Believe the Hype: ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ Is One of 2015’s Best Action Films

If you’re looking for a fun popcorn movie where likable characters do amazing things in exotic locales, then you are going to love Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation.

“Gentlemen, this is Solomon Lane. Mr. Lane, meet the IMF team.”

— Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation

It has been called “the best action movie of the year” and features the highest praised stunt in recent movie history, but does Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation live up to the hype? Well, that depends on what you expect from an action movie. If you’re expecting plausible scenarios, realism, or a deep artistic statement, then look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for a fun popcorn movie in which likable characters do amazing things in exotic locales, then you are going to love Rogue Nation. It just narrowly edges out the previous film in the franchise, 2011’s Ghost Protocol, as the best Mission: Impossible movie yet.

The first three movies were all about secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), an athletic, gadget-carrying charmer who mostly relied on sheer luck to save the day. Ask any fan of the 1966 television series (or its short lived 1987 revival) and they will tell you (after justifiably complaining about the decision to make IMF leader Jim Phelps a traitor and kill him off) that what Mission: Impossible was truly about is teamwork: a diverse group of professionals banding together for the common good. In Ghost Protocol, Ethan Hunt was still the star of the movie, and he did things that Jim Phelps would’ve never dreamed of (like scaling the Burj Khalifa tower with high-tech gloves), but it was a true remake of the original series’ concept in that the rest of the IMF team, the film’s supporting cast, stole the show with their humor and expertise.

That concept continues in Rogue Nation. It’s basically a love letter to the original series, with its stylized opening and closing montages, the frequent use of Lalo Schifrin’s iconic theme music, references to “The Syndicate”, and an especially clever twist on the way Hunt receives his mission details. Not to mention, there are also noticeable style cues that have been taken from classic and recent secret agent movies. Still, it isn’t too much of a departure from the first three movies: Cruise is still the star, with various different supporting characters and villains aiding/hindering his character in various missions highlighted by over-the-top stunts.

The biggest movie stunt in recent history opens Rogue Nation: Hunt hangs onto the side of a Airbus A400M as it takes off. As much as we’ve heard about it on various entertainment shows, to finally see it is a little underwhelming. The scene lasts for a total of 90 seconds, and it ends up being filmed and edited so well that it makes the stunt look easy. What’s more impressive is when Hunt tumbles and slams into the inside of the plane. During this scene, we’re introduced to the rest of the IMF team: hacker Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), tech expert Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and fellow agent/government intermediary William Brant (Jeremy Renner). They all add their own bits of humor, and with the exception of the underused Stickell, are all crucial to the main plot.

Hunt finds himself kidnapped and nearly tortured by thugs. Among these bruisers is a mysterious woman (Rebecca Ferguson) who helps him escape in a better-than-usual fight sequence. He’s also on the run from the US government, which has disavowed the IMF after the events of the last movie and due to the political rabble of government bigwig Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). Hunley spends most of the movie making factual yet clueless statements to the point that the IMF’s activities are too secretive, too risky, and only succeed through luck. There’s never a scene where he isn’t somewhere near an eye-rolling Brant, who frequently echoes what the audience feels. Hunley also annoys Benji by sticking him in a boring office job and frequently giving him lie-detector tests about Hunt’s whereabouts.

This leads us to an interesting parallel in Rogue Nation. While both Benji and Brant have their own humorous points in the movie, Pegg (known mostly for comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) receives more of a serious, action-packed role than Renner, who has made a name for himself in action movies like The Bourne Legacy and The Avengers. In fact, this movie is a revelation for Pegg, showing that he can truly act outside of a straight comedy.

It’s Pegg’s character that Hunt initially contacts to help with his mission: finding out who kidnapped him and why. Their efforts lead to an Austrian opera house, where Hunt once again sees the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who is in the midst of stopping an assassination attempt on the prime minister. Rogue Nation knows how to have fun with the scene by including the world’s deadliest flute and an amusing fight sequence between Hunt and a particularly large hitman that takes place on moving light fixtures. Just as she did before, Faust helps Hunt in a way that leads the IMF to question who she is and which side she’s on.

In the wrong hands, Ferguson’s character could have been one of those “magic female” characters that plague too many of today’s movies and TV shows. You’ve likely seen one of those productions where a woman is ten times stronger than anybody else, never makes a mistake, and does it all in revealing, unrealistic clothing with perfectly set hair and make-up as the camera and musical cues treat her like the only person in the room.

Thankfully, Ilsa isn’t like that. She’s a better agent than Hunt, relying more on skill than luck, but she has her limits. While there are a few scenes designed to show her off as eye candy, the movie doesn’t go overboard with it and there’s a refreshing lack of romance between her and Hunt. (There are some longing glances and the typical “come away with me” speech, but the script leaves her emotions interestingly vague.) Instead, the central focus here is whether or not her character can be trusted.

Ilsa is a member of The Syndicate, an international anti-IMF organization made up of rogue agents. Is she actually a double agent? She leads the IMF team (here with Hunt against the wishes of the US government) on the trail to find a disc needed by her handler, the seemingly mild-mannered yet threatening Atlee (Simon McBurney). This requires another big stunt, diving into a giant underwater “torus” used to cool a giant supercomputer, which requires Hunt to hold his breath for over six minutes and avoid the rotating blades of a large fan. This leads to a madcap car/motorcycle chase, the kind action movies were made for.

Suffice it to say, this all leads them straight into the hands of Syndicate leader (and Hunt’s kidnapper) Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who is cold, emotionless, and one fluffy cat away from being a parody of a Bond villain, which is exactly what you want in a movie like this. Lane’s evil masterplan is to force the IMF team to assassinate the prime minister of Great Britain, because he’s preventing a full Syndicate takeover. (This may all sound a little ridiculous, but the movie manages to pull it off well.) Needless to say, the IMF team manages to save the day, get back in the good graces of the US government, and exacts revenge upon those who have wronged them in a satisfying way. Their handling of Lane, in particular, is a brilliant homage to the way the original TV series would’ve handled it. Better yet, the door is left wide open for another sequel.

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation is available on both standard DVD and a two disc, Blu-Ray/DVD set that comes with a bonus download code for any previous Mission: Impossible movie. Remember when Blu-Ray players used to come with a free movie so you could test your system? This movie would have been perfect for that, with its especially vivid coloring and superior sound.

In the two disc set, all of the bonus features (seven making-of vignettes that last a total of about 45 minutes and a commentary track featuring Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie) are contained on Blu-Ray. Considering the movie’s prestige, it’s unusual that there aren’t more extras, but at least there aren’t any annoying trailers to fast-forward through.

RATING 9 / 10