Ethan Hunt doesn’t die in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to say this at this point. Ethan Hunt will never die. Even if this was the final film in the Mission Impossible franchise (it’s not), the series would most likely end with Hunt walking into the sunset searching for more impossible missions to undertake. Hunt is immortal, unbeatable, “the manifestation of destiny” as the film itself pointedly states. The smartest thing Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation does is understand this and construct a movie around the fact that every single person watching knows that Ethan Hunt is not going to die.
The resulting movie is fantastically self aware, putting Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt into ridiculous situation after ridiculous situation. Hold his breath for three minutes? Psh. I thought this was supposed to be impossible? Hanging off a plane? Cruise/Hunt can handle it. Everyone around Cruise knows that he can’t be killed, even the bad guys, and they treat him as such. It’s refreshing for a movie to so embrace the larger than life nature of its main character. It helps that the movie is an absolute blast, too.
The Mission: Impossible franchise has had an interesting, rocky road. The first film by Brian De Palma is a far cry from the high-octane action fest that we’re used to seeing. Sure, it has its action, it has fantastic, seemingly impossible set pieces, but it’s more of a spy thriller than it is an action movie. It’s also my favorite film in the series. The rest of the films fluctuate between being absolutely terrible (M:I 2) and being pretty good (Ghost Protocol) Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation manages to combine the spy thriller stuff that made the first film great with the ridiculously high octane set pieces we’re used to seeing in the genre today. It’s a movie with big fun and a surprisingly small character driven finale.
Rogue Nation starts off right where Ghost Protocol left us, with Ethan Hunt and the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) hunting down the evil Syndicate, a seemingly independent nation of terrorists that have spy training and are attempting to sow discord wherever they can. After suffering a huge setback, the IMF is railroaded by the Director of the CIA (Alec Baldwin) and congress, effectively being shut down. Ethan is forced to go out on his own to hunt down the Syndicate, disobeying orders and branded a traitor by his own government (…again). With his ensemble team of spies: Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), and Brant (Jeremy Renner), Hunt pledges to hunt down the Syndicate while breaking into some impenetrable buildings in the process.
It’s impossible to talk about Mission (I’m hilarious) without discussing Tom Cruise. The franchise has been his baby from the very beginning. Ethan Hunt has never really been a character. He doesn’t really have an arc and nothing from one film ever translates to another. Ethan was always just Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise. Cruise is a pretty great actor, but Mission: Impossible was never about Cruise’s acting. Rather, it was always the Tom Cruise stunt show. Think of a big stunt from any of these five movies, and you’re thinking of a stunt that Cruise did himself. The actor is always so willing to put his body on the line to entertain us. The same is true here, but we’re seeing an older, more human Tom Cruise. Instead of blindly jumping into each thing and walking out unscathed, Ethan Hunt gets his ass kicked in this movie. He survives, of course he survives, but he gets out of cars with a limp. He pauses for a frustrated sigh before jumping back into the action. He gets thrown roughly around an airplane. Tom Cruise is getting old and while he continues doing the impossible, it’s refreshing to see a character who’s slightly more human.
While the series has always been the Tom Cruise show, Rogue Nation’s biggest surprise is the character who comes close to stealing it: Isla Faust played by the stunning Rebecca Ferguson. Isla is the mysterious spy that seems to be working for the bad guys, but always shows up and saves Cruise. Much of the mystery of the plot centers around Faust and what her true intentions are. Ferguson plays this deadly but beautiful spy with charisma and strength. Isla isn’t your standard female role in these types of films. She’s never damselled, she always appears in control, and she kicks total ass. It’s a shockingly skilled performance from an actress who hasn’t really ever had a role this big. Ferguson stands toe to toe with Tom freaking Cruise and manages to steal some of the limelight on several occasions. She’s a legitimate superstar and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
No one director has ever done more than one Mission: Impossible movie, which results in five movies that while similar, all have their own style and tone. From De Palma’s intellectual spy thriller to Woo’s gun heavy explosion-fest, to JJ Abrams’ smaller, introspective character flick, each film is unique. So when I say that director/writer Christopher McQuarrie’s take on the franchise feels like a film paying homage to previous entries (especially the original and Ghost Protocol), it sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not. Rogue Nation is a film that feels like a natural evolution for the franchise, a picture that for the first time has a clear direction on what the series is and where it wants to go. It does this by plucking the best elements from the previous films and then spinning them in interesting ways. Rogue Nation is not homage in the way Jurassic World is. It’s not rubbing your nose in it. We don’t go back to Ethan’s original safehouse in Prague and ponder the events that have led him here. It’s subtle and more stylistic than anything.
But what about the action, you ask? That’s all really great. Tom Cruise continues to do all his own stunts and that allows McQuarrie to shoot in ways that directors usually cannot. The camera can focus on Cruise’s face as he speeds down the highway on a motorcycle. It can fix on him tightly as he leans into turns so sharply that his knee scrapes the ground. The action moves fast and is exciting but it’s all shot very clearly. This isn’t a shaky cam “can’t tell what’s going on” action fest. It’s all clear, well shot, and fun.
Rogue Nation is a surprisingly great film in a franchise that’s never been more than just really good. It’s equipped with a smart script, great performances, and all the Tom Cruise sacrificing his body for your entertainment that you can handle. One day, Cruise might be too old for all of this. Or maybe cheating death is the next impossible mission he will take on. Regardless , Ethan Hunt and Mission: Impossible aren’t going anywhere. And for the first time in a while, I think I’m okay with that.