Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation continues in the absurd tradition of these movies, which employ ludicrous plots as a framework for constructing increasingly insane action set pieces that take full advantage of its star’s stunt work bona fides. This edition creates an opposing organization to the Impossible Mission Force, theoretically putting the heroes up against a force equally capable of insane feats of derring-do. But in practical terms, this film doesn’t mess with the formula. It is just another illogical plot of spy versus spy that relies mainly on its ability to stage beautifully deranged action sequences.
Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has just confirmed the existence of the Syndicate, a covert organization that has gone rogue and intends to cause chaos around the world. Unfortunately for Ethan and the IMF, their recent actions have caused the American government to shut their operations down, leaving Ethan alone to hunt down The Syndicate. The film picks up six months later, with the CIA hot on the trail of Hunt while he continues to track the activities of The Syndicate. He gets some help from old friends, as well as a deep cover British agent working within The Syndicate, whose exact loyalties are a little unclear.
The deeper the film gets into the circumstances surrounding the creation of The Syndicate, the murkier the plot gets. There comes a point in the film where it just doesn’t make any more sense for The Syndicate to continue to exist. People who desire to keep it buried certainly seem to have the means to take it down, and for all his supposed competency, the film’s primary villain seems pretty vulnerable throughout the entire movie. But there isn’t much to gain from questioning the details of a Mission: Impossible movie. The franchise at this point is simply designed to keep the odds stacked the heroes, putting them in increasingly desperate situations so they can somehow work their way out.
The film smartly acknowledges just how insane all this has gotten. A member of the committee deciding the fate of the IMF opines that their results are indistinguishable from chance. And that’s the point of all this. It always feels like the Ethan and his pals are on the verge of losing, with everything that could go wrong going wrong. The real trick to these movies at this point is that it still manages to create sequences where the fate of the characters feels uncertain. We all know that Ethan Hunt can’t really die, but the film is so skilled at putting him in danger that it can create just a moment of thrilling doubt.
Key to all this, of course, is Tom Cruise, who is well known for doing many of his own stunts. He starts this movie by hanging off the side of a plane. He does this for real, and the footage that the film gets out of that stunt is remarkable. And that’s just how it starts. This film, more than any other, seems to understand the inherent appeal in seeing Cruise do dangerous things. The actor brings so much of his manic energy to these stunts, and that adds a lot. The supporting cast is as fun as it’s ever been. Simon Pegg has pretty much become second lead on these films, and that’s a very good thing. He brings a real human element to all the insanity. Rebecca Ferguson is the token female this time around, but she manages to bring a whole lot to the role. She gives these spy games their emotional heft.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation doesn’t change the game. If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it, as the saying goes. It’s all about the spectacle of seeing Tom Cruise doing things that no star of his age and stature should ever really be doing. One can certainly argue for better plots for this series, perhaps stories that aren’t just about shuttling the characters from one set piece to another. But it’s hard to discount just how purely entertaining these movies are at this point.