Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation: Cruise shows he's still well in control
Like its long-serving frontman, this exciting and explosive thriller franchise keeps getting better with age, says Andrew Johnston
At one point during Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Simon Pegg's sidekick character Benji Dunn refers to the shadowy organisation he and his Impossible Missions Force cohorts are trailing as "the anti-IMF". Well, this smart, funny, action-packed summer flick is pretty much the 'anti-blockbuster'. By that, I mean it's bold, loud and sure to delight the multiplex hordes, but its story has an actual beginning, middle and end, and the director doesn't default to cities exploding or spaceships falling out of the sky every time he feels viewers' interest may be waning.
Helmed and written by Christopher McQuarrie, it reteams the Jack Reacher filmmaker with star Tom Cruise in the fifth instalment of Mission: Impossible's big-screen incarnation. What began in 1996 as a simple remake of a 1960s TV show has taken on a life of its own and is now a serious rival to the James Bond cycle. Indeed, with its lightness of touch, strong villains and sense of wit, you could argue that the M:I pictures easily out-Bond Bond.
The plot this time around involves the titular 'rogue nation', a murky underworld assembly known as the Syndicate. According to Alec Baldwin's bluff CIA chief Alan Hunley, said outfit doesn't exist, but in the opinion of Cruise's Ethan Hunt, it does and needs to be taken down at all costs. Cue that old agent-on-the-run scenario, with Hunt globetrotting from England to Austria to Morocco and back, aided by the wonderfully named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a British spy who may or may not be on the IMF's side.
McQuarrie directs in straightforward fashion, managing to make each of the screenplay's many twists and turns intelligible, but always exciting. He also directs action well, with none of the grainy visuals or jump-cuts that often blight this kind of thing.
The presence of horror and sci-fi stalwart Sean Harris as bad guy Solomon Lane is another masterstroke. Quite why it has taken this long to cast the sinister-looking Briton as the antagonist in a major studio release is a mystery.
Elsewhere, Pegg and Ferguson are superb, as is Jeremy Renner, as world-weary IMF bod William Brandt. Computer hacker Luther Stickell, played by Ving Rhames - the only other actor to have appeared in all the M:I movies - is less well served by the script, but there's never any doubt the star of the show is Cruise.
As always, the still buff and boyish 53-year-old does many of his own stunts, including an underwater set-piece that will have audiences gasping for air and a cliff-top motorcycle chase that is as thrilling as anything the Fast and Furious crew have put before the cameras. Indeed, the M:I series has a lot in common with the Vin Diesel-led franchise, with both having improved with each sequel. Rogue Nation certainly lives up to 2011's excellent Ghost Protocol, and it's genuinely welcome news that Cruise has confirmed he will return in a sixth M:I film.
But for now, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, should you choose to go see it, is the most enjoyable 131 minutes you'll have in a cinema this summer.