How hard is it to make a really fun summer blockbuster? Judging by some of this season's movies, it's pretty difficult -- but not, as "Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation" proves, impossible.
The fifth film to transform the beloved 1960s espionage TV series into an extravaganza of stunt-filled, two-fisted, big-screen action, "Rogue Nation" is also the latest in a line of sequels filling theatres this summer. And where "" and " " struggled to capture the magic of earlier films, "Rogue Nation" shows there's still fuel in the tank of the "Mission: Impossible" series. Fuel that's about to blow up and burn Tom Cruise's shirt off, probably.
Cruise returns as athletic superspy Ethan Hunt, hunting down a shadowy secret army of evil spies with the help of old friends Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner. Alec Baldwin is the stuffed shirt trying to shut the team down, and whisperin' Sean Harris from "The Borgias" and "Prometheus" is suitably scary as the bad guy. Cruise's "Jack Reacher" director and "" writer Christopher McQuarrie is in assured charge.
Cruise is always watchable and, as in the sadly underrated "Edge of Tomorrow",
seems capable of poking fun at himself, adding a fun extra dimension of humour to the stunt-tastic carnage.
As in "", our hero meets his match in a rival who proves to be as resourceful and capable as he is. Anglo-Swedish actor Rebecca Ferguson lights up the screen as British intelligence badass Ilsa Faust, coolly playing both sides against the middle in an impossible mission of her own. It would be nice if the camera didn't spend so much time lingering lovingly over her scantily clad lower half, but at least she doesn't need to be rescued every five minutes.
She's also the only female character in the movie: the IMF team is all impeccably suited movie star dudes, the bad guys are all impeccably suited glowering dudes, and the politicians are all impeccably suited grey-haired dudes. It wouldn't have killed them to have a bit of variety in there -- just look at the diverse cast of the "" series.
Of the returning cast of dudes, Pegg has the most to do. Usually used as comic relief, he even stretches his dramatic legs a bit. As his computer expert character Benji is lumbered with the consequences of Hunt's actions, he ends up questioning their friendship and perhaps even Hunt's sanity.
This is the most intriguing aspect of the film and I'd have loved to have seen it given more room. Every other spy movie flirts with the idea of the hero "going rogue" but never really commits --has gone-rogue-but-not-really in all three of his Bond movies, for instance. "Rogue Nation" suggests Hunt is properly off the grid and maybe even completely off the rails. But the suggestion is never given enough time to breathe, as the breakneck pace flings us into the next chase or action set-piece.
Ultimately though the (literally) breathless set-pieces are the big draw, blasting from bruising punch-up to spectacular stunt to hairsbreadth escape, racing from Belarus to Vienna to Casablanca to London with split-second stopovers in Malaysia, Paris and Havana. While a lot of time is spent in the thoroughly modern mode of staring at screens and frantically typing, the stunts have a physical heft behind them (apart from one CGI car-flip that won't date well). There's a spectacular chase that puts you right on the road with the speeding superspies, blowing your hair back as you swoop in and out of traffic at tarmac level.
And the stream of high-tech gadgetry is nicely balanced with touches of old-school skullduggery, back-stabbing and spycraft. Codewords are exchanged in a London record store, veiled threats are traded in cut-glass accents by the river Thames, and woodwind instruments turned into sniper rifles with a flick of the wrist.
A little bit Bond, a little bit Bourne, but always comfortably cruising in its own high gear, "Rogue Nation" is full of old-fashioned fun wrapped in thoroughly modern thrills. Looks like "Mission: Impossible" won't self-destruct in five movies.
"Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation" is in cinemas in the US and UK this week, and in Australia from 6 August.