Believe it or not, “Mission: Impossible” can trace its roots all the way back in the 1960s or B.T.: Before Tom Cruise. However, for the last nineteen years, the show about the Impossible Mission Force has been more popular on the big screen than on the boob tube, with Maverick/Jerry Maguire/John Anderton in the lead role. In fact, other than Lalo Schifrin’s iconic theme, Cruise is one of the few constants in a film franchise that’s swapped directors at the rate Hogwarts has had to replace Defense Against the Darks Arts professors. Over the course of five different movies and almost two decades, we’ve seen five distinct filmmaking styles.
There was the suspense/thriller signature of Brian De Palma, the over-the-top action of John Woo, the precise sci-fi direction of J.J. Abrams and the fun of Brad Bird. The latest director to step up to the “Impossible” plate is Christopher McQuarrie who takes the series to the darkest place it’s ever been, while asking moral questions about a government organization that basically does whatever it wants thus drawing comparisons to our modern day government agencies (here’s lookin’ at you, Snowden). Welcome to “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” folks.
You know that stunt with Cruise hanging off the side of the plane that the studio has been using as the centerpiece of its marketing campaign for the movie? Yeah, I hate to break it to you, but that’s the opening scene. But that’s fine because of two things: it’s an awesome, Bond-like way to open up a spy movie and Cruise actually did the stunt for real.
Unstoppable IMF agent Ethan Hunt and company face their most formidable enemy yet, The Syndicate (a baddie from the original show), an anti-IMF organization comprised of former individuals from international intelligence organizations (MI6, Mossad, etc.) dedicated to fomenting political instability around the planet through use of torture and assassination. However, this couldn’t come at a more inopportune time as CIA Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin in a throwback to his role as Jack Ryan in “The Hunt for Red October”) wants to shut the IMF down for its recklessness around the globe. In a wink to “Ghost Protocol,” he uses the blown-up Kremlin as an example before a government committee. Hunley also refuses to believe that The Syndicate is real, causing Hunt to go off on his own mission while being hunted by his own government.
Having worked with Cruise on the thriller “Jack Reacher” and “Valkyrie,” McQuarrie visits some of these movies’ themes here like conspiracy and badass dudes who work or worked for the government trying to bring down evil. There’s also a more serious, grounded tone that wasn’t as prominent in previous installments of the franchise.
The director goes deeper into the thought processes of governments when it comes to espionage and its repercussions along with the wanton destruction we all love from these movies. The goal of the main antagonist is also more believable than “The Rabbit’s Foot” or “Chimera” previously were. Another staple of the franchise is globetrotting and this one seems to visit more countries than any of the previous films. We go from Belarus to Cuba to France to Austria to Morocco to England to America. All the visits to these places contain heart pounding action sequences like a shootout at an opera house in Vienna, Italy and a motorcycle chase on a North African highway.
Speaking of Morocco, the movie makes some interesting references to the film “Casablanca.” First off, there’s newcomer Rebecca Ferguson, the prettiest actress to join the “M:I” movies who can kick her fair share of butts. She plays Ilsa Faust, a femme fatale whose loyalties and past are not quite clear just like Ingrid Bergman’s character Ilsa Lund. Second, Hunt and Benji Dunn are lured to the city of Casablanca to steal information from a facility under a power plant, a scene that will have you gasping for air. Like every movie, this is the standout sequence like the wire suspension in the first movie or the scaling of the Burj Khalifa in the fourth.
Given Ilsa’s last name, Hunt makes a deal with the devil by working with her. Sean Harris plays Solomon Lane, the cunning leader of The Syndicate, the Moriarty to Hunt’s Holmes, if you will. Harris is super creepy with a raspy British accent and murderous scowl. Since McQuarrie wrote the screenplay for “The Usual Suspects,” you can expect a few twists and turns along the way.
To counterbalance the maturity, there’s Simon Pegg returning as Dunn who provides most of the comedic relief. Some other familiar faces are computer whiz Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames who only made a small appearance in the last movie) and analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner). Standing tall above them all, however, is Cruise who still proves that, at the age of 53 he can still step into the role of action hero with ease. Not that I had any doubts, of course. His role in “Edge of Tomorrow” in 2014 was proof enough.
There will be more “Mission: Impossible” movies to come and I couldn’t be more excited. It has and always will be my favorite spy franchise (sorry, Bond) that never fails to deliver on action, cool gadgets, dangerous villains and their larger-than-life schemes to wreak havoc upon the world. Should you choose to accept this simple fact, it can become your spy series of choice as well.