Heading into another weekend of watching the latest blockbuster(s) that Hollywood has to offer every summer, one question on my mind, and certainly a frequent conversation topic among my friends was this: how ageless is Tom Cruise? Sure, he may not look as young as when Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible was released in 1996, but his status as a bona fide action star since Top Gun has kept him at an everlasting peak. Arguably, the role of Ethan Hunt has been more synonymous with his career than Maverick or any other, action film or otherwise. With Rogue Nation, the fifth installment in the MI franchise, Cruise continues riding his three-decade long wave of Hollywood stardom.
Rogue Nation picks up right where Ghost Protocol left off, when Hunt vanished into thin air receiving information about a new criminal organization known as the Syndicate. Unfortunately, when he first makes contact with the Syndicate in London, the Impossible Missions Force has officially been disbanded and absorbed into the CIA under the request of CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). Now undercover, Hunt and his team must work in the shadows and against the CIA in order to prove the Syndicate’s existence and take them down.
In many ways, Rogue Nation is no different than any other MI film, especially Ghost Protocol. Like Ghost Protocol, the IMF faces some sort of adversity and the team has to work undercover to keep the world’s fate from falling into the wrong hands. Like all other films in the franchise, Rogue Nation deals with a lot of apparent sabotage and deception, as is typical with films about espionage. And of course, there is a blurry of exotic locales in which these characters perform their escapades. Even for the fifth time around, there’s nothing incredibly different about this entry, but that does not have to be a bad thing.
With Rogue Nation, Christopher McQuarrie, who had previously written scripts for such films as Edge of Tomorrow and The Usual Suspects, takes the helm from directing darling Brad Bird and pens the screenplay, as well. Even with a change in director, Rogue Nation does not see a stylistic shift from its predecessor, which defined the first three films. Between the contributions of Brian De Palma and John Woo, directors of the first and second film respectively, while their styles absolutely differ, they both brought action sequences which were highly stylized – the latter director, especially. While it may have corresponded with how they made films, the highly stylized action often proved too silly to take seriously.
In the third film, J.J. Abrams brought to the franchise action sequences that were more in tune with those found in Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation. Ghost Protocol, however, more successfully represented an unpretentious, yet grand action spectacle that better suited the franchise. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of preposterous moments in both Bird and McQuarrie’s films. All one has to do is view the trailers and television spots of Rogue Nation and simultaneously guffaw and cheer silently as Hunt hangs onto the side of a plane as it takes off. But just as what Bird accomplished with Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation and its various set pieces allow the audience to believe the brief illusion of reality because of that lack of style defining how the film is viewed.
It helps that the film’s mostly veteran cast helps carry each scene effectively, as well. Viewers young and old know of Cruise’s capabilities as a leading action star very well. We have no need to worry about his ability to chew up the scenery and command the screen, and Rogue Nation proves he has not lost his touch. This film marks the full return of Ving Rhames’s tech-savvy Luther to the fold, and being the only one of the crew who has been with Cruise since the beginning, the chemistry remains as solid as the beginning. But this film is more about the growing kinship between Hunt and Simon Pegg’s Benji, who’s always reliable for some comic relief. First-timer Rebecca Ferguson plays Ilsa Faust effectively cool and Jeremy Renner is dependable, if slightly uninteresting as Brandt.
Aside from a few minor pacing lulls, Rogue Nation continues the MI franchise revival that Ghost Protocol began nearly four years ago. A sixth installment was quickly announced before this film’s premiere, and with Rogue Nation, all signs point to further upward movement. Very few, if any film franchises are this good in their later years, and MI is proving more reliable at providing big blockbuster thrills than some might have expected almost ten years ago.
After watching all of the films in a span of two days, the first few are certainly dated, and in a decade’s time, the latter entries will likely experience the same thing. Because of that, making this analogy feels weird, but the MI franchise, much like its eternally youthful star, has aged like a fine wine. And jolly good show, because not even most Marvel properties can say that.