It’s been a few years since we last saw Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), and very little about him has changed in the intervening period. He’s still the same (mostly) stoic fellow, leading a team comprised primarily of the tech-savvy Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), with field-agent-turned-high-ranking-analyst-slash-desk-jockey William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) back stopping things from the DC-area. In this fifth installment of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, Hunt squares off against The Syndicate, a shadowy organization introduced at the tail end of 2011’s “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”.
The Syndicate is busy shaping the world through the deliberate sowing of chaos and destruction–or so Hunt thinks. As he chases down what others consider merely a phantom or a figment of his overactive imagination, he crosses paths several times with the just-as-mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whose steely gaze, badass moves, and strange unwillingness to pick a side both attract and confuse Hunt.
Further complicating matters is that Hunt is collecting nemeses all over the place. Just as The Syndicate is trying to shut him down, so is CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). Hunt dives headlong into a search of missing and presumed-dead agents from intelligence agencies worldwide, as he runs into several of them while pursuing The Syndicate. The trouble with The Syndicate, though, is that Hunt always seems to be one step behind them–an infuriating position for an agent typically used to being several moves ahead of his opponents.
Faust pops up periodically as Hunt chases The Syndicate through London, Vienna and Casablanca–including a stunning performance backstage at “Turandot” in Vienna, where Ferguson is wearing a silk dress as though she’s doing it a favor. The symbolism of the opera isn’t lost; in fact, the leitmotif of the eponymous character follows Faust throughout the movie from that point on, as she routinely leaves Hunt questioning her motives and allegiance.
“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” succeeds spectacularly is in its stunts and action sequences; it charges hard and fast throughout the majority of its two-hour, eleven minute run time, and Ferguson displays as much grit as she did in her title role as STARZ’s “White Queen”, but with far more gymnastic ability and an excess of endlessly impractical sky-high heels. Baldwin chews scenery with glee, relishing the opportunity to play the spoiler for Hunt, and Sean Harris’s turn as Solomon Lane makes one wonder if he has ice water running through his veins.
As much as I loved this movie–and while I truly do believe this is the “Mission: Impossible” franchise’s best outing since the first in the series–its greatest failing is in how it handled some of its actors. Cruise couldn’t be more wooden, although he clearly enjoys his time as a stuntman. Renner is effectively wasted as Brandt; for a character introduced only one movie ago as having serious field agent skills, he’s relegated mostly to staring at Hunt with moony eyes, wishing he were that cool. He’s never let off leash, and that’s a terrific shame for an actor who sports both acting AND action chops.
But the worst crime is in the handling of Pegg’s Dunn. Introduced in 2006’s “Mission: Impossible III”, Dunn is seen as a standout technology whiz in an organization with more than its fair share of smart people. Over his three movies, his lines increased in direct proportion to his application as comic relief. Benji has only a few scenes where he gets to be as serious as the material and, though Pegg is a brilliant comedian, it’s just unfair to make him the constant punchline when he has the capacity to be just as steely as the rest of the crew.
Of the veterans, Rhames, at least, seems to get exactly what he wants, and he approaches his role with the relish of a man knowing he’s collecting a good paycheck no matter how much time he has on-screen. He seems to be having nearly as much fun as Ferguson, and his ease at fitting into Stickell’s skin is highly evident.
“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is a fun thrill ride, despite its failure to capitalize on its talented stable of actors, particularly Renner and Pegg. What it does do, rather nicely, is provide some incredible action sequences and stunning performances by the likes of Ferguson and Harris, breathing new life into a franchise that’s perhaps not yet seen its last mission.
3 out of 4 stars
“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” opens nationwide on July 31, 2015. This movie is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity.