By now, you've likely already become aware of the opening scene of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, a scene that affirms Tom Cruise's longstanding commitment to doing his own stunts even in the most extreme of circumstances. "The plane stunt," as it's likely to be forever known, may very well be the biggest and baddest stunt for an actor who has made a career out of immersing himself in big and bad stunts. I mean, folks, c'mon. i'm not that far away from Cruise's age of 53 - I can guarantee you that I'm not about to climb onto a plane no matter if it is a stunt designed to look much riskier than it actually is in real life.
Stuff happens, ya' know? Just ask Vic Morrow or Brandon Lee or countless others.
While some fault Cruise from turning away from what could be seen as "serious" acting roles, the truth is that one can easily argue that the decision to focus on these larger-than-life roles is a brilliant one that not only keeps Cruise relevant to an increasingly younger audience but also handles quite effectively the slowly dissipating dilemma has faced from having a personal life that has occasionally shone more brightly than Cruise's onscreen persona.
The simple truth is that Cruise hasn't changed all that much. Okay, sure, he's now got three tabloid fodder marriages to his credit and his ongoing relationship with Church of Scientology that occasionally distract us from Cruise "the actor," but Cruise has never really deviated from beingTom Cruise. Other than questioning his religious affiliation or his occasionally off-kilter public behavior, has Cruise ever really done anything negative?
Instead of trying to win us over with small, intimate performances that risked the chance of being overwhelmed by Cruise's public image, Cruise wisely shifted gears and and became both an action star and the kind of guy who will show up in films periodically spoofing with a wink and a smile his own public persona.
I'm not sure how much actual acting is going on for Cruise with Mission - Impossible: Rogue Nation, but I do know that it may very well turn out to be Cruise's most satisfying Ethan Hunt performance to date. Rogue Nation is the kind of film you want a franchise film to be with fun references to the first four films in the series and yet enough cohesiveness to stand alone on its old. This time around, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is called before an oversight committee by CIA DIrector Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), whose grudge against Hunt is well known and longstanding but whose authority allows him to shut down IMF amidst allegations of reckless irrelevance and effective yet shoddy workmanship.
Hunt, on the other hand, is out chasing some wildly vague yet globally dangerous group known as The Syndicate, a group known to be taking down national leaders, organizations and anyone or anything else that gets in their way. Left without a country or even an official organization, Hunt soon becomes the hunted and much of the fun in Rogue Nation is watching how Hunt creatively puts everything back together.
Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie understands the Mission: Impossible universe and has crafted a film that beautifully captures that universe's history, humor, action and swagger. Robert Elswit's lensing is, as one would expect, absolutely stellar and the film benefits from a camaraderie that doesn't even flinch despite the absence of Paula Patton and the introduction of Rebecca Ferguson, who proves to have a rather remarkable chemistry with Cruise.
The comic chemistry between Cruise and Simon Pegg is also spot-on, taking something that could have easily felt formulaic for the film and making it absolutely essential. Ving Rhames is back as Luther and gives the film a compelling gravitas, while Renner's chemistry with Alec Baldwin gives their scenes a spark that transcends the bureaucracy of it all. I will confess that I've always preferred Renner as a supporting player, not because he can't front a film but because he has a knack for creating chemistry with other characters and weaving his performance into their energy. In other words, he makes everyone around him better.
Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson manages to infuse Ilsa, of course that would be her name, with just enough humanity to make her a bad ass who actually matters. She's sort of like Mission - Impossible's Ronda Rousey. Sean Harris, while still not quite the bad guy one would hope for in the franchise, is a vast improvement upon his predecessor.
There are so many wonderfully intelligent choices made in Rogue Nation that it would be nearly impossible to not see the film as a significant notch above your usual action flick. Need a perfect example? Watch the scene unfold with the opera "Turandot" being performed, then listen as Joe Kraemer's original score returns to it time and time again throughout the film not just with the music itself but with the scene that's unfolding.
That's freakin' brilliant.
There is much to love about Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, a film that also lives up to its presentation in IMAX should you have that option in your town. With good guy swagger and that ever present smile, Cruise once again defies the haters and proves that he's got everything under control.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic