No, I don’t mean one of exotic adventure, pulsating action, incessant globetrotting, great pals and gorgeous women. I mean a world in which you get Internet connectivity on all your devices no matter where you are; your car can careen through a city smashing everything in sight and never sees the inside of a repair shop; and you don’t need a key to get in or out of any place.
The “Mission: Impossible” movie series, or “MI” as it’s known to fans and the press, has become the new James Bond: a series of impossible action movies arriving every few seasons that continues to up the ante in stunts, locations and thrills.
The main difference between the two films lies in their protagonists. James Bond is a fictional character who has been played over the decades by a host of male stars about whom we can all debate. (I’m partial to Sean Connery and Daniel Craig but no matter.)
“MI” stars Tom Cruise. He goes by the name of Ethan Hunt but this fools no one. It’s Tom hanging onto airplanes, flying off buildings and motorcycling in and out of rush-hour Moroccan desert traffic at death-defying speeds.
The series pivots off Tom and will no doubt end when he loses interest. He is the heart and soul of “MI” — a movie star who is a more than capable actor and an enthusiastic participant in the boldest stunts.
Much ink, interviews and viral videos have been made out of the opening stunt where he actually hangs off a giant A400 transport plane as it becomes airborne.
As you witness this precarious stunt, marveling at seeing on the big screen what you’ve already seen countless times in trailers and video teasers, you do wonder: Did the film’s insurance company know about this? And did director Christopher McQuarrie save the stunt for last in case … well, you know?
Tom Cruise is the most energized action star since Douglas Fairbanks, who in a similar manner of mixed roguish humor and fun into movie acrobatics.
An “MI” movie needs to throw no clever remarks into chase or fight scenes to introduce comedy; the glint in Cruise’s eye and upward curl of his mouth provide all the comic accent any action needs.
The screenplay for this one, which McQuarrie developed with Drew Pearce, serves as a blueprint for stunts and intrigue across three continents yet manages to be a coherent vehicle for dramatic storytelling.
Its crucial point is to get everyone to hunt Ethan Hunt, not just the shadowy bad guys, called ominously “the Syndicate,” but even the CIA and their allies who want him dead or alive, convinced he is a spy gone rogue.
After that eye-popping opening sequence, Ethan finds himself shadowed by this mysterious Syndicate, which the CIA chief (Alec Baldwin) is convinced is a figment of Ethan’s fevered imagination.
Certain that Ethan and his unsupervised MI gang are using the myth of the Syndicate as cover for increasingly illicit and diplomatically dangerous operations, the chief succeeds in shutting the group down, forcing Ethan actually to go rogue and his new partners from the last film, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Benji (that fine British comic actor Simon Pegg), to work for Langley.
It’s even unclear whether Ethan’s female partner in this episode — there are no love scenes so “love interest” seems wrong —is on his side. Ilsa, her name no doubt cribbed from the heroine in “Casablanca,” whose real-life city is one of the major locales for “Rogue Nation,” saves his life twice yet she works for the other team.
Ilsa is played by a resourceful, athletic and lovely Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson best know for her work as Queen Elizabeth in television’s “The White Queen.” One often talks about chemistry between actors of the opposite sex on screen. Here that excellent chemistry translates into superior hand-to-hand fight scenes and one spectacular chase featuring Cruise and Ferguson.
Set pieces involve an intricate assassination scheme in the Vienna Opera House that steals lovingly from Frankenheimer’s “The Manchurian Candidate” and Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”; Ethan holding his breath underwater for three-minutes-plus to replace a computer chip; and a motorcycle chase in Casablanca and into the desert with Ethan trailing Ilsa and Syndicate goons chasing them both.
Everything winds up back in London for old-fashioned spy games of deception, double crosses and misdirection played out in front of both the CIA director and MI5 head (Simon McBurney). All roads lead to a showdown between Ethan and the Syndicate’s reptilian head Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, with an effectively strained voice).
McQuarrie, in his fourth outing with Cruise as either director or writer, finds extraordinary angles in all the set pieces which Eddie Hamilton edits together with slick precision. The cuts are quick yet long enough for visual “reads” that allow you to appreciate the intricate stunt work by actors and, no doubt on some occasions, actual stunt performers.
Joe Kraemer’s constantly rolling score blends strains of Lalo Schifrin’s theme music from the original TV series to say nothing of Puccini for that show-stopping opera house sequence.
The next “MI” films is due arrive in about two years.
Opens: July 31, 2015 (Paramount Pictures)
Production: Skydance, Odin, Bad Robot Productions
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Alec Baldwin
Director/screenwriter: Christopher McQuarrie
Story by: Christopher McQuarrie,Drew Pearce, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller
Producers: Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger
Executive producer: Jake Myers
Director of photography: Robert Elswit
Production designer: Jim Bissell
Costume designer: Joanna Johnston
Music: Joe Kraemer
Visual effects supervisor: David Vickery
Editor: Eddie Hamilton
PG-13 rating, 131 minutes