Fans of Tom Cruise, actors doing their own stunts and impressive action setpieces, prepare to take a trip to the cinema. If you've seen a Mission: Impossible film over the past two decades (or the television series before that), you know what to expect. In fact, if you've watched any of the previous installments, you've essentially already seen this one as well.
A different writer/director takes the helm this time around, and a fresh foe threatens the Impossible Mission Force. Yet it still feels like a case of new movie, same ol' stuff. Cruise's super spy Ethan Hunt is hot on the trail of a shadowy, multinational organisation called the Syndicate, chasing a cluster of seemingly unrelated disasters, and hopping from London to Vienna to Casablanca and back again trying to track them down.
There's more to Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, of course — including an unhappy CIA boss (Alec Baldwin) intent on closing the IMF; the Syndicate's ever-crafty, always-one-step-ahead head honcho (Sean Harris); and the intriguing Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), who could be either friend or foe. Hunt's trusty colleagues Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther (Ving Rhames) help out, particularly after he goes rogue. But the details don't really matter. They're simply the filler that joins the film's standoffs, heists and fist fights together.
That's not to say that filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie, reteaming with Cruise after directing Jack Reacher and writing the scripts for both Valkyrie and Edge of Tomorrow, doesn't craft an engaging-enough and unexpectedly lighthearted feature. It's just all too obvious that he's adhering to a tried-and-tested formula, leaving everything else — the characters, especially, as well as the dialogue — feeling a little too thin. That Baldwin both seems like he's reprising 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy and is forced to claim that "Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny" with a straight face provides the perfect example.
Thankfully, what the Mission: Impossible franchise does often (and over and over again), it does well. Zipping through the slick mechanics of a never-really-impossible mission proves as well-handled as ever, notably in opera-set and underwater sequences that are sure to become the film's calling cards. Exuding an energy and urgency that the rest of the movie is lacking, the choreography of the action and the camerawork that captures it is in top form. The same can also be said for the returning cast, including the almost instantly shirtless Cruise, all playing to their strengths even if they are saddled with one-note roles.
When Ghost Protocol arrived in cinemas in 2011 after a five-year gap in the series, its pace, smarts and thrills both surprised and impressed — and while none of those stand out in Rogue Nation, the feature does have one trick up its sleeve other than its spectacle. That would be Swedish actress Ferguson, last seen in Hercules, and the welcome addition that the film sorely needs. In an effort that's largely going through the motions, she is certainly not. Enjoying her time on screen is easy; finding anything more than been-there, done-that antics otherwise — now, that's your mission, should you choose to accept it.