I was not big fan of Mission Impossible before the fourth movie, Ghost Protocol, came out. The TV series is a couple of decades older than I am and the first movie, while enjoyable, didn’t really make me eager to follow up and I skipped the next two movies entirely. When Ghost Protocol was coming out, I was drawn not by Mission Impossible or Tom Cruise, but by Brad Bird and Simon Pegg. (I would have been all over the third movie had it come out just a year or two later than it did) I loved it; it was a delightfully kinetic action movie, with everything I could want from a fun spy movie. Fond memories of that, plus a rediscovery of how enjoyable Tom Cruise generally is, had me excited for the fifth film. Rogue Nation is another stellar outing for the series.
Not much has changed from the previous outing. Again Cruise’s Ethan Hunt must team up with his crew and get to the bottom of an evil organization that it out to destroy the free world. Again, they lose the support of the IMF, their spy agency. It is a good formula that has not come close to wearing out its welcome yet. This one plays a little more with the idea of divided loyalties. In Ghost Protocol, the good guys were the good guys and the bad guys the bad guys. In Rogue Nation, some loyalties are unclear and remain so for the bulk of the film. It makes some of the spy and counterspy stuff very tense.
The team of Hunt and Benji (Pegg) is delightful. I believe there is no one you could pair with Simon Pegg and not get an enjoyable performance. Hunt’s force of nature daring and energy blend perfectly with Benji’s enthusiasm and well-meaning bumbling. Cruise remains the star, but Pegg never feels superfluous. When Benji uses their friendship to force his way into the mission it doesn’t feel forced, these two actually interact like friends. The other teammates don’t get quite as much to do, though it is good to see Ving Rhames’ Luthor back, they are there. The fly in the ointment, so to speak, is Ilsa Faust, a British agent that is undercover with the villainous Syndicate. Or maybe she has defected to the Syndicate. Much of Rogue Nation’s tension lies in determining exactly who she is working for. The true villain, Solomon Lane, wheezes his way around as some kind of omnipotent super spy, being all the less interesting for his supposed but rarely demonstrated skills. He spends much of the movie two steps ahead of everyone else and it ends up feeling more cheap that anything else when he constantly snatches victory away from the heroes.
Rogue Nation is more interested in fun and its plot than in having any sort of theme, which is why it constantly backs away when it wanders into territory that might prompt some thought. Lane is a spy like Hunt, but he was pushed too far and started to question if the people he was spying for were any better than the people he was spying on. While there is plenty of room to find some points of agreement, especially once the rest of the mystery is unveiled, Hunt never does consider it. He never questions the rightness of his cause. Maybe he shouldn’t, but the question was raised and he simply ignored it.
Any flaws I find with this movie seem like nitpick in the face of how entertaining it is. No, the capers are not quite as intricate as those in the previous movie. Yes, the villain feels like a real missed opportunity, especially when it would have been easy to make him just evil James Bond. But the action is impeccable and it is complex without being convoluted. Mission Impossible Rogue Nation is a delight.