Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is back in his fifth MI film, this time directed from a screenplay written by his collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Edge of Tomorrow, Jack Reacher, just to name two). In a plot paralleling that of Spectre, Hunt and his posse find themselves up against an unbelievably knowledgeable super team of villains who the CIA doesn’t believe exists, putting pressure on the IMF team to prove not only the Syndicate’s existence but also their own reliability. But as we’ve come to expect from Cruise and his MI films, this one stands out in a field of spy flicks and high tech shenanigans. [Seriously, even the Furious series has moved into the high tech/stunt arena, foregoing simpler car chases and bombastic fistfights.]
The MI differ from the Bourne or Bond movies in two major ways. The first is that Hunt is not a lone wolf. While Cruise might be the face that sells the films, he’s joined by the goofy analyst Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), the serious, by-the-book chief William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, he of the failed Bourne film), and the deep-throated Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames). These three represent the team approach from the classic television series and resemble more of a mirror to The A-Team than one of these lone spy flicks.
The second difference is the level of humor. While the Syndicate proves to be deadly serious immediately, and Cruise appears to risk life and limb riding on the outside of jets, the MI films still find a way (thanks often to Pegg) to lighten things up. Whether it’s the operatic manner in which Hunt lures Pegg into helping his clandestine and highly illegal mission to track down the Bone Doctor (Jens Hulten), or the banter that occurs in the midst of the team’s missions, there’s more than the average wit to spice this up. [Surprisingly enough, the special features focus on various elements of “Cruise” like “Cruise Control” and “Cruising Altitude” or some kind of vehicle stunt, rather than the humor. I might’ve gone with a twenty minute gag reel!]
While this wasn’t my standalone favorite MI film, it’s high points are worthy of re-watching. There’s the death-defying plane ride, of course, made much brighter by not seeing it over and over for a month prior to rewatching. There’s the beautiful water-entry sabotage scene toward the end of the flick that sets up some seriously tense moments. And there are the new entrants into the MI canon like Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) as an undercover agent with the Syndicate who adds the necessary feminine heroine to a testosterone-dominated film, and the comedic ‘villain’ in the person of Alec Baldwin’s CIA director Alan Hundley, the consummate politician.
But let’s be clear: this is an ode to Cruise, a middle-finger-extending caption to his stunts and spectacularly explosive career. It’s just as much about Cruise saying to the media and detractors, “I ain’t dead yet,” as it is about the IMF proving to the CIA that there’s still room in the world for this group of people with a specific set of deadly skills. Cruise has been about doing things his own way – from Scientology to the way he does stunts – and while I disagree with his religious position, I must begrudgingly admit that his films still dominate the screen. Just don’t ask us to agree on the baptismal imagery of that long, last dive.