For a long-running and successful franchise, you’d have to say the Mission: Impossible series has been one of the patchiest in memory. It kicked off well enough in 1996 as simply Mission: Impossible under the experienced hand of Brian de Palma, but the goodwill generated by that film was largely dissipated by the clunky sequels Mission: Impossible II and III (helmed by John Woo and J. J. Abrams respectively). It would be five years between Mission: Impossible III and what turned out to be the series’ much-needed reset in 2011, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol with Brad Bird in the director’s chair. Now comes Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation under the direction of Christopher McQuarrie; who’s probably best known as the screenwriter behind The Usual Suspects and Edge of Tomorrow.
McQuarrie’s pedigree as a screenwriter is unchallenged, so it makes sense that he takes up the pen again here. And that is, I think, the key to the success of this film. McQuarrie has ditched some of the more outlandish elements of the previous films and gone back to the “core values” if you like of the 1960s television series. He’s also had the intelligence to riff on Mission: Impossible‘s big brother – the Bond films – to good effect.
The film largely picks up from where Ghost Protocol left off. The devastation wrought by the shenanigans of that film have brought the IMF to the attention of the CIA, in the form of director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) and – more importantly – lawmakers on Capitol Hill. At Hunley’s insistence, the IMF is disbanded and its remaining staff – Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Dunn (Simon Pegg) transferred to the CIA. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) however is in the wind, and Hunley desperately wants to shut him down to finally close the chapter on the IMF. Hunt however has discovered that the shadowy organisation known as The Syndicate is real, and its key man is a ruthless type known as Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). With more than a little help from the enigmatic Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who is (perhaps) playing both sides, Hunt just manages to escape from Lane’s clutches. When Hunt reaches out to Dunn, the pair close in on what looks to be a Syndicate plot at the Vienna Opera to assassinate a world leader. There they again cross paths with Faust; although the outcome is rather different from what they may have expected.
There are two things that distinguish Rogue Nation from other films in the series – a far tighter plot structure (featuring several unpredictable twists) and a fully realised female character. McQuarrie doesn’t ignore the hallmarks of the franchise – his motorcycle chase scene along a Moroccan highway is nothing short of spectacular – but he also knows when to dial back. He also knows when and how to ratchet up the tension, notably in a neatly-staged underwater sequence and the gripping conclusion.
McQuarrie’s (so far) limited directorial career includes 2012’s well-received Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise, and the pair reunite in this film. Cruise, who seems to be getting better with age, and delivers again here. It perhaps helps that he doesn’t have to carry this film in the way he did some others in the series. Simon Pegg (The World’s End) gets a juicier part here, and makes the most of it. Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules) is excellent as the inscrutable Ilsa Faust (there’s a clue in her surname, surely). She’s the type of character that’s rarely seen in this type of film, and comes across as a breath of fresh air in the wake of Ferguson’s strong performance. Jeremy Renner (Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Ving Rhames (Ghost Protocol) provide solid support; while Sean Harris needs only a hairless cat to complete his part as the dastardly villain of the piece.
Although I admittedly had fairly low expectations going into Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this excursion into action-adventure spycraft. McQuarrie has definitely breathed life into the franchise – which is just as well, as the final scene lays the groundwork for more to come.
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames and Alec Baldwin
Release date: 30 July 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television