It wasn’t too long ago that the “Mission: Impossible” movie franchise looked pretty much dead. The third film, in 2006, was a dud- the efforts of villain Philip Seymour Hoffman notwithstanding- which coincided with the Oprah’s couch-associated decline of Tom Cruise’s star power.
And that’s why the fourth film in the franchise, 2011’s Brad Bird-directed “Ghost Protocol,” was such an unexpected delight. You had a nearly 50-year-old Cruise doing fantastic stunts, such as hanging off a skyscraper in Dubai. You had a half-dozen awesome, tense action setpieces. You had the return of the team dynamic that was always part of the old TV show but wasn’t part of the movies since the first. And it all came from Bird, a director mostly associated with animation.
Now we have the fifth film, “Rogue Nation,” with another new director in the chair, “Usual Suspects” screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. And while the franchise has had five films from five different directors, the general formula stays the same: A globetrotting plot, tense and super-intricate action sequences, and a plot that’s twisty to the point of being sort of ridiculous. Oh, and those funny masks.
The one that’s gotten all the attention is Cruise jumping onto a plane as it takes off; that’s just the pre-credit sequence. The real centerpiece has Cruise sneaking into an underwater facility, with only three minutes to spare, in order to allow Pegg to sneak into a government facility undetected. There are also multiple chase scenes and a lot of fighting too.
The plot has the secret agency known as the IMF battling a global terrorist faction known as “The Syndicate,” not to be confused with the X-Files villains of the same name. Meanwhile, a Senate committee, at the urging of the head of the CIA (Alec Baldwin) is trying to shut the IMF down.
Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, certainly in impeccable fighting shape for a man of his age. The plot takes him from London to Vienna to Morocco and back to London again, as he goes toe to toe with Syndicate leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris.) Cruise is assisted by Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames; it’s never explained what happened to the Paula Patton character from the last film, or for that matter Michelle Monaghan, Cruise’s love interest in the last two films.
Instead we get Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), a British spy who may be either friend or foe. But either way, she’s a fantastic character, played by an unknown who’s unlikely to remain so for long. And her name’s Ilsa- of course she turns up in Casablanca.
The supporting cast is strong and deep, with Baldwin (playing a colorful bureaucrat much like he did in The Departed) a welcome addition. Renner, after last year’s “Kill the Messenger,” is still fighting the CIA. And fans of “In the Loop” will be happy to learn that Simon (Tom Hollander) has been promoted in the British government, all the way to prime minster.
While it’s a tick below “Ghost Protocol,” “Rogue Nation” is a winning effort- much better than you’d expect from the fifth film in a series featuring a 53-year-old man as an action star.