-writer Christopher McQuarrie takes the helm under the auspices of J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, which has been involved in the Mission: Impossible series since Abrams directed the third installment. As the first two were obvious products of their directors – Brian DePalma originated the film series by focusing on mystery, John Woo filled the second with over-the-top gun violence, both featuring Ethan as an American James Bond – the third, fourth, and fifth films all hang together on Cruise’s indelible charisma, a better focus on the entire IMF squad (as opposed to solely Ethan Hunt), and outstanding stuntwork bookending relatively simple plotlines.
The Bad Robot-era Mission: Impossible films feel more like a tightly-woven series rather than mere installments in a film franchise, as they have very similar action beats and dramatic pauses. We have the high-tension opening, which doesn’t get better than Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’s death-defying stunt. Then we have a little exposition, followed by a small action sequence involving an escape, which leads us into the film’s big set-piece, capping off with a finale that will more than likely show off Ethan running a whole lot (YouTube sensation Cinemasins will be thrilled with this installment!). Each director in the Bad Robot era gives each film a characteristic trait: Abrams (Mission: Impossible III) focused more on team-oriented action; Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) showed off his talents using the IMAX format to its utmost capabilities; now, McQuarrie gives us his own brand of honest brutality (and the other way around), as seen in his previous collaboration with Tom Cruise, Jack Reacher, where he played both the unstoppable force and the immovable object, dispensing justice through any means he saw fit, which included violence and bloody beatings.
McQuarrie also lends a film noir-ish touch, making Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation a deeper, richer film than expected with his use of shadows, light, and silhouettes. Considering the subject matter, I’d say that McQuarrie – known for writing neo-noir films such as The Usual Suspects and The Way of the Gun – was the perfect choice for Ethan Hunt’s next adventure, which involves a world takeover plot and a femme fatale in the middle of it all. Along the way, we’re joined by series familiars Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) for some serious globetrotting espionage.
At the center of Ethan’s crosshairs is Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the head of the aforementioned Syndicate who, in the moments immediately following the opening credits, dumps Ethan into a torture room where Syndicate operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is getting ready to inject Ethan with some dubious substances. At the last minute, she saves him with a Jackie Chan-esque one-woman-against-a-roomful-of-guys fight, delivering Ethan from the clutches of a bloodthirsty mercenary called “The Bone Doctor” (Jens Hultén).
Welcome to where the story hooks you with two different angles at once: Ilsa’s identity and motives, and why Ethan saw intelligence operatives in that torture room who have been reported as missing or presumed dead, the revelation of which plays into the film’s secondary title. On top of all this, there’s a slight problem on the home front: the IMF is about to be disbanded at the behest of Central Intelligence Agency chief Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) aided by what looks to be a Senate Oversight committee, and Brandt can’t stop it. Hunley’s first move? A manhunt to put Ethan back in the USA to answer for his mayhem, dead or alive.
The revolving door of IMF heads (we’ve had Henry Czerny, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, and Tom Wilkinson in the role) continues to spin, as does the female element. Aside from one cameo appearance, we’ve not had one stable female role spanning any of the films’ continuity, and I’m hoping Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa can turn that around. She’s not weak, and she displays a toughness – both mental and physical – that doesn’t put her anywhere near the typical “damsel in distress” pantheon. We’re shown she can handle herself with weapons, close quarters combat, and computers, leaving just enough for a personality which results in terrific chemistry with Ethan.
Does this movie have any bearing on a certain “rogue nation” that’s been in the news for the last year or two? Not really, but one can’t help think if this is a film fantasy version of how a deep cover agency would handle such a thing. When it comes down to it, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is good, old-fashioned film excitement. Watching this film made me feel like I’d gone back to the days when Indiana Jones was swinging on his whip across chasms and over his enemies, holding on for dear life to the rope bridge as Mola Ram tried to rip his heart out of his chest. Fewer actors try as hard as Tom Cruise to not just earn, but command the audience’s respect, which he manages to do in the film’s opening minutes. That’s the kind of film McQuarrie has made, and it’s a slam-bang slam-dunk to close out the July movie season.