Late in the fifth entry in the Mission: Impossible film franchise, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) finds himself sitting across the table from Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). She tells Hunt that he has three choices. First, he can capture her and turn her in. Second, he can take the “red box” and let her go, so that he can use the red box to capture Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Third, the two of them can run away together. It’s in that moment that I realized that the Mission: Impossible film series has become the perfect metaphor for Tom Cruise. In every single one of these movies, Ethan Hunt is disavowed. Then he spends the rest of the movie putting himself in grave danger to save the very people who have abandoned him. America has disavowed Tom Cruise, but he hasn’t given up trying to entertain us. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation makes me hope he never gives up.
As Rogue Nation begins, the director of the CIA (Alec Baldwin) is attempting to close down the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) once and for all. Meanwhile, Ethan Hunt has discovered that a top secret criminal organization known as the Syndicate has infiltrated the American government at the highest levels. In order to stop the Syndicate, he becomes a rogue agent himself. The American government disavows him, and now, without an agency, Hunt must uncover the Syndicate’s plan and capture its members.
Rogue Nation is pretty good. The now 53-year-old Cruise proves remarkably spry, delivering a credible performance in an incredibly physically demanding role. Rogue Nation doesn’t exactly break new ground here. In fact, one of the things that I liked best about Rogue Nation was that it made reference to some of the earlier films in the franchise. The concepts of a NOC list (from Mission: Impossible) and a “rabbit’s foot” (Mission: Impossible III) both have small roles to play (in ways that are nicely understated). Rogue nation even manages to riff on the discussion of how they only need Hunt to do impossible things (originally brought up in Mission: Impossible II), and the cartoon silliness and brinksmanship of Ghost Protocol serves as the inspiration for the CIA’s frustration with the IMF here.
Writer-Director Christopher McQuarrie seems to have found a way to use Cruise (having previously used him to great effect in Edge of Tomorrow and, I'm assured, good effect in Jack Reacher). McQuarrie has also found a female star, Rebecca Ferguson, who he and Cruise should invest in. She brings a spark to the character of Ilsa Faust that has been missing from some of the female leads in previous Missions: Impossible. As always the action set pieces are spectacular and Cruise carries them out with aplomb and apparent glee.
The returning cast: Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Jeremy Renner are really good together. Despite the fact that the Mission: Impossible franchise has become less serious over the last twenty years (a welcome bucking of modern film trends), I appreciate that the franchise has allowed its characters to develop meaningful relationships with each other that inform how they act.
If anything, Rogue Nation proves that the Mission: Impossible franchise still has gas in the tank. Cruise has announced a sixth and seventh film. There have been rumors since Jeremy Renner joined the franchise that he might one day inherit it from Cruise, but to me that seems like the truly impossible mission. Cruise is the physical manifestation of this franchise, and, given the revolving door of directors and writers, he is the auteuristic force behind it. Cruise may eventually have to give this up, but I’m grateful that he’s chosen to accept a few last missions.
Of course all these missions are really one for Mr. Cruise. His mission is to get back into America's good graces. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to let him. Choose to accept him, America. Go see Rogue Nation, and then rent Edge of Tomorrow.
From Out in the Void