Alec Baldwin is just four years older than Tom Cruise. In the mid-’90s, they were both action stars. When the first Mission: Impossible movie came out in 1996, it would not have been inconceivable in the slightest for Baldwin to play super-spy Ethan Hunt; Baldwin was the first actor to play the role of super-spy Jack Ryan in 1990’s The Hunt For Red October; in 1994, he headlined a pair of big Hollywood thrillers, The Shadow and The Getaway.

Twenty years later, Alec Baldwin’s now playing Ethan Hunt’s stodgy old rival in the CIA, while Tom Cruise is ... still playing Ethan Hunt. In 2015, it is inconceivable to imagine Baldwin hanging off the side of a plane or zooming through mountain roads on 200mph motorcycles, but that’s exactly what Cruise does in Mission: ImpossibleRogue NationForget the flashy stuff like holding his breath underwater for over six minutes; simply keeping up with the pace and rigors of a modern action movie should be impossible mission enough for a 53-year-old like Cruise. Somehow, the guy hasn’t lost a step. Rogue Nation may not be the best Mission: Impossible movie (Ghost Protocol was a smidge more satisfying), but it is unquestionably the most persuasive Scientology commercial ever made. Whatever this guy’s doing, it’s working.

It better be; Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation is action from start to finish. That crazy shot from all the trailers and posters of Cruise holding on to the door of a flying airplane? That’s the very first thing that happens in the movie. Cruise starts running after that plane and then basically never stops for the next two hours. Rogue Nation is pure, distilled Tom Cruise: All energy, intensity, and forward momentum. There’s one extended portion in the middle that’s like three huge setpieces stacked one on top of the other; a wild heist flows seamlessly into a car chase into a motorcycle chase.

Someone could write a book describing these sequences; their cinematography, editing, score, shot composition, not to mention the mind-boggling specifics of Hunt’s missions (the one in an underwater computer is absolutely insane). Describing the story of Rogue Nation, though, only requires 19 letters. “Ethan Hunt vs. anti-IMF.” That’s pretty much it.

After months of diligent investigation and plane-hanging, Hunt discovers the existence of an ultra-secretive “rogue nation” terrorist group he calls “The Syndicate.” Hunt‘s superiors in the U.S. government (including Baldwin’s Director Hunley) believe Hunt is delusional, or possibly even a traitor who’s using the Syndicate as a cover for his own illegal activities, so they shut down his Impossible Mission Force. While Hunley and the CIA chase Hunt, Hunt chases the Syndicate, mostly by following the trail of its most alluring agent, a disgraced British spy named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).

The Swedish-born Ferguson is a major new asset to the franchise; she handles Faust’s fight scenes expertly, exchanges smoldering, furtive stares with Hunt while never betraying her inscrutable motives, and looks brain-explodingly gorgeous slinking around an Austrian opera house in evening wear. She fits seamlessly into the returning team from past Mission Impossibles, including Jeremy Renner’s suave IMF officer William Brandt, Ving Rhames’ hacker Luther Stickell, and Simon Pegg’s comic relief sidekick Benji. At this point, the Mission: Impossible franchise is closer to the mood and style of classic Bond movies than the actual James Bond franchise, which is a lot darker and more serious these days. If you’re a fan of cool espionage gadgets, witty banter, and outstanding practical stunts, nobody does it better in 2015 than Mission: Impossible. That might be one advantage of Cruise’s age; he still has affection for the old school.

Mission: Impossible is no spring chicken, either; it’s been a Hollywood franchise for 20 years, more than double the time it spent on television in the ’60s and ’70s. That’s impressive longevity in an era when Hollywood has rebooted Spider-Man twice in less than a decade, and it speaks to Cruise’s own longevity as one of the hardest working men in Hollywood. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie previously worked with the actor on the detective thriller Jack Reacher, and they bring a similar vibe of lean efficiency to this much bigger production. McQuarrie doesn’t weigh things down with elaborate plot mechanics or flowery dialogue. At all times, he sticks to the mission at hand: intense, suspenseful action.

It helps that he has Cruise in his corner, who remains game for anything and everything. When Ghost Protocol came out, there were hints that it might be the final film in the series for Cruise, with Renner being groomed as his replacement. It didn’t happen, and there’s been no suggestion that Rogue Nation might be his curtain call. Thank goodness.

Additional Notes:

-Though there’s nothing fancy about the plot, there’s a pleasant logic to the idea that the CIA distrusts and wants to dismantle the IMF. In almost every previous Mission: Impossible, the secret bad guy always turned out to be a member of the Impossible Mission Force. Other than Hunt and his crew, this might be the dirtiest organization on the planet. So shutting them down is the perfect storyline for Rogue Nation.

-Given the timing, this has to be a coincidence, but it’s hard not to notice that Rebecca Ferguson’s Faust takes off her heels not once, but twice before big fight and chase scenes. Then again, she never runs from any giant dinosaurs, so maybe she would have left them on to do that.

-When Cruise escapes the Syndicate by doing this gravity-defying shimmy up a pole, I swear I flashed for a moment to the Katz’s Deli scene from When Harry Met Sally. “I’ll have what he’s having.”


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