MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (2015, Christopher McQuarrie)
This franchise is to me what STAR WARS is to many of my peers. And it’s no secret I think Tom Cruise is one of the best actors alive, and that McQuarrie is pretty high on my list of idols, so adjust this grade down if you have no interest in this franchise, Cruise, or CMcQ. But I do, and even with such high expectations, this unstoppable cannonball of an action movie exceeded them.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, still my favorite film of the year to date, almost single-handedly restored my faith in Western action cinema. It had sequences that had me holding my breath like I hadn’t since I was a kid, or at least since I saw some sort of Johnnie To movie like VENGEANCE or DRUG WAR. What a treat, then, that the summer of ’15 has given us a second English-language actioner that made my jaw drop. Paced like a Ramones song, ROGUE NATION has Ethan Hunt hanging outside the door of a soaring airplane within three minutes and never lets up. It quickly leads us to the film’s early peak, which is set to a Puccini opera at a Viennese theater. That nearly dialogue-free, white-knuckle setpiece owes as much to De Palma’s original film as it does to the finer moments of Eugenio Mira’s GRAND PIANO. McQuarrie, so gifted with his pen, lets the camera do the talking, punctuating his edits with opera and telling a complex narrative with nothing but glances and glancing blows.
From there, the tempo doesn’t let up — unlike the cool but stilted FURIOUS SEVEN, this isn’t a loosely connected series of action sequences: it’s a smartly constructed spy thriller that exhibits the franchise’s key themes of mistrust, corruption, and morality-blurring with newfound strength of character. In one of his best performances of the series, Cruise plays Hunt as the wild card he’s often described by here — a gambler coasting on luck, increasingly frayed at the edges. A man like that is easy to blame, and blame becomes another central theme. These intelligent and layered moments of character- and relationship-building make the moments between car chases sizzle, thanks in no small part to supporting players Rebecca Ferguson and Sean Harris, the latter of whom sports a voice so snake-like and filthy that his mere presence makes him one of the series’s best villains.
I don’t think there’s ever been a film franchise with at least four movies, let alone five now, where every entry is at least good if not great (yes, I even like the John Woo installment a lot). Credit goes to producer Cruise (and J.J. Abrams, recently) for letting it stay a director’s franchise, while reliably providing serialized touches like the masks, the silent heists, and peerless stunt work. This is how you make an action movie: you don’t turn your brain off, and you don’t let the audience turn off theirs.