There’s an admittedly cheap, but remarkably effective result from committing a night at the opera to film. No matter how cynical or out of place its inclusion, the opera elevates cinema, especially genre films that can use a leg up. It elevates the romcom in Moonstruck, the deliberately dumb comedy in the Bob Sagat-directed Norm MacDonald vehicle Dirty Work, the slasher horror in Dario Argento’s (appropriately titled) Opera, and now in the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible series, Rogue Nation, it elevates the super spy action movie. In one of Rogue Nation‘s most elegant sequences our hero & the thorn in the government’s side Ethan Hunt infiltrates an operatic production to put a stop to four separate assassination attempts on a single Austrian dignitary. John Woo (embarrassingly) attempted to invoke a sort of rack rock opera in the climax of Mission: Impossible 2 fifteen years ago, but it wasn’t until Rogue Nation that the series’ operatic ambitions amounted to anything meaningful. The assassination prevention is a ridiculous, impossible mission, but it’s neither the first or the last of the film’s many over the top set pieces. The fact that the film’s literal operatic heights are almost forgettable amongst its other action-laden tangents is merely a testament to how eager it is to please as a popcorn spectacle.
As you may have noticed (presuming anyone out there might be paying attention), I have been superficially tracking my journey through the Mission: Impossible series by the length of Tom Cruise’s hair in the films. In the delightful first & third entries, Cruise was rocking a short, handsome hairdo that conveniently coincided with the films’ somewhat concise approach to action delivery & 60s super spy nostalgia. In the second film his hair got remarkably douchier in length, which was mirrored in the film’s awful late 90s/early 00s aesthetic, a mistake repeated in the fourth installment, Ghost Protocol, which I’m willing to forgive since Cruise begins the film in a Serbian prison. It’s more than excusable. It’s not like he’s the President of the Limp Bizkit Fan Club in the fourth film (I’m assuming he was in the second), so the terrible hairdo can slide. In Rogue Nation, Cruise’s hair length also goes rogue, striking an in-between balance that serves as a nod to both hair styles. Rogue Nation is a satisfying culmination of all the Mission: Impossible films, forming a single entity greater than the sum of its parts & Cruise’s hair length is a nod to that cohesion. You may scoff, but I swear it’s true.
There are, of course, less simplistic & much more dignified ways of tracking the Mission: Impossible franchise’s progress as a whole. For instance, the The Gang’s All Here mentality that never truly solidified until Ghost Protocol was put to to great use in Rogue Nation, at the very least comically speaking. Since the beginning I’ve heralded Ving Rhames’ presence as a saving grace, even through the John Woo dark times, and it’s here that he finally joins the Abbott & Costello duo of Jeremy Renner & Simon Pegg to form some sort of unholy trinity of comic relief. The small taste of Alec Baldwin doing his best Jack Donaghy is merely icing on the already too-sweet cake. Rogue Nation also acknowledges its franchise’s history in the way it combines all of its past female characters (the agent, the double agent, the super sexy/deadly assassin, the love interest & Ethan Hunt’s only hope) into a single convenient package that’s smart enough to take off her heels before battle, unlike one of this summer’s most egregious female leads (who we’ve already effectively ripped to shreds).
What’s most fun about Rogue Nation, though, is that it combines the main selling points of the third & fourth installments (that Ethan Hunt is a divine being among men & that he has a loyal team behind him that helps create the myth of that divinity) into a satisfying, cohesive whole. The Mission: Impossible ball didn’t truly get rolling until the third entry & it somehow didn’t reach its true apex until the fifth. Hunt’s crew of loyal super spies (and Ving Rhames) eat up much of the film’s runtime, but they use that platform to elevate their fearless leader as “The Living Manifestation of Destiny.” By limiting his screen time in favor of letting his talented supporting cast run the show (which as a producer he could’ve easily turned into a vanity project), Cruise made great strides in Rogue Nation to build his character up as something more than just the “dude with a dangerous job” he was in the third film. He’s an impossible character in an improbable world who has to battle an equally impossible “syndicate” of evil spies helmed by a cross between a murderous Steve Jobs & Eddy Redmayne’s wicked, eternally hoarse drag queen from space in Jupiter Ascending. It’s thrilling, but highly goofy stuff.
Cruise has a history of working with an eclectic list of directors in this series (Brian De Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams, Brad Bird) & here he enlists Christopher McQuarrie, a relative unkown, but longtime collaborator who he’s worked with on in films like Edge of Tomorrow, Jack Reacher, and Valkyrie. McQuarrie holds his own here, not only crafting one of the most enjoyable entries in the franchise to date, but also continuing to solidify a somewhat messy series of films as a recognizably unique intellectual property. Rogue Nation is a relentlessly fun action pic that Cruise & McQuarrie should be proud of bringing to the screen, both as a campy espionage spectacle and as a continuation of a decades-old franchise that has finally reached the operatic heights it promised way back when rap rock was still a viable commodity.