After four increasingly impossible (and implausible) missions, it seems as though the odds would be stacked against Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. After all, how exactly does one outdo climbing the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, with suction cup gloves? The answer, according to Tom Cruise and company, is by delivering more of the slickly produced, immensely charismatic, and over-the-top action that has come to define the Mission Impossible franchise. And in Rogue Nation‘s case, this was a mission the filmmakers not only chose to accept, but one that they completed with flying colors.
Speaking of flying, the film spares no time in dropping the audience into the thick of it with the infamous, pulse-pounding airplane stunt from the trailer. As a ghillie-suited Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) spies on a massive cargo plane being loaded with a nefarious chemical bomb by a detachment of gun-toting terrorist types, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) clings on to the outside, desperately trying to clamber aboard the speeding craft. And I do mean desperately—Cruise, well known for doing his own stunts, performed this death-defying feat no fewer than eight times. I’m sure that whomever handled insurance on the film is just now regaining feeling in their limbs after blacking out from the sudden spike in blood pressure.
Placing this sprawling, thrilling setpiece right at the beginning is the first of many clever choices that director Christopher McQuarrie makes over the course of Rogue Nation. Ant-Man‘s wonderful Thomas the Tank Engine moment was revealed to take place during the climactic final battle in Cassie Lang’s bedroom, but its impact was severely diminished thanks to its prominent placement in multiple trailers. By placing Rogue Nation‘s plane stunt at the very beginning of the film, McQuarrie manages to instill a sense of wonder in the viewer, suggesting that the twists, turns, and stunts will only get exponentially more insane from here on out, and that the sky is, in fact, not the limit. It is a promise on which Rogue Naiton mostly delivers. (Hey, it’s hard to top clinging to the side of a plane; the other stuff is great, but this was a freakin’ plane in mid-flight.)
This time around, the Ethan Hunt and the IMF find themselves dissolved, disavowed, and on the run from the CIA (led by Alec Baldwin), which is problematic because a shadowy organization known as the Syndicate has emerged and is wreaking havoc across the globe. Of course, Ethan Hunt seems to be the only person who believes in the Syndicate’s existence, but the problem is that no one seems to believe him (because then we wouldn’t have a movie on our hands, but just know that they pose a formidable threat). And so, the IMF is shuttered and Ethan is forced to go on the lam. Combined with the IMF’s penchant for leaving a disastrous amount of collateral damage, explosions, and bullet casings in its wake, it’s no wonder that the rest of the government is looking to reign them in. In the immortal words of every TV police chief, “You’re a loose cannon, [Hunt], but you get results.” Unfortunately for Ethan Hunt and the rest of the IMF, their results weren’t enough to keep them in the United States government’s good graces.
Stripped of the IMF’s resources and his teammates scattered to the wind, Hunt is pushed into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the Syndicate and its comically evil operatives, including one knife-wielding weirdo known as “The Bone Doctor” (which, coincidentally, they won’t need to change for the porn parody). In short, the Syndicate is the mirror image of the IMF, with intimate knowledge of their tactics and the ruthlessness to use said knowledge against them. The Syndicate’s leader (Sean Harris)—a svelte, bespectacled blonde man who resembles the nihilists from The Big Lebowski—uses this vast network of information and operatives to engineer acts of terror across the globe and systematically destroy everything Hunt and his friends sought to build. Though he is meant to be intimidating, he comes across a bit like the bastard child of Skyfall‘s Silva and Die Hard with a Vengeance‘s Simon Peter Gruber. I’m sure that isn’t what the filmmakers were going for, and it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the proceedings, but it must be said nonetheless.
Soon enough, though, Hunt manages to reenlist his old fighting force, beginning with Benji, and establishes an uneasy alliance with a Syndicate double agent named Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). Though William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) are both back in the mix, much of the film revolves around the trio of Ethan, Benji, and Ilsa, with a particular emphasis on the opposites-attract buddy-comedy chemistry between Cruise and Pegg. After penning Edge of Tomorrow, McQuarrie seems to have a distinct sense of Cruise’s comedic capabilities, and he uses them to maximum effect here—pitting him against Pegg’s wonderfully nerdy, nebbish performance. Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa proves to be a terrific albeit underwritten femme fatale who seems, at times, to even be one step ahead of Ethan Hunt, which is no small feat. The fact that she can kick ass and take names while in a chartreuse cocktail dress is just icing on the cake.
Like all good Mission Impossible films, the plot proves just labyrinthine enough to be compelling without getting confusing or overly muddled. The action is explosive, coming in fast and furious spurts, peppered with plenty of quips, character moments, and blisteringly choreographed instances of death and destruction. While the film as a whole isn’t as thrilling or inventive as Ghost Protocol, it is a welcome addition to the modern Mission: Impossible canon. In spite of any shortcomings, Rogue Nation stands tall as one of the slickest, sleekest, and most authentically enjoyable blockbusters to hit theaters this summer. So, for anyone looking to beat the heat, munch on some popcorn, and slurp down a soda while experiencing a sense of genuine adventure, Rogue Nation is a mission you simply must accept.
Rating: 4 out of 5 impossibly large burritos
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is in theaters on July 31.
Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of 100 Things Avengers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. You can follow him on Twitter (@Osteferocious).