Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (“Jack Reacher,” 2012), “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” stars Tom Cruise (“Edge of Tomorrow,” 2014) as IMF agent Ethan Hunt. When the agency is unceremoniously disbanded at the request of CIA director Hunley (Alec Baldwin; “Still Alice,” 2013), it’s up to Hunt—and an unlikely, albeit untrustworthy, ally in Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson; “Hercules,” 2014) to find out why. His mission (should he choose to accept it) will include unofficially banding his team back for a Hail Mary: proving the existence of the mythical Syndicate, a global terrorist organization, and bringing it down.
Boasting a razor-sharp narrative that’s both hyper-focused and deliciously detailed, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” feels the closest to the viewing equivalent of flipping through the pages of a Robert Ludlum (“The Bourne Identity”) spy novel. It has the perfect balance between intrigue, suspense, and pace, where each card is played with strategic deliberation. Of course, this still is “Mission: Impossible,” which means sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow when things feel slightly larger than life, but none of that detracts from the overall experience.
And from the fantastic prologue-like opener alone, it’s evident that McQuarrie’s out to make sure the experience of watching an action film where every technical, stylistic flourish is a piece to the overall puzzle. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is packed with many stupendously choreographed action set-pieces, planned and executed with terrific attention to detail. Robert Elswit’s (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” 2011) fantastic cinematography uses movement both within and outside of set pieces for immersion and externalizing the emotional internal.
Eddie Hamilton’s (“Kingsman: The Secret Service,” 2015) gracefully timed edit gives the set pieces and action choreography a much-needed balance between graceful pacing and visual continuity. Where it all comes together—sound, sight, and execution—is in a standout set-piece within an opera house in Vienna, set to the rousing orchestral sounds of Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot,” and lasting almost ten thrilling minutes where suspense, combat, and strategy marry to form a perfectly wound clock, ticking with almost rhythmic precision.
For all intents and purposes, the film belongs to Cruise and Ferguson. While the former is self-assured and balances his star power with the kind of physicality he’s known for in his action films, the latter comes as a surprise. Ferguson digs into an exceptionally meaty role with irrepressible glee, giving her character a certain vulnerable humanity that you’d expect from the kind of femme-fatale deconstruction McQuarrie and co-writer Drew Pearce (“Iron Man 3,” 2013) may have aimed for. Her character has complete agency over her actions. She holds her own until the final action sequence, with Ethan and Ilsa having their own nail-bitingly choreographed combat, intercutting parallelly between the two.
Baldwin, Ving Rhames (“Dawn of the Dead,” 2004), and Jeremy Renner (“American Hustle,” 2013) are fine, but among the supporting cast, it’s Simon Pegg who gets his due here, with a more prominent role that he nails perfectly. Sean Harris (“’71,” 2014) is fantastic as the primary antagonist. His slow, calculated-sounding drawls of dialogue are the perfect throwback to the kind of sinister villains you’d be more accustomed to seeing in old-school James Bond movies.
True to the title of its series, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” banks on the impossible and gives the fans what they want: a slew of larger-than-life set pieces for an overall moviegoing experience that’s just built different. Building upon the expansiveness and thrill of its predecessor, McQuarrie’s latest gives viewers an immersive big-screen blockbuster with mind-bending action and a delicious bit of old-school suspense. It’s the film “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” could—and should—have been, surpassing “M:I:III” as the best in the series and cementing itself as the best summer blockbuster action flick of the year so far.