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Tom Cruise Teaches the Genre What Action Is All About With 'Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation'

This is the best thriller of the year not named Mad Max: Fury Road.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Paramount
Year: 2015
US date: 2015-07-31 (General release)
UK date: 2015-07-31 (General release)

You can consider Tom Cruise insane, question his religious beliefs or his cinematic choices, but you cannot deny his international status. Without question, he remains one of the world's most recognizable and celebrated superstars. His films rarely flop, even after dim domestic tallies, because the rest of the planet relies on him for mainstream movie entertainment. He's his own Marvel, a superhero based on the previous performance of his movies in theaters globally. Plus, he's pretty good looking, when you come to think about it.

Part of his allure is that he understands the universal cinematic language known as action. His more unique choices don't garner such overall appeal, but he can always rely on a quality director to turn his film fortunes once again. That's why he's used the Mission: Impossible franchise as an auteur's hangout, bringing Brian DePalma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird, and now Christopher McQuarrie along to play. Each one of these men have a meaningful place in movies. Combined with Cruise, they have turned a tired old TV series from the '60s and '70s into a mammoth genre event.

The latest installment, subtitled Rogue Nation, is no exception. It takes the events of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Bird's take on this material remains the best, overall) and goes even further down the bureaucratic rabbit hole. This time around, the CIA wants Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his Mission Impossible Force buddies off the case for good. Their head (Alec Baldwin) issues the order. Luckily, Hunt still has friends in the agency, including William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and they begin some backdoor negotiations to help his cause.

In the meantime, Hunt believes that a group of rogue ex-agents (thus the title) have entered into a pact with terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), calling themselves "The Syndicate". They hope to bring about a new world order through random acts of violence. Hunt thwarts a chemical missile exchange, then does the same with an attempted assassination. With the help of his pals, including former tech guide Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and a possible Syndicate turncoat/double agent, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Hunt tracks the traitors, getting close to the truth about the shuttering of MIF once and for all.

As thrillers go, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation has it all. It begins with the trailer highlight, Cruise hanging off the side of an ascending aircraft, moves effortlessly to a Hitchcockian homage to The Man Who Knew Too Much, dives deep into a water mission that will have you holding your breath right along with Hunt, and finds our hero riding motorcycles through Morocco, speed and danger never a factor. Add to this a story with a surprise payoff, a list of capable actors doing damn good work, and a global terrorism theme that plays perfectly in today's uneasy times, and you've got the best action movie of the year not named Mad Max: Fury Road.

Again, this is not as good as Bird's brilliant balancing act, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is missing some of the pleasurable interpersonal dynamics that made that movie truly sizzle. Instead, McQuarrie (who also penned the screenplay) creates a singular strategy with all leads pointing toward the goal. Hunt wants to stop the Syndicate and prove his point to the Washington power pinheads. The entirety of the movie is about doing just that. The stunts spill out of this need. In the past, they often felt pasted on, not inorganic so much as oddly ancillary. Exciting, but without purpose.

Similarly, previous casts had more to do. Here, they merely support Cruise, who carries almost the entire film on his aging action hero shoulders. One wonders if he had taken a break ala Arnold Schwarzenegger, to pursue a personal passion, if he would be attempting a similarly styled comeback about now. Since he never really left, and has been delivering knockout work like Edge of Tomorrow and Jack Reacher in between, the MI films become reminders of his stock, each one building on the fame foundation Cruise has already created.

This is the very definition of entertaining, drama and laughs sandwiched in between nail-biting scenes. McQuarrie keeps the pace even, avoiding the shaky cam concept of action to make sure we understand the logistics and pragmatics of what's going on. Sure, it would have been nice to see certain stunts "played out" so to speak, but that just means we find what's there so engaging we are looking for more. Similarly, when certain characters disappear for long stretches, we hope for their return as well, mostly for the same reason. We want more.

That's what Cruise excels at: giving the people what they want, and then making sure they get more of the same. What makes this even more unique is that, because of the differing stylistic and directorial approaches, the Mission: Impossible films never become redundant. They may not be across the board excellent (Sorry, John Woo), but they cater to the audience that Cruise can rely on the charge his commercial clout. One day he might win an Oscar. Someday, those rumors about his leaving Scientology might actually be true. Until then, Tom Cruise, the 53-year-old action hero, will continue to do what he does best, and if the results are anything like Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, we will all be glad he did.


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