Fast fact: Did you know that the Mission:Impossible film series is nearing its 20th birthday? The first film opened in 1996 and gave Tom Cruise an opportunity to channel his inner spy for moviegoers around the world. Now, nineteen years and four films later, he’s grown quite comfortable in his role as super agent Ethan Hunt. Over that time, there have been four different directors in the series (the last being Disney/Pixar’s Brad Bird in Ghost Protocol) but the premise of each film is the same: there’s a bad guy and Ethan has to help capture him (or her) with the help of his partners in the IMF and futuristic tech.
First, the good news: That formula doesn’t change in the most recent entry to the franchise, Rogue Nation. There’s a new director in town—Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Jack Reacher)—and he’s ready to unleash his vision of world espionage and subterfuge. Those two facts alone are enough to make Rogue Nation a must-see film but McQuarrie also adds a few additional elements that elevate it to summer blockbuster status.
In this episode, McQuarrie kicks off the film with what most directors would call their ‘money shot’—Ethan Hunt holding onto the side of an Airbus 400 as it takes off with a huge shipment of VX nerve gas (and yes, Cruise did the stunt himself). Mistakes have been made by IMF as of late, so CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin in his best role in ages) has the US Senate shut down the program and bring the agents home. There’s only one problem: Hunt is MIA, the victim of an unfortunate incident at a record store in London orchestrated by the creepy leader of the evil Syndicate, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). In fact, music is the theme of the next set piece as Hunt attempts to prevent the Chancellor of Austria from being assassinated at an opera. (Incidentally, the scene even features a bass flute being used for something other than playing music.) There, Hunt learns that he’s considered rogue and is being hunted by the CIA and the Syndicate . . . and maybe the lady who saved him earlier, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). The goal is to get his buddies in the dissolved IMF—Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Dunn (Simon Pegg), and Stickell (Ving Rhames)—on his side while attempting to stave off another potential assassination.
Of course, the M:I franchise is known for its tech and set pieces, and this episode does not disappoint. One of the most harrowing sequences is an underwater foray that will leave audiences breathless for a few minutes. But there’s also a white-knuckle motorcycle chase through the freeways of Morocco and a conclusion scene that will delight as well. Of course, there’s going to be a mask at some point—I’ll let you guess when it happens. It’s a good bit of fun and a fantastic way to spend a few hours in an air-conditioned theater.
As Agent Hunt, Cruise tackles his role with the usual verve you’ve come to expect from him. In this episode, he finds himself in a bunch of precarious situations yet shows the determination, leadership, and resourcefulness that will keep him alive for another day. However, Ferguson threatens to completely upstage him in her role as Ilsa, a disavowed agent whose talents and skills make her the strongest female lead in an action film since Charlize Theron in Mad Max:Fury Road. You wouldn’t want to mess with her—trust me. Pegg does a nice job as the techie Benji Dunn and provides some nice humor, while Renner’s character doesn’t really get going until the second half of the film.
One of the main themes of Mission:Impossible – Rogue Nation is a simple question that many of us have a difficult time answering: Who can you trust? In a spy film, you know there’s going to be a good amount of double and triple crossing, and this is no exception to that rule. Ilsa makes herself out to be any of three different options, further compounding the difficulty Hunt and his team face. Does he accept her help, knowing that she may or may not take him out in a moment’s notice? Or does he take her out instead?
When it comes to faith, each person must make a similar decision as Hunt—will they trust God (who stays the same yesterday, today, and forever—see Hebrews 13:8) or the world? In this case, consistency is a great thing, and only God can provide that on a day-in, day-out basis. All the world can offer is a shaky hope of stability and peace that gets violated by the time the national news comes on (or you check your Facebook feed, whichever comes first).
In addition, there is a second theme worth discussing in the character of Ilsa. She seems to be conflicted about what she’s supposed to do—specifically, how to fulfill her role(s). As she spends more time with Ethan, that conflict increases and reveals itself in a meeting with Atlee (Simon McBurney) along the banks of the Thames River. She eventually has to make a decision that will affect her life going forward. This sounds eerily like a decision we all have to make at one time or another—what are we going to do with our lives? If not answered, we become paralyzed and sit idle as the world passes us by. But if we’re going to run the race, we should run it as to finish the race (see 1 Corinthians 9:24), not simply make it to the first water stop. God helps us in this area by providing situations, individuals, and the Bible to guide us in our individual decisions. It’s not easy—there are struggles involved. Still, our trust in God’s plan—and Jesus’ death and resurrection—will lead us to the finish line (Philippians 3:12-14). It brings all the questions and doubts of life into elements of faith and trust that make us what we need to be for the Lord—right here, right now. A person doesn’t need high-tech tools to make that happen.
That’s something Ethan Hunt and his IMF crew would be impressed with.