The Mission: Impossible franchise has managed not to wear out its welcome over nearly 20 years. How? I’m not sure. It may just be by spacing them so far apart. (1996, 2000, 2006, 2011, 2015.)
Perhaps realizing that we care more about the actors than the characters, this latest installment provides nearly nothing in the way of character development. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is maybe attracted to sexy double agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson in a strong debut) or maybe he’s closer to computer nerd Benji (Simon Pegg). Just to keep you guessing, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is constantly imperiling both.
But since I don’t have a big investment (or strong memory) of the characters in this franchise, I don’t really mind if we never learn much about them. I do care that the villain in this chapter, Solomon Lane, is under-heated. Despite a snarling, creepy performance by Sean Harris, his motives are inscrutable. He wants to destroy the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) because why exactly? But then he also needs the IMF’s top agent Hunt to help him get access to some bank accounts. Even though he already has the resources to commit terrorist acts all over the world.
It’s best you never think about it. If the villain had actually been shown to be the master strategist everyone in the film keeps saying he is, then his defeat might’ve been satisfying.
As it is, you’ll have to content yourself with some very nicely-shot and edited set-pieces. Tom Cruise strapped to a plane. Tom Cruise holding his breath for a long time. Tom Cruise riding a motor cycle — WITHOUT! A! HELMET!
It’s funny how no-CG is the new impressive form of action. Between this and Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s crazy to see how popular old-fashioned action has become lately. Most of the set-pieces in the film have good builds – the plane, the opera, the underwater heist. The motorcycle chase, however, while expertly done, doesn’t have the same build to a climax that the other sequences do. It also suffers from Infinite Henchmen Syndrome. I’m pretty sure Hunt takes out more cyclists than there were at the beginning of the scene.
Alec Baldwin is here in the perfunctory uptight government functionary role. Or maybe that was all just a ruse so that he could be given a wildly out-of-left-field speech which rhapsodizes Ethan Hunt as “the embodiment of Destiny itself”. It’s a great moment when that destiny manifests, but like so much else in the film, devoid of meaning on a larger scale.
If a summer blockbuster entertains without condescending to the audience, as this one does, it’s already met a high bar. So I won’t complain. But I do wish there was more to the villain, and more stakes to the characters and the world. What might it be like to live a life where you are never certain if you are seeing your closest friend or your worst enemy in a mask? And what is the metaphorical mask you must don each day just to get by? A franchise isn’t mandated to grow and deepen as it goes along, but it is a mission they can choose to accept.