At five films in, a franchise such as Mission: Impossible should be showing signs of fatigue if it's stuck to the original formula. The only alternative is to rewrite the whole thing around Film 3 or 4 and reinvent itself for a new audience. Yet, miraculously, Mission: Impossible now stands triumphant at its fifth outing with little variation from what made us fall in love with it in the first place.
The Cruiser returns as Ethan Hunt, now in deep-cover and tracking a mysterious organisation across the globe known only as The Syndicate. The name is a reference to the original '60s TV series' antagonists, in case you were wondering why they'd choose so clunky a name. Led by Sean Harris, the motivations of the Syndicate remain unclear aside from the usual mix of financial, cyber and real-world terrorism. Hunt is now seen as something of a maverick by his colleagues and the IMF itself is subsequently shut down by a Washington bureaucrat (Alec Baldwin).
As you can guess, Hunt is on his own and must enlist Simon Pegg's sidekick to help him to track the Syndicate. During their globetrotting escapades, they encounter Rebecca Ferguson's femme fatale. She's an assassin working for The Syndicate and is a double-agent for British Intelligence. Like all good Mission: Impossible movies, there's a heist, a car chase, an inexplicably convoluted story that's made simple towards the end, a face-mask reveal (our personal favourite) and a few one-liners sprinkled across the top.
Christopher McQuarrie, who previously worked with Cruise on the so-so Jack Reacher, feels more comfortable in the director chair's than he did in previous efforts. The ludicrous nature of it all seems to suit him and he's more than willing to throw references back to the previous films and, as mentioned, the original series itself. So often, we find franchises such as this either forcing the previous continuity down our necks or they're so clearly broken by director and cast changes that they may as well be separate films. Here, we have a nice balance between the two that makes it familiar yet invigorating.
At 53, Cruise is still able to do the rough-and-tumble stuff with the best of them. The opening sequence features him hanging off the side of a military plane during takeoff, which he actually did. Another blistering sequence on a Moroccan motorway calls to mind John Frankenheimer's exquisite car-chase from Ronin. For the most part, Rogue Nation works on the surface. There's a lot of dialogue-heavy scenes to keep you in the loop about what's happening and the usual mix of betrayal, set-up and treason is abound.
Where the cracks start to show is both in further scrutiny of the storyline and, indeed, of the franchise itself. Hunt on the run, working alone and without support. Isn't that sort of what happened in the first one, third one and fourth one? And, as well, the story itself lacks a certain rigidness that the others had. Sean Harris' physical presence makes up for a lack of motivation in the character. It's never fully explained why he's the bad guy and why he's up to no good. We just have to accept it as is.
These are all complaints that come afterwards. When you're in it and you're watching it, Rogue Nation feels like a thrill-ride, an unpretentious action thriller that tops off a noteworthy blockbuster season.