Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Starring Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin
So, you guys realise that, in the current state of play, the Mission: Impossible series is superior to the Bond franchise, right?
It’s kind of a Marvel/DC type situation. Like Marvel, M:I isn’t afraid to be fun, while 007 has grown moribund, burdened by a weird sense of occasion and loftiness, and this strange, almost pathological need to be taken seriously, dammit. Po-faced Daniel Craig is emblematic of the kind of self-loathing that has infected Bond, whereby saving the world and shagging supermodels can only be indulged in if it’s made to look excruciatingly painful and psychologically traumatising.
Christ, it must be downright galling to see Tom Cruise having so much fun when he turns his hand to the same objective every few years. Yeah, there’s a formula to it and, yeah, there are notes they seem duty-bound to hit in every outing and yeah, Tom sure does like dangling off tall and/or moving objects but, by and large* the M:I flicks are perfect pieces of popcorn fodder, aware of their own implausibility but so determined to entertain that their lapses are largely forgivable.
They’re also, in their own weird way, auteur pieces, each bearing the distinctive stamp of the director at the helm, from Brian de Palma right through to the new kid, Christopher McQuarrie, the Usual Suspects scriptwriter who joined Team Tom when he called the shots on Jack Reacher the other year. McQuarrie’s vision is at once pulpier, grittier and a touch more tongue-in-cheek than the slick set piece-building that characterised Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.**
Rogue Nation sees Ethan Hunt (The Cruiser) being disavowed (again) and the IMF disbanded (again) after CIA director Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin) takes them to task over the the large-scale property damage and recklessness that accompanies every operation Hunt and pals undertake. Hunt, however, has a bee in his bonnet about a shadowy organisation dubbed “The Syndicate,” a network of presumed-but-clearly-not-really-dead intelligence operatives who work as a kind of Mirror Universe IMF, sowing discord and anarchy in the name of, well, straight-up evil. So, Hunt hunts the bad guys, the CIA hunts Hunt, and the rest of the gang – including returning alumni Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames, plus new morally-grey bombshell Rebecca Ferguson – do exactly what they’re supposed to do.
There are plenty of double-crosses and reversals in Rogue Nation, but few surprises. That said, there’s pleasure in seeing a perfectly set row of dominoes fall, and the same receptors that react to that stimuli are tickled by the story mechanics here. It’s not what they do, it’s the way that they do it, and McQuarrie has stripped down his M:I ride to its bare chassis, delivering an incredibly lean, tight and propulsive film. There’s the slightest amount of flab in the middle – that underwater heist sequence is a really unwieldy way to introduce a pretty bog-standard MacGuffin – but otherwise it ticks every box.
Indeed, there are moments which actually approach sublimity, and most of them happen in one bravura cat-and-mouse sequence set in the Vienna State Opera that ably demonstrates that tension and pacing beat pyrotechnics and scale every time.
Rogue Nation doesn’t rewrite the rulebook – it cleaves to it so closely that you can only utter a low whistle in admiration of its craftsmanship. In the cinema landscape it’s closest cousin would be the Fast & Furious franchise – another series that, flying in the face of common wisdom, continues to improve with every instalment. While it’s not as joyous a celebration of the action aesthetic as Vin and family’s joint, it’s still a cut above what we’ve come to expect from action cinema these days.
And it’s way more fun than Bond.
*We’ll forget about MI:2 or however they’re abbreviating it these days, shall we?
**Seriously, I can never tell where the colons go.