At this point I’m starting think that Tom Cruise is adopting an Adam Sandler-like approach to making films: just signing up to get paid to hang out with his buddies in exotic locales. But where Sandler and his unfunny band of brothers are smoking weed, sitting on the beach, and cracking fart jokes on lounge chairs made of cash, Tom’s doing inverted crunches, pounding down baked chicken breasts, and hanging on the side of a plane hundreds of feet in the air. Fortunately the results of the latter’s filmed paid vacays are more enjoyable to watch than the former’s.
Still, it’s been quite a few summers since The Bourne Identity (2002) and Casino Royale (2006) recalibrated the Hollywood spy guy as a badass sociopath well-versed in close-quarters combat, and that no-holds-barred / no-fun approach is a little tiresome. Cruise’s super-agent Ethan Hunt — a 50-something who could shred a potato into hash-browns with his sharp, weird side stomach muscle things — is still cut from that same cloth, though fortunately he’s a bit less serious than Damon or Craig (a necessity in a post-Fast and Furious summer landscape).
In the most welcome addition to the franchise, M:I–5 cranks up the humor more than any of Ethan Hunt’s previous outings. Simon Pegg’s comic relief contributions are certainly good for a laugh, but Cruise’s charming muggings make for some of the funniest bits — thanks to director/co-writer Christopher McQuarrie, who played Cruise to a similar effect for some release from all the white-knuckle madness in Edge of Tomorrow. (An early bit has a young lady familiar with Hunt asking him, "Is it true what they say about you?" To which Cruise considers responding but then simply serves up a puckish grin. If that wasn't intended to be at least a little bit of a joke about the public's perception of Cruise, it sure of hell should have.)
The plot is typical spy-movie fare, something seemingly pulling plot points from a spy-movie word generator (prime minister, access codes, disavow, double agent) and like the rest of the series there’s a bit too much of a reliance on Ethan Hunt’s “I knew this exact situation would happen all along and planned for it.”
Throughout the tension isn’t as high as in Rogue Nation’s predecessor, Ghost Protocol, but the film’s 15-minute centerpiece is a car-and-motorcycle chase spectacle in two parts that’s worth the price of admission alone. It’s frenetic but easy to follow. (Think: John Wick but with automobiles.)
Rogue Nation nearly sinks with a silly underwater scene intended to serve as M:I–5’s version of the original’s Cruise dangling from the ceiling bit. It’s a scene Cruise trained to hold his breath six minutes for (and the single shot where he puts that training to the test is impressive enough). But when things go all CGI it feels like a waste of time — and a waste of talent like Cruise, someone who’s willing to throw himself off skyscrapers or into hairpin turns on a crotch-rocket for the sake of getting the shot.
Where Brad Bird’s massively entertaining joy ride Ghost Protocol was the Mission: Impossible series’ Fast and Furious 5 moment, this is it’s Fast and Furious 6. It's certainly not un-entertaining, but, still, it packs a slightly weaker punch… if only because you see it coming.