Ethan Hunt and his impossible chums are up their neck in it again as it all kicks off. The much-publicised Cruise-hanging-from-a-plane sequence is merely your pre-credits teaser before we plunge into the meat of a story which sees the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) disbanded following a Government enquiry in the wake of the mayhem caused by Hunt and co in Ghost Protocol. But CIA time-server Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is frustrated by the fact that while he is able to absorb the rest of the IMF team into his organisation, Ethan Hunt’s still on the loose and on the trail of The Syndicate, a terrorist group no-one seems to believe actually exists. But exist they do – they’re described at one point as “an anti-IMF” - headed up by the urbane, chilling and softly-spoken Soloman Lane (Sean Harris) and, funded by some mysterious source, they’re determined to destabilise the world’s economy through a series of apparently-random terrorist atrocities. Hunt is hot on his trail and his escapades bring him into contact with the mysterious, high-kicking Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who appears to be Lane’s right-hand woman-cum-weak spot – or is she something else entirely? Cut adrift from the defunct IMF and with no official Government sanction, Hunt slowly draws his team back together as he tries to second-guess the wily Kane and for a while it looks as if our hero has finally met his match in a foe who is always one step ahead of the game.
McQuarrie – doubtlessly with the help of Cruise, who seems ferociously-protective of the franchise which keeps him at the top of Hollywood’s A-list – has created a clever, witty, exciting modern espionage thriller which not only pays its dues to the earlier titles in the series, but also tacitly acknowledges that Ethan himself is starting to get a little long in the tooth. The IMF is seen as outdated and prehistoric and Ethan too is struggling to stay the distance. Frustrated and outwitted by his opponent at every turn, Ethan still takes his lumps and bumps and throws himself recklessly into danger for the greater good but he’s starting to suffer. Punch-ups leave him dazed, he looks shell—shocked as he hurls himself through windows and he sails closer to death than ever before when an underwater exploit doesn’t go quite as planned.
So whilst the plot is a little more sophisticated than we’re used to in the MI series, it’s generally otherwise business as usual. McQuarrie’s script is peppered with wry asides and witty one-liners – this time Simon Pegg’s returning computer geek Benji Dunn doesn’t get all the best gags – and when they come the action scenes are pretty magnificent. In the gantries and walkways of a Viennese opera house, high above the stage and an unsuspecting audience, Ethan plays a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a lethal assassin, a car/bike chase around the streets and mountain roads of Casablanca is ridiculously exhilarating, and the race-against-time infiltration of a computer identity recognition system sees our hero forced to hold his breath underwater for six minutes with consequences which very nearly prove fatal. Back to join the still-charismatic Cruise and one-time simple comic relief Pegg (much more front-and-centre to the action this time) are Renner’s William Brandt and Ving Rhames as the practical, no-nonsense Luther Stickell who’s been with the IMF since the very beginning of its cinematic incarnation. But the standout new cast addition is Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious Ilsa Faust; we’re never quite sure who she is and if we should trust her, but in the end she’s not only a worthy adversary/ally but she’s more than a match for Ethan as he battles to stay relevant in a world which seems to be moving faster than ever. Whilst there’s an unspoken attraction between the two, the movie mercifully spares us the smouldering romantic subplot we might expect from lesser movie series although we suspect we’ve not seen the last of the resourceful Ilsa.
Rogue Nation is never less than electrifying entertainment but some may be disappointed that the adrenalin rush isn’t quite as marked as in Ghost Protocol and that the emphasis here is on a compelling and multi-layered story rather than just a succession of outlandish stunts. The final confrontation between Hunt and Lane – which was never going to be a Ghost Protocol-like punch-up due to Harris’s leaner physicality – is a slight damp squib and parts of the third arc stumble close to the absurd as Tom Hollander’s British Prime Minister tips the script dangerously close to the farcical. But these are really minor quibbles in a proud, funny, gutsy and intelligent action film comfortable in its own skin and made with style, conviction and a refreshing determination not to rest on the laurels of former glories and do something a little bit different and unexpected. Rogue Nation is a Cruise-missile of a movie.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CHRISTOPHER MCQUARRIE / STARRING: TOM CRUISE, SIMON PEGG, REBECCA FERGUSON, JEREMY RENNER, VING RHAMES, SEAN HARRIS, ALEC BALDWIN, TOM HOLLANDER / RELEASE DATE: JULY 30TH
Expected Rating: 10 out of 10