It's interesting to chart the evolution of the Mission Impossible series over time. The first was a convoluted “everyone betraying everyone” thriller whereas M:I 2 was unconstrained by logic and physics and had lots of slow motion and doves.
When JJ Abrams took over for M:I 3, it sketched the blueprint of where the series would continue to go and Ghost Protocol cemented that and became my personal favourite. So, now we're at number five in the series.
The Mission: Impossible and Fast and Furious series are the only franchises I can think of that have had a dramatic gear change midway through and still continued to work afterwards.
Much like F&F, if they keep the quality up, I could watch these as long as they keep making them.
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his regular team including Benji (Simon Pegg) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are caught up in trying to stop a shadowy organisation called The Syndicate, led by a mysterious man called Soloman Lane (Sean Harris), who are intent on taking out high value targets to shape the global political agenda to their specifications.
During this, CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) appears before a committee to shut the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) down. Hunley succeeds and IMF are absorbed into the CIA and Hunt is cut loose.
Along the way, Hunt meets British agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who seems to switch loyalties on a whim. Having people determined to find him and kill him from both sides of the law, Hunt goes rogue to try and not only prove the existence of The Syndicate, but bring them down at all costs.
The film is a smart blend of classic espionage storytelling and big action sequences. The idea of The Syndicate being an “anti-IMF” is a smart one. By showing us the similarities and differences between the two teams, it not only gives us an idea of what IMF aren't, it reaffirms the fact that we're rooting for the right side.
Cruise is reliably great as Ethan Hunt. Interestingly, Rogue Nation doesn't try to humanise him like in previous entries. He's a legendary superspy and is a fixed point around which the other characters orbit. He's the same character at the end of the film as he is at the start. Normally, this would be the sign of bad plotting and poor character development, but the script is too clever for that to be a legitimate complaint.
Rogue Nation adds an element of self-awareness that wasn't really present in previous films. It knows Ethan Hunt and the series are ridiculous and it rolls with it. Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust is a revelation. She's presented as a Hunt equal and she attacks the role with relish. I was really impressed with her tough but still grounded agent. Simon Pegg works well as the comic relief.
The film is mostly a double act between him and Cruise and the odd pairing works. Series newcomer Alec Baldwin does a great job too. He plays Hunley with the sort of bureaucratic douchebaggery that makes you want to reach through the screen and shake him.
I hope to see him in future films. I was less impressed by Sean Harris' Solomon Lane. He's good and suitably creepy, but I never got any kind of real charge from him. He's meant to be a genius who is always several moves ahead of Hunt, but to me he wasn't interesting enough for me to fully buy into that. He's certainly not bad at all, I think I just expected a more charismatic performance for a character that manages to have Hunt and the IMF on the ropes.
The much-touted sequence seen in all the trailers and posters where Cruise hangs off the side of a plane by his fingertips as it takes off happens right at the beginning of the film. Starting with the dial turned all the way up is a fantastic way to set out its stall.
The film isn't all breathless action, but it reminds you how much fun the series can be. The action sequences the film does have are flawlessly executed. They fly in the face of the hyper-kinetic, fast edited nightmares that usually pass as action scenes these days. Director Chris McQuarrie takes full advantage of the star insisting on doing his own stunts.
There's a tense bit during an opera performance that played out like a better version of one of the only things that worked in Quantum of Solace.
In what I'm sure is an intentional nod to classic Bonds, the diminutive Cruise squares off against a hulking brute of an assassin in very much the same way Roger Moore's Bond did against Jaws. The car and motorbike sequences are genuinely thrilling too. If I hadn't seen Mad Max earlier in the year, this would be my action film of 2015 so far.
In any long-running franchise, the question is always how the newest one stacks up to its predecessors. It may be unfair to rank these films against each other instead of taking them on their own merit, but I believe it's a price that must be paid for making a sequel.
With that in mind, I have to say that I think I enjoyed Ghost Protocol more. Whilst Rogue Nation is a better written film, I think Ghost Protocol had a real wow factor that this film couldn't quite match. There's not really that much in it and in my not-at-all humble and brilliant opinion, the Burj Khalifa sequence in Ghost Protocol is one of the best action sequences in the past decade. It'd be hard to top that.
Rogue Nation is a blast. It's hard to believe the Mission:Impossible series has been going for nineteen years and still shows no signs of slowing down.
Rogue Nation is equal parts plot-twisty and gun-shooty and it does both expertly. I'm also happy to report that the Lalo Schifrin theme still kicks an incredible amount of arse.
Your mission, and I urge you to accept it, is to check it out ASAP. The author will self destruct in five seconds.