Mission:Impossible Rogue Nation
Verdict: A lot less action and tech than the last few films, but a racy screenplay and deeper characters will do the trick for fans of the franchise
Five minutes into Mission:Impossible Rogue Nation, you'd be convinced that this is the perfect sequel. Tom Cruise hanging on the door of a military plane as it takes off from Belarus. Altitude and G-force are bygones here. After a little back-and-forthing, Benji gets the door open, Ethan parachutes out of the bomber with a large consignment of nerve gas and the credits roll. If you've watched the earlier movies on the franchise, you know that this is probably just a standalone block to get your adrenaline pumping a wee bit more. It works spectacularly.
The rest of this latest offering from the Cruise school of super spy movies, is decidedly different. Unlike the last three films where the high points are a superbike fight, a face cloning operation inside the Vatican and blowing up the Kremlin, Rogue Nation goes back to the basics. It's more about the whole Ethan Hunt persona than the gadgets we've come to accept as MI staples. Sure, the face printing machine makes an appearance and there are some new additions like a virtual key that can open most doors by laser recreating the tumblers inside and there's an iris chip that acts as transmitter and video feed all at once. But none of these are knockout material. You've seen them all before in some movie or the other.
To say that Rogue Nation hinges around Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) would be an exaggeration. For a change, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) gets the most screen time he's been given in a long while and makes the most of it. Instead of simply being the tech guy at the other end of Hunt's earpiece who opens doors and whatever else Hunt needs opened or closed or blown up, Benji is literally his last hope. Which is slightly ironic because Ethan is usually earth's last hope.
Ethan is on the trail of an international spy circuit called the Syndicate who operate using spices from across the world who are believed dead. After CIA Director William Hunley (Alec Baldwin who's rediscovering his 30 Rock mojo) has the IMF shut down, Ethan goes Rogue. As you'd expect in a film of this bent, it's never quite as simple as the smash-grab-hulk routines. The sub plots and the sub sub plots are many. But there's enough action sequences - like the one where he needs to drop into a vortex of water to switch a digital card, holding his breath for 3 minutes, so that they can steal some data - and they ensure that the pace barely slackens. The difference lies in how these high octane action sequences end, which in a lot of ways is reminiscent of the first Mission:Impossible movie from decades ago.
The only sore point is the lack of a solid villain. Sean Harris, with his slightly squeaky voice and forced persona doesn't quite match up as the man running a Rogue spy outfit that's shaping world politics. Right to the end, you nurse a hope that If nothing else, Hunt will at least slap his hard to get him to stop talking. Or at least look a little less sallow.
In a lot of ways, where the previous films have relied heavily on pacy, loud action sequences, Rogue Nation is subtler, more refined and has a better handle on the whole mind over matter thing. Which brings us to the curious evolution of Cruise's character. If anything, Rogue Nation goes out of its way to prove that Ethan Hunt is not God. In all of the action sequences, Cruise needs some solid bailing out either from disavowed deep cover MI 6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and at various points in time Benji and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner). There's even this part where they're discussing the whole water vortex when Benji confidently says that an 'impossible' mission like this is a day in the office for Hunt, to which Cruise looks at him sardonically and says, "Seriously?". In getting his team involved and later showing Hunt as a man willing to throw the mission away for his 'friends' (yes, he calls then then at without sounding sappy), director Christopher McQuarrie may have managed to give us a slice of Hunt's emotional side without slipping into theatrics.
And in case none of that appeals to you, there's plenty of speeding cars, cartwheeling bikes and a flying Tom Cruise to keep you rooted to your seat.