“Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation” is the very model of a modern major film franchise: Loaded with globe-trotting adventure, breathtaking stunts and just enough plot to hold together the whole ball of wax, it’s the sort of movie where you wouldn’t bat an eye if Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team were suddenly replaced by the cast of “Furious 7.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that — there are good popcorn thrills, and there are bad ones, and if “Rogue Nation” falls slightly below “Ghost Protocol” on the adrenaline scale, this fifth entry in the spy saga is definitely the sort of over-the-top spree that generates goofy grins, clenched armrests and spilled soda.
“Rogue Nation” doesn’t do anything particularly wrong inasmuch as it overdoes something right — by the time we reach the final chase/shoot-out/hand-to-hand combat set piece, a bit of ice-cream-headache fatigue has begun to set in. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (“Jack Reacher,” “The Usual Suspects”) skillfully assembles each of these sequences, but the film might have benefited from excising at least one of them.
The film is up and sprinting from the very beginning. We get a minute or so of banter between field agents Benjy (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) and their controller Brandt (Jeremy Renner) before Hunt is hanging off the side of an airplane that’s taking off. (For the film to slough off its poster moment before the opening credits is an act of boldness akin to kicking off a concert with the hit single.)
Hunt is in pursuit of The Syndicate, a shadowy team of terrorists responsible for a series of seemingly random disasters and assassinations, and when he arrives in London, he learns that The Syndicate is onto him and his entire team. Meanwhile, in Washington, CIA chief Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is testifying before a closed committee to pull the plug on IMF.
Hunt, alone and unsupported, must elude both the CIA and The Syndicate while trying to prove the existence of the latter to the former. This task involves attempting to foil an assassination attempt at the Vienna Opera (a sequence that calls to mind both “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “Foul Play”), breaking into the underwater database of a facility in Morocco (sans oxygen tanks, of course) and at least one of the fooled-you-I-was-wearing-a-mask switcheroos that are the cornerstone of the franchise.
With a bevy of villains passing through, casting directors Mindy Marin and Lucinda Syson wisely pepper the film with memorable faces; one look at Sean Harris or Jens Hultén, and their physiognomy remains burned into our memory for the whole film.
Also very well cast is Rebecca Ferguson (“Hercules”) as the mysterious Ilsa, who could be an ally for Ethan or a double agent setting him up for betrayal. Since Ferguson isn’t a well-known actress in this country (most of her credits are from Swedish and U.K. television), it’s not immediately apparent where her sympathies will eventually lie.
Ferguson also makes for a captivating screen presence; Robert Elswit’s camera practically fetishizes her long legs, and her face combines the wide and world-weary eyes of a 1970s French film star with the solid cheekbones of a 1940s contract player. (Anyone casting “The Alice Faye Story” should look no further.)
“Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation” never pretends to be anything but a solidly entertaining collection of fighting, chasing, driving, falling and going-to-the-place-and-getting-the-thing. But at that level, it delivers completely. Choose to accept it.