It is very rare for a film series to actually get better with each subsequent installment, but that is exactly how the Mission: Impossible series rolls. Rogue Nation is the fifth installment in the film series that started all the way back in 1996 (that film in itself based off of the Sixties TV series), but Rogue Nation is really the first Mission: Impossible film to bring together every element that worked in the previous films to make the most complete Mission: Impossible to date.
Tom Cruise once again is the face of the IMF as agent Ethan Hunt, tracking down a clandestine shadow organization known as the Syndicate, who is always just one step ahead of Hunt. Making Hunt’s mission even more impossible is the fact that the US government has shuttered the IMF after their cowboy actions in Ghost Protocol that nearly saw San Francisco obliterated by a nuke because Hunt willingly gave a terrorist nuclear launch codes in order to try and catch him. Of course, Hunt has gone rogue in every single Mission: Impossible movie that has ever been made, so it’s no surprise that he continues to evade the CIA (led by Alec Baldwin) while trying to bring down the Syndicate. However, like Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation has a greater attention to the team element than most of the previous Mission films with Simon Pegg back as funny gadget guy Benji, Jeremy Renner back as analyst Brandt, and Ving Rhames back as hacker Luther. Then there is the new addition of Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious, butt- kicking Ilsa Faust, who is either a double agent helping Ethan bring down the Syndicate from within, or is actually in the Syndicate and is playing Ethan and his team.
While it may seem like there is a lot going on in this film, it all feels organic and the story clips along at a very brisk pace, always making sense (which was a problem I had with Ghost Protocol). Then there is the stronger villain presence in this film than in Ghost Protocol, with Sean Harris portraying the cold-blooded head of the Syndicate who is always outsmarting Ethan at every turn (though Philip Seymour Hoffman in M:I:III is still the series best bad guy). While I have to concede that Ghost Protocol had better gags, Rogue Nation utilizes Simon Pegg better than he has been utilized in any of his previous two Mission films and that in itself leads to some good comedic beats featuring Benji. Another thing that Rogue Nation really does better than most of its predecessors is action aiding the story. All of the action scenes are exquisitely orchestrated and are some of the franchise’s best. Of course, the thing that makes Rogue Nation the best Mission film is it really plays off of the relationships established between these characters in a way that no other Mission film has done.
Having gotten to know Simon Pegg’s Benji for three films now, we actually get to see more of a friendship between Benji and Hunt than ever before, and that idea of friendship is echoed in the characters of Brandt and Luther. Most of the Mission: Impossible films never really brought back the previous teammates, but with the past two films they have made a concentrated effort at creating this team and it finally pays off here with some nice emotional moments between all of them. There is arguing between them, but there is also a level of trust and a willingness to do anything to save one another’s lives that was never there in any of the previous films, which makes you care more. Then there is the new friendship forged between Ethan and Ilsa that is very engaging because it is so different from any of Ethan’s previous relationships with women in these movies. It also doesn’t hurt that Rebecca Ferguson is insanely awesome in this movie.
When all is said and done, you really feel like you have gone on a ride in Rogue Nation. The plot is full of twists and turns, something one should expect with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie having written The Usual Suspects, and the action is thrilling and intense, with McQuarrie really flexing his directorial muscles with only his third film as a director. You will have fun with Rogue Nation like you have with every previous Mission: Impossible, but you will also be treated to a smart story that you have think about with some emotional consequences at the core that McQuarrie really milks in one beautiful sequence near the end where all sound drops out of the film and we go into slo-mo. It’s a smart choice in a film full of smart choices.
8 out of 10 stars