If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Expertly building on the renewed energy injected into the Mission: Impossible franchise with 2011’s Ghost Protocol, this fifth episode roars along like a sleek, well-oiled machine. Sure, it’s much the same recipe as before: thrilling action in international locales, spectacular stuntwork by its fighting-fit superstar Tom Cruise, dazzling style loaded with visual flair and easy-going ensemble cast camaraderie. But under director Christopher McQuarrie’s keen eye and casual aplomb, which adds enormous likeability to the seamless events no matter how outlandish, Rogue Nation keeps the pulse pounding and the plot machinations breakneck without sacrificing laughs or nonstop excitement.
Ghost Protocol ended with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) prepping his IMF team to investigate the Syndicate, the evil organisation that became a regular antagonist in the old 60s TV series. Rogue Nation starts with CIA head Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) disbanding the IMF because of their extreme ways and disbelief that this mysterious foe even exists. While Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are deployed to Washington desk jobs, Ethan remains out in the “shoot to kill” cold, convinced the Syndicate leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is attempting to establish a new world order by staging an escalating series of catastrophes and terrorist attacks.
This means getting the old team back together, including Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), to outfox the Syndicate. But why does Lane needs a “red box” computer file hidden in an underwater databank in Casablanca that only the British Prime Minister (Tom Hollander) can unlock? To get answers, Hunt joins forces with disavowed British agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who could be part of the deadly criminal collective bent on causing global chaos.
Beginning with the much touted airplane stunt that Cruise did for real – it looks terrifying on the IMAX screen! – Rogue Nation actually devolves into a virtual two-hander between Cruise and computer-genius sidekick Pegg. Renner and Rhames really don’t get a proper look in until later on when the focus shifts to London’s familiar landmarks. For Benji is the first IMF member to team up with Ethan in what is the best, most tension-laden and technically striking sequence in the entire film.
Taking place in a Vienna opera house during a performance of Puccini’s Turandot, it features three marksmen closing in on the Austrian Chancellor as Ethan navigates his way backstage through the wings, the flies and over scenery to halt the assassination attempt. Beautifully orchestrated with the famous aria Nessun Dorma playing a key role in the action – listen closely and you’ll hear its refrain continually echo on the soundtrack – McQuarrie clearly knows his Hitchcock, as this wonderfully elegant suspense highlight follows in the grand tradition of The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Elsewhere it’s top-flight escapist business as usual with motorcycle races through Morocco, breathless hi-tech underwater capers and a ticking bomb finale – all skilfully staged with visceral élan for maximum effect and giddy engagement. Sean Harris (Prometheus) is one of the best British actors around and he gives anti-IMF chief Solomon Lane a chilling, playfully malevolent intensity. Rebecca Ferguson (so good in BBC TV series The White Queen) is absolutely perfect as the ersatz Bond girl, Ilsa Faust (great name!), who could well be a double, even triple, agent. Ferguson’s chemistry with Cruise is surprisingly electric, but it’s her steely hauteur you will remember long after laughing out loud to such nuggets of tongue-in-cheek dialogue describing Hunt as “the living manifestation of destiny”.
And there you have it in a nutshell. It’s that appealing and balanced blend of light-hearted humour, blistering action and edge-of-the-seat suspense that makes the Mission: Impossible movies fly. Not to mention the Mission Imp himself, Tom Cruise, who makes these fast and furious treats such a bright and breezy delight. Rogue Nation puts both feet on the accelerator from its breathless beginning and never lets up on the pizzazz or chutzpah until the very end and alongside Mad Max: Fury Road is my favourite blockbuster of the summer.