Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the action blockbuster (mostly) perfected

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All of the marketing behind Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is built around the image of Tom Cruise dangling off a plane in midair. That’s all over the ads and the poster, and you’ve probably heard that Cruise did the stunt himself in a clear attempt to top the Burj Khalifa sequence from Ghost Protocol. It’s safe to assume that this key moment happens at least halfway through the film, right?

Nope. Rogue Nation freaking opens with that. It starts with a man dangling from a plane 5,000 feet above the ground, and it only proceeds to top itself from there. The sheer audacity of Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie is unbelievable, but what’s even harder to believe is that they actually pull it off.

The Mission: Impossible series just keeps getting more insane and daring with every movie, beginning with a pretty standard spy thriller in 1996 and finally getting us to this point. Somehow, the third, fourth and fifth entries are easily the best ones, and Rogue Nation continues that perplexing upward spiral. This is a near-perfect summer blockbuster: funny, fast-paced, dazzling, and all while having a genuinely compelling plot. If you’re already on board with what Mission: Impossible has offered four times before, Rogue Nation serves up exactly what you’d want on a silver platter.

Let’s get right to the action because that’s really why you’re seeing a Mission: Impossible movie. It’s god damn insane and so thoroughly satisfying. I was honestly worried when I realized the plane sequence was the opening; how on Earth could they top that? While that’s still one of the best scenes of the movie, it’s not even the main highlight. That would be the amazing break-in/diving sequence where Ethan must hold his breath for three minutes all while Benji breaks into a highly secure location. In a very wise move, it all plays out with no music as the audience collectively holds its breath.

It should be noted, though, that most of the action is so good that when it isn’t, it really stands out like a sore thumb. There’s a mostly excellent chase sequences about halfway through the movie that for some reason mixes in a few CGI shots, and they are so blatant that it really takes you out for a moment. For a franchise that markets itself largely around the real stunts, that sort of thing is fairly disappointing.

Exposition moves along in Rogue Nation at a breezy pace, and I never wanted to stop hearing Ethan explain complicated plans. Each of these films revels in laying out a mission, giving you the rush of seeing it executed, and then punching you in the gut as things go wrong over and over. Surely they couldn’t make it out now, could they? It’s all about the writers laying out impossible situations for themselves and somehow getting themselves and the characters out just when you’re convinced they’ve hit a brick wall, and even after all these years, that hasn’t gotten old.

That diving scene isn’t the extent of the action; I count as least five breathtaking sequences in Rogue Nation, all perfectly spread throughout the film. McQuarrie moves along from checkpoint to checkpoint and in between lays down the increasingly complicated plot. It surprisingly works, even if at times all the layers to what’s going on with the Syndicate and the twists of who’s working for who becomes a little much. McQuarrie restores the sense of paranoia to this series, something the last few movies have been lacking.

Also unlike the last few movies, this one has a solid villain in Lane (Sean Harris). He becomes much more than just a mustache twirling bad guy who wants to do vaguely evil stuff, and I didn’t feel that way about the villain in Ghost Protocol. I actually had to do a Google search to remember what that dude even looked like.

This is a consistently funny movie, and the Mission: Impossible films have been getting increasingly lighter as the franchise progresses. Part of that is because Simon Pegg is bumped up to one of the main stars this time, with nearly as much screen time as Tom Cruise himself. He delivers the quippy one-liners and worried glances just the way you’d want, and Rogue Nation takes itself just seriously enough in a fashion reminiscent of the first Avengers.

Speaking of Simon Pegg, the whole supporting cast of this movie is just pitch perfect. Ving Rhames steps back into a main role and adds in a sense of gravitas, although honestly, he’s way too overpowered, just magically able to detect any face and do anything in seconds flat. It’s just a bit too easy for this series. Along with Rhames we have Jeremy Renner returning, and between this and Age of Ultron, Renner has reasserted himself as a charismatic action lead after the shitshow that was The Bourne Legacy.

I always love the sense of discovery in these movies, and unlike many action franchises, each one feels completely unique. Part of that fun comes down to all the new gadgets, none of which are explained through dialogue but which just exist in this world. In Rogue Nation, there are awesome little touches like a device that digitally opens up locked doors, or a monitor that appears as if made of paper. Besides just the intentionally funny dialogue, we’re often laughing just at the ingenuity of these filmmakers.

Rogue Nation just gets so much right that you’d want out of a Mission: Impossible movie and is original enough while not reinventing the wheel. No, it doesn’t transcend the genre to the point that I’d recommend it for non-action fans, and there are some occasional contrivances and characters that could be expanded upon like Hunley (Alec Baldwin). It also undoubtedly peaks halfway through with a slightly slower final act, although I personally found that to be pretty refreshing for a movie like this. But Rogue Nation for the most part absolutely nails this franchise’s formula and somehow lives up to everything that came before. With how great these films have become, I’d be perfectly comfortable with Tom Cruise doing these until the day he dies.

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