Let fans of the two decade-spanning Mission: Impossible movie series hash out whether Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the most action-packed, smartest, most sophisticated, and best-plotted of the five-film bunch. Just know that it’s one hell of a great thrill ride that packs so much slick, skillfully-engineered fun into its 2 hours and 11 minutes, in fact, that unless the upcoming 007 movie Spectre matches it, let alone tops it, we may be counting M:I 5 as the year’s best Bond movie. The derring do begins with an insane, vertigo-inducing pre-credit sequence with heroic Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in a natty designer suit holding for dear life onto the side of a cargo plane as it rattles down the runway and lifts off. A few hair-raising maneuvers later, our barely ruffled hero escapes carrying a stockpile of deadly nerve gas bombs. Take that, Daniel Craig and company.
The tricksy plot has CIA boss Alec Baldwin wanting to defund and put out to pasture Hunt and his IMF spy crew (Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, and Simon Pegg) as reckless and destructive, basically reducing them to functionaries. Hunt remains an outlier, though, and he regroups them to take down psychopathic terrorist villain Solomon Lane, played by Sean Harris (Prometheus) with icy stares and Peter Lorre-ish whispers. Lane is the shadowy leader of an international death and destruction-merchants called The Syndicate whose members are out to obliterate global security and to stop Hunt, whom they capture and are about to torture when he gets assisted by a mysterious and deadly efficient British agent named Ilsa (Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson in a breakout role). We won’t risk spoiling any of the enjoyable globe-spanning spy intrigue and cat and mouse stuff, but strap in for a couple of show stopping action sequences, including one highly Hitchcockian assassination attempt (see The Man Who Knew Too Much) set in the Vienna State Opera House during a performance of Puccini’s Turandot, another mostly underwater, and yet another, a breakneck motorcycle chase set in Casablanca (hence the name Isla – get it?).
Like him or not, Cruise, in his one bulletproof role, and the movie constantly showcases what great shape he’s in and how insanely daring and committed he is when it comes to stunts, even if he is as emotionally opaque as ever. Pegg adds a welcome note of warmth and everyman humor and Ferguson is a ferocious, attractive standout who more than holds her own in her running, jumping, shooting, and vamping scenes with Cruise. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is very well directed and written by Christopher McQuarrie, from a story by Drew Pearce’ (Iron Man 3) and the old TV series by Bruce Geller. Handsomely shot by Robert Elswit, it’s as rousing, crowd-pleasing, and grandly old-fashioned an accompaniment to popcorn-munching as we’ve seen all summer.