Stuck halfway between James Bond and superhero movies, the “Mission: Impossible” big-screen franchise sets itself apart by focusing on two things: teamwork and vulnerability.
Though Tom Cruise has been the name-above-the-title star of all five pictures, including the new “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” he always works with skilled fellow agents, whether nerdy computer experts or lovely, lethal ladies.
Also: Whenever Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is about to perform one of his “impossible” stunts, he looks a little uncertain. When the stunt is over, he’s usually a little battered, a little winded and a little relieved.
In one scene in “Rogue Nation,” Ethan must dive into a water-filled chamber to switch out a computer chip, holding his breath for three minutes and fighting a strong current. In a ridiculously effective touch, his diving suit has a counter showing how much oxygen he has left!
These types of factors bring a human excitement to the “Mission: Impossible” movies; they all have that “hold your breath and grip your seat” quality.
In the latest, Ethan — still officially off the grid after “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” — hunts a mysterious and untraceable evil syndicate, headed by the elusive Lane (Sean Harris).
Ethan’s cohorts Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther (Ving Rhames) risk their lives to help. The beautiful, dangerous, appropriately named double agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) also lends a hand.
Their adventures bring them to Vienna, Casablanca and London, where they engage in shootouts and chases. Of course, there are plenty of traps and disguises, too.
Each “Mission: Impossible” film (based loosely on the 1960s TV series) has employed a different director, ranging from rogues like Brian De Palma and John Woo to the more respectable J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird. On “Rogue Nation,” it’s Christopher McQuarrie (who also wrote the script), and he fits right in.
An Oscar winner for his clever “The Usual Suspects” screenplay, and the director of Cruise’s appealingly cool, moody “Jack Reacher,” McQuarrie gives the movie a robust pace and vivid atmosphere.
He’s good at speed and deception, and although his hand-to-hand fight scenes are just a smidgeon too jittery, his work is both confident and enthusiastic. He handles the lengthy, 131-minute running time better than most directors handle shorter films.
McQuarrie’s complex screenplay — based on a story co-written by Drew Pearce — may not have much to do with current global concerns, but he makes you care enough about the characters to directly affect your pulse and respiratory system. And that’s an impressive skill on its own.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Starring: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner
Written and directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes