When you watch a late period Tom Cruise movie like “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” you get the sense of what the infant rhesus monkeys may have felt like during Dr. Harry Harlow’s various experiments on maternal separation. And by that I mean a film like “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” gives you all of your summer garbage nourishment in the form of exciting cargo plane stunt-ery, middle-aged people holding their breath for an uncomfortable amount of time and Simon Pegg’s British brand of horsin’ off however, that nourishment is doled out by the emptily grinning face of a bare wire mother named Tom Cruise. Even though you’ll suckle on Cruise’s metallic teat and grow strong from its entertaining sustenance, you’ll long for the warmth of the cloth Chris Pratt mother in “Jurassic World.”
Obviously, “Rogue Nation” is more than just fitfully entertaining. In fact, I would say that it’s top-shelf, A-No. 1 entertaining. But like any Cruise movie, any enjoyment that can be gleaned from it is hampered by the sneaking suspicion that the film you’re watching exists only as a ruse so that David Miscavige can sneak up behind you a little more easily and stuff you inside a canvas bag with the words “To Sea Org” stenciled on the side of it.
As “Rogue Nation” opens, Alec Baldwin (proving the bed-head look doesn’t work beyond the age of 25 or the year 2008) plays an embittered CIA director who is just sick and tired with all of those loose cannon cowboys at the Impossible Mission Force. And even though we’re supposed to roll our eyes at this whiny bureaucrat, Baldwin does have a point. After all, the IMF somehow managed to reduce the Kremlin to a pile of spires and ash. If that happened in the real world, not only would America be reduced to an irradiated wasteland, but a shirtless Vladimir Putin would take the time to punch the thing that closely resembles what used to be faces on our charred remains.
At any rate, the IMF is dissolved just as Ethan Hunt (Cruise) discovers the existence of The Syndicate –an evil anti-IMF organization run by creepy, rasping character actor Sean Harris. Believed to be a delusional terrorist by his own government, Ethan reluctantly teams up with double-agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) to clear his name and prove the existence of The Syndicate. Oh, and hey! Jeremy Renner is in this as he further solidifies his reputation as a superfluous and basically unnecessary addition to a popular action movie franchise. Once again, Renner Hawkeyes-up the proceedings as he stands perfectly still, looks very concerned and, at one point, helps Cruise open a door very dramatically. Why do we like him again? “The Hurt Locker?” Ugh. Fine.
“Rogue Nation” marks the first time in the franchise’s history that an entry was helmed by a director with an unproven track record. Yet in spite of the fact that Christopher McQuarrie was behind the uneven “Jack Reacher” and the justifiably forgotten “The Way of the Gun,” “Rogue Nation” effortlessly zips along with the relentless white-knuckle pace of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Both films live or die on the strength of their set-pieces and “Rogue Nation” is filled with plenty of indelible moments. Much was written about the opening scene set around a cargo plane as well as a harrowing underwater sequence that takes full advantage of its claustrophobic setting. But special note should be given to a paranoid moment in an opera house that’s paying homage to Hitchcock without blatantly ripping him off and a comic car chase in which a mildly brain damaged Cruise wreaks havoc on the streets of Morocco.
“Rogue Nation” is pure icing, luckily McQuarrie never overwhelms us and pulls it away just before we wander into the parking lot and puke it up on somebody’s Hyundai just like that time at IHOP when we just kept eating caramel apple French toast because we thought we might win an IHOP coffee mug (we didn’t).
But as exciting as these set-pieces may be, they’re still anchored by a Tom Cruise shaped hole in the center of the movie. I don’t care how much entertainment Cruise squirts into my eyes and hair, as long as there is still life in my unhealthy, French toast-filled body, I will never embrace his wire frame or call him Mommy. And neither should you.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, Ethan Hunt
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Weekender Rating: WWWWV