One of the many admirable things about the “Mission: Impossible” movies is that they aren’t churned out like factory products, all quick and hasty (one might say fast and furious). “M:I — Rogue Nation” is the fifth entry in 19 years, a reasonable pace that gives fans time to savor each episode while also allowing Paramount to find directors and writers who will make the work a creative priority. Brian DePalma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird, and now Christopher McQuarrie — like them or not, there’s no denying these directors are more than just hacks for hire.
Having the intensely dedicated Tom Cruise as star and producer probably helps the franchise avoid complacency. Once again deploying his supernatural charisma while doing most of his own stunts, Scientology’s most famous victim is first seen in “Rogue Nation” sprinting over a hill and yelling, “Open the door!” From that moment to the last, Cruise is never less than 100 percent committed to delivering good old-fashioned capital-E Entertainment. That work ethic is shared by writer-director McQuarrie (director of “Jack Reacher” and writer of “The Usual Suspects”), whose “Rogue Nation” is a concise, confident, shrewdly paced adventure with hardly a moment of wasted air. If it weren’t for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” this would be the best action film of the year. (“Furious Seven” is way down the list, and can eat me.)
This time, secret agent Ethan Hunt is trying to bring down the Syndicate, a shadowy terrorist organization composed of ex-spies from around the globe. (You know how the villain in spy movies is always a government agent who turned bitter and crazy? The Syndicate only hires those people.) Bad time for it, though, as the CIA (led by Alec Baldwin, Hollywood’s best bloviating stuffed-shirt) has decided the Impossible Missions Force is out of control and needs to be shut down. Hunt goes off the grid, working clandestinely with tech guy Benji (Simon Pegg) and a stunningly capable British agent — or ex-agent; her allegiances are in question — named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Be assured, IMF cohort Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), the only character besides Hunt to appear in all five movies, gets involved too, as does IMF boss Brandt (Jeremy Renner).
McQuarrie expertly balances all the components that make a film like this work. Thrilling action sequences arise naturally from the story (nothing ever feels gratuitous), and are parceled out so as not to overwhelm or fatigue us. One of the best, set backstage at the Vienna Opera, doesn’t even have much “action” in the form of explosions and murders, but it’s grinningly tense and well choreographed. (Shout-out to editor Eddie Hamilton and cinematographer Robert Elswit.) The dialogue is sparkling and funny, but not glib; in that respect, Simon Pegg has been an invaluable addition, a comic character who’s not a buffoon. The clever story keeps us guessing about who can be trusted without resorting to manipulative tricks.
In short, it’s fun — breezy, smart, and exciting, with broad appeal that makes having broad appeal look effortless. It’s hard to imagine anyone who likes movies (and isn’t Cruise-averse) not finding satisfaction in this one. What more could you want? Are you not entertained??
A- (2 hrs., 11 min.; )