Silver Screen: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation ****
I’ll tell you impossible— it’s impossible that Tom Cruise still looks that good, that ripped, that resilient. Be it good genes, good doctors, a low Thetan count, or a horrifically aged portrait hanging in his attic, Cruise defies logic and biology with the same aplomb he dodges bullets and speeding cars onscreen.
At age fifty-three, Cruise doesn’t look like a performer grasping onto the last vestiges of his youthful persona. This whole shtick should be grotesque, some kind of generationally inappropriate kid-face act that makes a mockery out of both him and his audience. Yet there he is, three years older than Jim Gaffigan, oozing youth and vitality out of pores you can’t even spot in IMAX HD. He clings to the side of a soaring plane, gymnastically contorts his body to writhe out of handcuffs, and fires himself like an arrow into a swirling man-made tidal pool. After a decade with more hits than misses in the 2000s, he’s reasserted himself as one of our preeminent action stars with the formidable trifecta of Edge of Tomorrow, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and now the fifth Mission Impossible installment, Rogue Nation.
As with the previous Mission Impossible movies, the plot of Rogue Nation is both simple and confoundingly hard to follow. Mostly simple, though. All you need to know: A host of spies from various countries, all presumed dead, have secretly assembled a multinational terrorist organization bent on laying waste to the Impossible Missions Force and the various agencies at the heart of global espionage. Their plot puts Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team on the outside looking in as the CIA, led by crusading bureaucrat Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), suspends their operation.
A fugitive hunt coordinates with former team members still working within the government— Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg— as well as old pal Luther (Ving Rhames, the only remaining veteran of the first Mission Impossible along with Cruise way back in 1996). Together they hope to infiltrate the shadowy and blandly named Syndicate with the help of a mysterious woman (Rebecca Ferguson) who may or may not be a double agent.
Since retooling past the disastrous John Woo-directed sequel, the Mission Impossible franchise has been almost exclusively concerned with running its star through a series of elaborate setpieces. They’re nearly the action-flick equivalent of sketch comedy, but the setpieces are so big and well-orchestrated, it’s pure popcorn-movie bliss to watch them play out during a summer matinee.
Rogue Nation sports its share of memorable sequences, the best of which combines brutality, comedy, and balletic grace as a series of would-be assassins converge for a series of silent duels in an opera house. Director and frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie stages these massive, complex action scenes with crisp efficiency that never feels programmatic or mechanical. The serio-comic zip Brad Bird contributed to Ghost Protocol has stuck around, and the series is all the better for it.
The Mission Impossible franchise is a perfect example of star and producer Cruise’s unyielding willpower. The reboot that began with Brian De Palma’s 1996 chapter was only a mild success by blockbuster standards, followed by that awful Woo-helmed sequel. The series by all accounts should have been dead right then, but Cruise persevered and rebounded with J.J. Abrams’s enjoyable third installment. And the Mission Impossible movies keep getting better as Cruise keeps what works, sheds the rest, and moves along to a new, interesting director.
If Rogue Nation lags a little in the final few minutes, it’s only because it can only top itself so many times before the pesky plot— and the appropriately loathsome, serpentine villain played by Sean Harris— must be dealt with. Whatever. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that Cruise always bounces back. Sooner or later he is going to get too old for this stuff, but I wouldn’t bet against him. Apparently it’s not impossible.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.