Old-school action sensibilities and a great cast make this a joy from start to finish.
A plane is being loaded with enough chemical weaponry to wipe out a medium sized European nation. Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) lies in a field trying to hack into the plane and prevent it leaving the ground, with the help of Luther (Ving Rhames) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner). Then Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) runs onto the wing of the plane and clings to its side as it takes off from the ground. Dunn’s shouts of amazement are echoed by audiences throughout the cinemas of Great Britain.
Five minutes into Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and the endlessly discussed plane stunt is dealt with, with immense satisfaction. Now what?
The fifth Mission: Impossible film sees superspy Ethan Hunt on the trail of Sean Harris’ terrorist, who he believes to be in charge of the shadowy Syndicate, which no-one else believes exists. Chased by the CIA as a rogue agent, Hunt and his team must reunite to prove the Syndicate exists, and promptly destroy it. But the mysterious Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) keeps crossing Hunt’s path and appears to have an agenda of her own.
Director Christopher McQuarrie keeps the IMF’s adventurous scrapes and action sequences imaginative yet grounded. While hand-to-hand fight scenes rarely astonish, the way he constructs whole sequences is masterful. He plays for tension in a brilliant Vienna Opera House set-piece, escalating with slow reveals as Ethan, Benji, and Ilsa all play their parts backstage. An underwater heist full of long, smooth takes of Hunt holding his breath for dear life, becomes a car chase, becomes a motorcycle pursuit. These familiar situations come alive with inventive camera angles, a great score, and the thrill of practicality. There is quite possibly no more than five minutes of green screen or visual effects aided explosions in Rogue Nation. Tom Cruise is the special effect.
However Rebecca Ferguson gives him a good run for his money. Her character Ilsa is as capable as Hunt, frequently saving him, maybe more often than he saves her. She’s smart and occasionally very dry witted, like how she takes off her heels before abseiling down a building. In-keeping with the tone of mystery, the film spends as much time with her when she is without Hunt, as when she is with him, delving into what she is actually doing. This is arguably where the film falls down – there is so much plot to the entire affair, that the twists, crosses, and general developments pull the audience’s focus from getting to grips with Ilsa’s character. It’s one of many reasons the film deserves a second watch. Once you know where the plot is going to go, Ilsa becomes even cooler and more interesting.
Whilst Ferguson’s Ilsa is a stand-out, it would be wrong to overlook the other great performances. Sean Harris’ villain is talked about more often than he speaks, yet is terrifyingly capable and philosophically interesting, standing apart from Ethan’s previous adversaries. Simon Pegg’s Benji gets even more to do here than in Ghost Protocol, as practically Ethan’s right-hand man, playing for drama and humour, whilst appearing to be in on the thrill. Benji is imbued with the same awe for Ethan as Pegg and the audience have for Cruise. Who, giving Ethan more charm, determination, and depth, has never been better in the franchise. One can only imagine what sort of stunt he will attempt in Mission Six.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, directed by Christopher McQuarrie, is distributed by Paramount Pictures. Certificate 12a.