‘MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — ROGUE NATION’
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin.
Running time: 131 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for bloodless but intense action violence
Ranking: 2.5 out of 5 stars
In “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” Tom Cruise runs faster, fights harder and flies higher.
At 53, the actor seems more intent than ever on cementing his beleaguered star power, and he invests so much into his fifth outing as the tireless super-spy Ethan Hunt that he wins you over. For much of the film’s two hours, you forget about the real-world Cruise and all the problematic baggage he carries and just marvel at his efforts, even if they bear a whiff of desperation.
Yes, that’s really Cruise hanging off the side of an airplane in the stupendous prologue that opens the movie. Yes, he really did have to hold his breath for long stretches during one of the film’s mammoth set pieces, this one set underwater. And yes, that really is Cruise hurtling through the streets of Morocco on a motorcycle, roaring after the bad guys.
There is evidence of CGI trickery everywhere, but never anything as distracting as the video game artificiality of, say, “Furious 7.” Cruise and his frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie adhere to the proven formula of the “M:I” franchise: Put the hero in a series of impossible, over-the-top predicaments that look as real as possible, then let Cruise’s lock-jawed intensity sell the show.
“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” pays homage to the previous entries in the series. The opening credits duplicate the ones from the first installment, directed by Brian De Palma in 1996, showing you the entire movie you’re about to see in rapid-fire cuts, set to Lalo Schifrin’s iconic score.
Fallout from the events of the previous picture, Brad Bird’s 2011 “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” leads to consequences. Alec Baldwin plays the CIA chief who decides to shut down Hunt and his band of IMF agents for all the collateral damage they’ve caused around the world. Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames return as Hunt’s cohorts, always watching his back.
Rebecca Ferguson is a fellow secret agent who is a physical and mental match for Hunt but, in time-honored espionage-thriller fashion, she may not be trustworthy. Sean Harris plays the requisite maniacal villain, Lane, who speaks in a raspy whisper, is prone to theatrical grandstanding and has amassed an international army of former secret agents, intent on destroying the world or such.
In a movie like this, the bad guy’s motivation is just a MacGuffin, a narrative spine to provide an excuse for outrageous action and preposterous plot twists.
For about 90 minutes or so, “Rogue Nation” settles for that, and the result is grandly exciting, even if it never reaches the delirious heights of “Ghost Protocol.” But in the final half-hour, McQuarrie makes a critical mistake: He starts taking the story seriously. Suddenly, this giant-sized entertainment — which commented on the increasingly cannibalistic nature of modern-day covert government operations while making room for such intentionally hammy lines as “Ethan Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny!” — turns talky and morose. The dialogue no longer carries a tongue-in-cheek undertone. The action becomes smaller and more generic. The surprise use of the series’ trademark rubber masks is perfunctory and predictable. Even Pegg, who constantly leavened the film with humor, is stripped of any opportunity to lighten the mood.