Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Year: 2015
Production Co: Skydance/Alibaba Pictures Group
Studio: Paramount
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Producer: Tom Cruise/J J Abrams/Bryan Burk/David Ellison
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie/Drew Pearce
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Tom Hollander

There's been a little bit of chatter about how, with the release of Rogue Nation, the Mission Impossible franchise might be the only worthy successor/competitor/companion to the venerable Bond films.

Actually that kind of tone was achieved with Ethan Hunt's last outing, 2011's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. The outsized action scenes, globetrotting, breakneck pacing and world-stopping conspiracy of Brad Bird's sweeping spy thriller signalled the re-emergence of a style we hadn't seen in spy movies since Roger Moore was around. Before Skyfall (which wasn't released until the end of the following year), audiences were even starting to forget what made Bond films great.

The 53-year-old Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane a few hundred feet off the ground is a jaw dropping moment par excellence of the kind we used to see when action movies dreamed big. Maybe Cruise is the only star with enough clout to get such a sequence signed off on nowadays.

Once again it's no run of the mill mission as the combative CIA director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is gunning to have the IMF disbanded after the mayhem of its last few outings, unaware that the world needs it more than ever.

Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is in Washington fighting the shutdown to give Hunt and Benji (Simon Pegg) the time and leeway they need, and Hunt is putting the pieces together on finding a criminal organisation called The Syndicate which has been responsible for disasters and killings across the globe.

Cut off from their home base and lifeline, the IMF teams up with British spy Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), in deep cover with The Syndicate's coldly fearsome leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) to bring them to justice... or is she?

The set pieces that ensue as Hunt, Benji and Ilsa chase Solomon across the world are so Bondian you almost expect the latter to outline his whole plan with an evil twirl of his moustache when they all finally meet.

Though utterly impractical in real life (just as much as a hollowed out volcano lair or an indoor tank full of sharks), there's been no cooler sequence on screens this year than the huge underwater chamber Hunt has to dive into in order to swap over a computer disk.

He not only has to jump into a huge funnel that jets him down into the bowels of the machine and avoid the enormous swinging arms whooshing back and forth extracting and replacing chips in the drive bays, he has to find and swap the right card before Benji walks through the security scanners into the facility upstairs. If that's not enough, the metal-sensitive security system means he can't carry oxygen, giving him three minutes to swap the disks and get out through the service hatch (which is stuck, of course) before he drowns.

In the great 'exotic locations' traditions of the genre, the action jumps from a senatorial hearing in the Washington corridors of power and a dingy power plant in Morocco to the foggy streets of London and a well-heeled opera in Vienna, and it's all delivered with the laser-focus and celebrity megawattage of one of cinema's last true movie stars.

As Benji, Pegg's comic sidekick shtick must have scored through the roof with test audiences because Rogue Nation dials it up a bit too much, the bumbling funnyman act a bit grating more than once (if he's so awkward and goofy how is he qualified for an elite spy outfit?).

Ferguson also doesn't have a very strong screen presence, but the depiction of female characters is where Mission Impossible has always differed from Bond. Where Bond women are glamourous collectibles as desirable as expensive sports cars, the women in Ethan Hunt's life (Michelle Monaghan, Thandie Newton, Paula Patton) have always been colleagues, wives or girlfriends. The only time Mission: Impossible women exuded any of the classic spy movie mystique was in Brian de Palma's 1996 original thanks to Kirstin Scott Thomas and Emmanuelle Beart.

But the show is all Cruise, and he carries the whole thing on his shoulders effortlessly. Despite a degree of maturity in his face and a body that's a little more lived in, he's almost indistinguishable from the strapping boy we first met in Taps and Top Gun. Whatever deal he signed with some demigod for eternal youth and vigour remains a mystery, but at an age where most actors are playing dads in rom-coms or handlers of twentysomething comic book heroes he's still fighting, running, shooting and hanging off planes like a man half his age.

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