Elongated gaps between Mission: Impossible movies were something to be expected with Tom Cruise’s flagship franchise; and yet, remarkably, there would only be three and a half years between Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation, the shortest gap between Missions yet.
Originally scheduled for release in December 2015, the fifth film in the franchise would be brought forward by five months in order to avoid competition from what was correctly expected to not only be the biggest film of the year – but in fact one of the biggest films of all time – Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as well as the biggest name in espionage cinema, James Bond, with its 24th production, Spectre.
It would, in the end, be a smart move by Paramount.
Following the acclaim and high box office of Ghost Protocol, expectations were high for the fifth Mission: Impossible thriller. The series had just come off its most successful instalment so far and, somewhat similar to Universal’s Fast and the Furious franchise, there was a feeling that the series was achieving more popularity as it was going on.
JJ Abrams and Bryan Burk would stay on board as producers, the film once again bearing the Bad Robot logo that had become so linked with Abrams’ projects, while the series would once again call on the services of a different director than the previous instalment, but one with a tangible link to not only the franchise, but to Tom Cruise himself.
Christopher McQuarrie had become highly noticed in 1995 thanks to his script for The Usual Suspects. A thriller of highly twisted proportions, the film was the directorial debut of Bryan Singer, and while Singer gained many plaudits, a lot of the acclaim also went to McQuarrie’s script with its complex, labyrinth narrative and twist in the tale ending that left audience and critics with their jaws on the floor.
In 2000 he made his directorial debut with The Way of the Gun, directing from his own script, but unfortunately, the film did poorly at the box office and with critics. Apart from uncredited work on the script for the first X-Men film, Macquarie seldom worked until writing the script for the Cruise vehicle Valkyrie. With his work on the World War II thriller, it would be the beginning of an actor/writer and director partnership that would define both star and director well into the 2010’s.
In many ways, it would make sense for McQuarrie to call the shots on a Mission: Impossible film. McQuarrie would direct the first adaptation of Lee Child’s famed Jack Reacher novels in the titular character’s debut movie, which also would controversially star Cruise, as well as contribute to the critically acclaimed, but commercially under-performing, Edge of Tomorrow, another Cruise vehicle. The notion of McQuarrie directing an instalment of Cruise’s flagship franchise was pretty much a give in.
While Jack Reacher underperformed at the box office, it did indicate that McQuarrie could handle a commercially appealing action thriller. That film felt like a throwback to the 70’s with its smaller scale thriller plot line but with a superbly staged car chase in the middle of the film that was worth the price of admission alone. Even if it wasn’t a massive success, it was a clear indicator that the writer/director was capable of doing a Tom Cruise vehicle with a level of high-octane set pieces.
Right from the off, Rogue Nation feels like an amalgamation of many facets of the franchise; on the one hand it isn’t afraid to owe a debt or two to the original series as well as De Palma’s film, with a credit sequence that pays tribute to the 60’s television show in a manner that De Palma did as well.
It also continues the series’ more recent ability to also function as a Tom Cruise vehicle but also to surround him with a team, the aesthetic of the original TV series as well and the subject of much criticism of the first two movies for lacking; Ving Rhames returns for a larger role as Luther than in the previous movie where he effectively cameoed in the final moments, along with Simon Pegg as Benji and Jeremy Renner as IMF William Brandt, now the director of IMF field operations.
Newcomers to the franchise included Alec Baldwin as CIA director Alan Hunley who spends the movie trying to close down the IMF, while on villain duties is Sean Harris as Solomon Lane, a villain in the mould of Owen Davian from the third movie, proving to be both a subtle presence but one with a lot of menace and a sustained level of threat.
The film’s MVP, though, is without a doubt Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust, an MI6 agent whose motivations and loyalties are a constant source of tension throughout. Continuing the series’ ability to bring in something of a female equal to Hunt, Faust is a superbly complex character brought to life magnificently by Ferguson. For the most part, the character is well handled in the writing and the performance, and even more thankfully, the film never falls into the trap of making her a romantic figure for Hunt, and instead is content at just making them equals throughout the running time, but sadly McQuarrie’s superb direction isn’t above subjecting her to one or moments that could be characterised as male gazing, but thankfully not to the extent that it belittles the character, but are completely unnecessary also.
It’s the only complaint one can make about the film. For the fifth film in a franchise, Rogue Nation is the series at its absolute best. Its story manages to have a suspense thriller element that defined De Palma’s movie, but it also throws in some superb action sequences that remind the audience of what Woo, Abrams and Bird have done, but also have an identity of their own, with many of them ranking as the best in the series.
Best of all, Rogue Nation shows that it is a franchise that isn’t afraid to puts its iconic lead hero through the emotional wringer; from the third movie on we’ve been presented with a hero fighting for a committed relationship, thrown into a Russian jail and now being a character disavowed and on the run for six months. With this level of more emotional complexity, coupled with the level of intensity to the action sequences and stunt work, it makes Hunt feel like the love child of Jason Bourne and James Bond.
On top of an engaging plotline, the action is fantastic throughout, managing to combine great stunt work (the film opens with its biggest, attention-grabbing stunt), great fight sequences and some of the best set pieces of the series. It manages to feel like a genuine spy movie, with key sequences set in Casablanca that instantly recall the famed film of the 40’s, as well as an assassination at a Vienna opera house that at first reminds the audience of Quantum of Solace but outdoes it with cleaner editing and a superb combination of action and character work.
Grossing $682 million worldwide, it would be another massive success for the franchise, and this time Paramount would endeavour to make sure there were no long gaps between instalments, with the next film in the series, Fallout, being released into theatres three years later, the shortest gap yet.
The forthcoming film will also mark the first time a director has returned to the series, with McQuarrie returning to the director’s chair, not to mention a returning villain if recent trailers are anything to go by, with Sean Harris set to make a return appearance as Solomon Lane.
With early reviews suggesting that it may be the highlight of the summer movie season, it appears as if Ethan Hunt will be choosing missions for a long time to come yet.