MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION  * * * 1 / 2

Starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Alec Baldwin. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie.

Tom Cruise makes his entrance sprinting and shouting orders. Because of course he does.

Then he leaps and runs across the wing of a plane before clutching the outside cargo door as it takes off into the stratosphere, because this is what Tom Cruise does in movies now.  The camera holds steady, watching the winds and G’s beat the crap out of his face and hair as he clutches for dear life, all in rather breathtakingly composed shots letting us know in no uncertain terms that this is indeed Tom Motherfucking Cruise, the guy from Cocktail himself, hanging off the side of a goddamn speeding airplane as it blasts away into the ether.

He’s insane. He’s nuts. Sure, he may be part of a terrifying religious cult and some lousy documentary I saw at Sundance this year was presumably supposed to end his career, but Cruise still fucking delivers. I honestly don’t care whatever weirdo science-fiction God he prays to at night, because when I plunk down my $13 at the movies Tom Cruise can always be counted on to give me my money’s worth. The dude is fifty-three years old and has more money than Mammon, yet he’s still clutching for dear life on the outside of that plane, trying his damnedest to show us all a good time.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is a riot. It’s the most fun I’ve had at a summer franchise blockbuster in ages thanks to that spirit of showmanship. The M:I series – kicked off twenty years ago when pretty much every studio was cooking up remakes of sixties TV shows for no good reason – began as an excuse for neophyte producer/star Cruise to ingratiate himself with hotshot directors. So we got the clammy paranoia of Brian De Palma’s first entry, followed by the ecstatically goofy self-parody of John Woo.  J.J. Abrams made the longest and cheapest-looking episode of Alias I’ve ever seen, but the series really became something else when Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol turned it all into a live-action Pixar movie.

Rogue Nation is another collaboration between Cruise and one of his auteurist buddies – The Usual Suspects’ Oscar-winner Christopher McQuarrie, who did some under-the-radar script doctoring on Ghost Protocol (Paramount’s original plan was to phase Cruise out and replace him with Jeremy Renner.  Yeah, so that didn’t work for a thousand fucking reasons.)  Cruise has since worked with McQuarrie on the endlessly rewatchable, stripped-down potboiler Jack Reacher and last year’s rather absurdly entertaining, shoulda-been-a-blockbuster Edge Of Tomorrow. These guys know what they’re doing.

The key, I think, is that they don’t bother to even pretend that Tom Cruise is an actual human being who registers alongside the rest of us. Alec Baldwin plays a CIA stooge who calls Cruise’s Ethan Hunt “the living manifestation of destiny” and that’s a gag that keeps paying off.

Cruise is on fire here, way faster and furiouser than his counterparts and his stamina keeps going and going and going throughout a mid-movie underwater heist sequence that turns into a car chase that turns into a motorcycle chase – all shot with McQuarrie’s bruising you-are-there, “look-Ma-no-CGI” immediacy. (I applauded a lot, especially because I thought it was never going to end.)

I’ve seen five Mission: Impossible movies now and I don’t know a lick about Ethan Hunt except that every couple years he flings his body all over the place, then eventually saves the day. Cruise is hilarious in these movies, Buster Keaton for Hollywood’s franchise doldrums. He gets a bad rap but he’s really an extraordinary physical actor.

The stunning Rebecca Ferguson plays a maybe-double-or-triple agent (the plot gets a little labyrinthine) but she holds her own alongside Cruise while towering over him, and in a stinging rebuke to the garbage roles offered to females in offal like Jurassic World our lady even takes care to shed her high-heels before going shooting. It’s a great beat when she gets her own action showdown with a male super-villain.

Yeah, so this was a howl. Not much of a thought in its head but impeccably crafted nonetheless and always delightful to watch. Whenever angry fanboys with rock-bottom standards email me angrily asking why I would ever expect quality from a blockbuster in the first place, at least I can answer with something like Rogue Nation. This is a terrific summer movie.

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