When franchises start to age they inevitably become something akin to episodes, like catching up with the old gang on a long running series. It happened with the original Star Trek movies, then with the Next Generation films- we see familiar faces, some new ones, and we go along with the gang on a new mission, one that routinely has nothing to do with the last one. They've become comfort food, and done well it can leave you satisfied and full, happy to welcome the show back when the next one comes along.
The mission this time is all twists and turns, hidden identities and old-fashioned spycraft stuff, helping it to resemble even more an episode of the old TV show from which the series was born. One of the appeals of the M:I movie franchise is how completely each new entry is allowed to belong to its director. The original 1995 film was very much a stylish, Brian DePalma mystery, in retrospect the least action-packed of the series. M:I II was John Woo's of course (the worst of the bunch), but looking back on that one, even with all the slow-mo and the doves it raised the bar for the actual stuntwork, and entries three through five have all had their own singular directorial touches, but felt more or less of a pace with each other as the "next episode" framework took hold. Most people all have a different ranking of their favorites (mine would be IV, III, V, I and II) which speaks to the creative freedom the studio (and Cruise as producer) has allowed each filmmaker in doing his own thing. This time, Valkyrie and Jack Reacher writer/director Christopher McQuarrie takes the reins to craft a twisty story that starts with Ethan hanging off a plane in mid-air and leads to the the dissolution and absorption of the IMF into the CIA, while Ethan takes on a fugitive status as he single-handedly tracks down the "syndicate," a rogue organization made up of former disgruntled special ops agents, the head of which (Sean Harris) is out to fund his terror activities and be a bug in Ethan's claw every step of the way.
Of course, Ethan's pals and recurring players Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames) and now Brandt (Jeremy Renner, returning as new series regular) join him for the fun eventually, and coming on board as a guest star sure to be replaced in the next film (the women always are) is Rebecca Ferguson as a pretty badass femme fatale who switches sides so many times it'll have your head spinning. The stunts are adequately impossible, as Ethan must hold his breath underwater for five minutes, drowns, is promptly resuscitated and immediately must proceed to a high speed chase, first in a car, then in a motorcycle, and suffers at least three would be fatal injuries in the span of an hour, but you have to suspend disbelief of course, since Ethan is more or less superhuman in these movies. The plot gets twisted up in knots as the syndicate head's plan is unraveled, the face masks and gadgets make their appropriate appearances, and Ethan saves the day in duly satisfying fashion. It's basically everything we would want, and even the questions some of these events pose are fun in the way it allows you to enjoy poking holes in the story. Questions like are there really only three people in the IMF? What was Rebecca Ferguson's secret backstory that they never actually revealed? Couldn't Benji have told Ethan he already made a copy of the disk they were chasing before they almost got themselves killed twice in attempting to retrieve it?
But in the end it doesn't matter so much, because the Mission: Impossible franchise has now reached that point where we simply go along for the ride and marvel as our hero Ethan Hunt, now in his 50's (presumably, as that's Cruise's age) still possesses all of his seemingly everlasting agility and athleticism and slick professional dedication to the "mission" above all else. He is the mission, and he's now become, at this point, the "living manifestation of destiny," as one character literally calls him in this movie. Whether that's Ethan or Tom Cruise himself is immaterial at this stage- as one of our longest lasting, hardest working movie action stars he keeps giving us the goods, and will do anything for the audience, even if it involves strapping himself to the outside of a plane that takes off and flies with him on it at 150 miles per hour. That's our Ethan, that's our Tom and it's comforting to know we still have him, giving us his all even in the later stages of his thirty year career.
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