When the Impossible Mission Force is disbanded, Ethan Hunt takes on a shadowy organisation who are responsible for several terror threats.
Christopher McQuarrie, 2015
After one of their missions ends in the usual fiery explosions, the Impossible Mission Force is called in front of a panel of judges to justify their actions. In spite of Brandt’s (Jeremy Renner) best efforts, the IMF is disbanded, with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) still out in the field on his last mission. He’s hot on the trail of the Syndicate, a rogue nation dedicated to taking out the secret government organisations that have wronged them (I think). He harbours a personal grudge against Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the Syndicate’s cruel leader. He enlists the help of his adorkable friend and former colleague Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) to stop the Syndicate. Along the way, they are helped and hindered the mysterious and hypercompetent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whose loyalties are unclear.
There’s been a lot of talk this year about how CGI has been taking over movies, and how practical effects and stunts are the way to go. Nobody is keener to do their own stunts than Tom Cruise. As a result, this fifth instalment in the Mission Impossible franchise sees The Cruiser hanging on to a plane, nearly drowning, crashing motorbikes, and falling off of stuff in the name of realism. The result is a fast-paced thrill ride that’s a modern update on the classic action movie. The plot is fairly simple, and if it isn’t always completely clear, well, there will be another action set piece in five minutes to make you forget that you don’t really understand what’s going on. Most of the set pieces are good, though they can get repetitive. My personal favourite is a tense assassination attempt in the middle of an opera. The timing is great, and director Christopher McQuarrie effectively uses the space for a fun intersecting scene that could be confusing in the hands of a lesser action director. His style is sleek and heady, but he always lets the audience know what’s happening when, with none of that shakycam quick-cut business. A lot of the usual spy tropes are here – shifting loyalties, agencies vs. agencies, secrets within secrets, the hero sliding down a wire using a jacket while a woman in fancy dress clings to him – which can be worthy of a good eye roll. The film could allow its audience a few minutes to catch their breath every now and then, but there’s no denying it’s a lot of fun.
The jewel in this movie’s crown, however, is Simon Pegg. Pegg is the heart and soul of this movie, giving it the emotional connection that Tom Cruise sorely lacks. Ethan is way too good at literally everything to ever feel properly imperilled; the guy can actually die and we still think he’s going to be fine. On the other hand, Benji is a precious cinnamon roll of a character who fills both the sidekick and damsel roles for this film. Whenever he’s in danger, Simon Pegg sells the emotion of the moment so effectively that it slices through the numbing effect of constant action to stab you right in the feels. It’s a good counterpoint to Tom Cruise, who spends most of the movie showing off how fit he is at almost 50 and not really acting. Jeremy Renner also does well at balancing a difficult role. The fabulous newcomer Rebecca Ferguson is underserved by a femme fatale character. This franchise seems to have trouble holding on to women, even though it keeps male characters from one film to the next. If they all get roles like Ilsa, I can see why. On the surface she’s perfect, cool and smart and in control, but really she’s a bundle of tired tropes. The film never outright damsels her, but her peril is a constant source of consternation for Ethan, who saw a lady get killed at the beginning of the film and has a protective streak. Worse, her character is one of those “women are inherently untrustworthy” ladies that spy movies love so much. It’s a shame, because she has the potential to be awesome. The emptiness of her role echoes the ultimate emptiness of the film. Still, the movie is fun, fast, and a great way to spend a Friday night.