MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -- ROGUE NATION (8 out of 10) Written and directed by Chris McQuarrie; Starring Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames and Sean Harris; Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity; Running time 131 minutes, In wide release July 31, 2015.

Few series stay fresh and entertaining after their second or even first sequel. Writers often rely on the same, tiresome ideas used in previous movies that cause each to become pale imitations of what came before. Mission: Impossible, however, has managed to stay fun and interesting by changing things up and telling new stories with each movie. “Rogue Nation” delivers a pulse-pounding ride that will leave audiences excited and hopeful for more.

The Impossible Missions Force (IMF) is facing senate hearings over their blatant disregard for law and order. CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) demands they be shut down and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) brought in to answer for his actions that left the international community shaken. Hunt refuses to come in, for he believes he finally has proof of the existence of the shadowy terrorist group, the Syndicate. On the run from the CIA and the Syndicate, he enlists the help of Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) to gather more Intel. They are quickly thwarted by a possible double agent, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) whose loyalties are unclear since she previously saved Hunt’s life but also answers directly to the head of the Syndicate, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). With the help of Benji and ex-IMF agents Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Hunt tracks down and eventually teams up with Faust. To finally expose the Syndicate, they must steal a vital computer file from an un-hackable mainframe before Lane’s plans come to fruition.

From the panic-inducing opening with Tom Cruise literally hanging off the edge of a plane to his running out of oxygen while hacking an underwater computer, the suspense in “Rogue Nation” is palpable throughout. Few films are able to jump so efficiently between action scenes, but director Chris McQuarrie does so admirably. Even though the impossible is taking place, he never allows it to turn cartoonish and keeps the suspension of disbelief firmly in place.

Tom Cruise takes center stage and has slipped back into this role with the ease of a seasoned veteran. His name is synonymous with “Ethan Hunt”, and his performance is matched by the physical effort he exerted doing many of his own stunts. One could easily argue he is James Bond's peer at the very least.

What's great is that McQuarrie lets almost all his other protagonists have just as much fun as Tom Cruise. Simon Pegg provides a much-needed dose of humor and respite with his antics as Benji and also holds his own when it comes to the incredibly dangerous missions he is sent on as well. M:I newcomer Rebecca Ferguson is every bit the consummate spy that Ethan Hunt is, and she excels as his implied foil. It was quite refreshing to see a female lead in a spy movie who existed for reasons beyond looking pretty in a bathing suit. The only misses here are Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames who are both decent but merely get to tag along and never have the chance to do much more than hang out in the background. Even crusty old Alec Baldwin gets more important screen time with his derision of the IMF as a fossil in a post-Snowden world only to unwittingly get dragged along and involved with Ethan's plans.

The biggest problem with “Rogue Nation” is the Syndicate itself and its leader, Solomon Lane. While the movie does its best to portray them as a terrorist group bent on world domination, it never takes the time to explain how their goals are any different than the IMF, the U.S. or any other superpower. Their means might be more brutal, but only because they were exposed. Perhaps that was the point – that the good and bad guys are labeled based simply on perspective – but it wasn’t reinforced enough to make the Syndicate more than a menace solely for plot purposes.

Solomon Lane is even worse because he is never fleshed out and exists as a caricature of an evil mastermind. This could be because Harris decided to whisper through half his lines or possibly that a generic evil organization only requires a bland leader, but whatever the case, he and the Syndicate hardly felt menacing let alone worthy of being an IMF opponent.

This is still a tremendously fun film that tells an interesting story that is respectful of its history without being afraid to do its own thing. Longtime fans will love the Easter eggs hidden throughout while newcomers will simply enjoy the two-hour adrenaline rush. “Rogue Nation” doesn’t hit the highs accomplished in “Ghost Protocol”, but it’s still thoroughly entertaining and should be experienced on the biggest screen possible.  

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Tags: tom cruise , rogue nation , simon pegg , mission impossible