It’s not just that Tom Cruise is hanging from the side of a plane as it takes off in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. It’s that he’s doing it because the usual tricks of the franchise – covert surveillance, advanced gadgets, digital infiltration – have failed. In order for Ethan Hunt (Cruise) to prevent a load of chemical weapons from flying away in the hands of terrorists, he’s going to have to go old school: running, jumping, clinging, smiling.
And so the action thrills of the opening are given a cheeky, self-aware air, which is just enough to elevate this fifth installment of the franchise above most of the others. The director and screenwriter, Christopher McQuarrie, also does a deft job of handling both the labyrinthine plotting that this sort of spy drama requires (this is the man who gave us The Usual Suspects, after all) and the expertly staged set pieces. When Hunt finds himself dealing with not one, not two, but three potential assassins while backstage during a production of Puccini’s Turandot, the ensuing action plays like a combination of The Manchurian Candidate and The Muppets.
The 52-year-old Cruise doesn’t look ridiculous at any point, which in itself is ridiculous. Whether he’s holding his breath underwater for minutes on end during an intricate heist or racing a motorcycle along winding Moroccan roads, he’s still every bit the instantaneous star.
Keeping up with him step for step – and often amusingly a step ahead – is Rebecca Ferguson as British double agent Ilsa Faust. She sports a killer dress seemingly made of melted butter at the opera and an even more killer move in which she can swing herself onto an assailant’s shoulders to deliver a fatal blow in about two seconds. Add a creepy villain with a quiet hiss and all sorts of facial tics (Sean Harris, tip-toeing to the edge of camp that Eddie Redmayne threw himself over in Jupiter Ascending), and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation makes you hope the series – to say nothing of Cruise – never stops running.