What do we want from a Mission: Impossible film? Well, there’s the theme, that delightful jerky 5/4 thumping along. We collectively want Tom Cruise running quickly, hands outstretched, scissoring the air as he chases something or other. We want preposterous plans that work until they don’t, villains that seem to have something in mind in order to make the motley crew of IMF’ers have a bad couple of days.
The fifth time ‘round we get all this and more, yet for no particularly good reason it’s only now starting to feel a bit stale. Cruise, it should be noted, is still completely convincing in the role – his manic intensity is perfect for this project, and it’s no small wonder that it’s one he holds dear to his heart. Service both as megastar and producer on the project, it’s sure-bet cinema.
The previous four are all pretty damn terrific, in part because of how unique they are. Brian DePalma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird each made the film their own while feeling a part of the series, and part of the fun was to see how each would play with its unique tonalities.
Rogue Nation’s writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is no slouch, and does an admirable job at trying to make the previous films all part of an overarching narrative (not so coincidentally this is what a number of similar series, from Fast and the Furii to the upcoming Bond flick Spectre, are also doing). The opening sequence is lovely – look, there’s Cruise hanging off a plane as it takes off – and a few stunts live up to the pretty extraordinary heights that the previous films have climbed.
Cruise yet again gets an exotic female foil, and Rebecca Ferguson does a pretty terrific job at being far more than eye candy. She’s genuinely convincing as she kicks some butt, and they even take a moment for her to be unshorn in order to clamber off the side of a building. Sean Harris, on the other hand, is a pretty damn bland villain, and the back-and-forth chess matches with Ethan Hunt feel like a watered down Bond storyline.
There are ubiquitous shots of Cruise on a bike, driving like mad through narrow streets, and smashing his way through windows. These are all great, yet one major underwater showpiece, while effectively orchestrated, feels like one step too far. It’s when the film breaks out into this kind of comic=book ludicrous that it loses its energy. Sure, it’s great to watch during the moment, but the films toy with believability so well that when it gets over the top one starts to lose faith in what’s taking place.
Other set-pieces, including a battle atop an Opera stage, also echo some other Bond flicks, especially the Opera scenes from Quantum of Solace. It’s fair to say that McQuarrie’s trying to inject a bunch of Bond in here, even setting a chunk in London, but it unfortunately comes up short in comparison.
Overall, this is a perfectly serviceable mission, and maybe that’s enough. Expectations for the series consistently getting better and better were probably, well, impossible, but those expectations were nonetheless raised by what has come before. It’s equally fair to say, though, that it’s not like other sequels this summer that feel very much like they’re dredging the bottom of the barrel (here’s looking at you, Terminator: Genisys). I wouldn’t begrudge new iterations in this series, I just hope they take a few more risks and make it something more of its own.
Like Hunt is asked to do at the beginning of every quest I’ll gladly accept this latest Mission: Impossible, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that next time we’ll have an even better trip to go on.