Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation makes no sense. Even more striking, this fifth installment in the Tom Cruise movie series based on the 1960s television show doesn’t even try to make sense.
For example, Cruise’s character Ethan Hunt doesn’t know the name or identity or nationality or anything whatever about the movie’s villain, Solomon Lane. He’s also cut off from all sources of intelligence, because he has been branded a rogue agent by the CIA. But then Hunt gets back in touch with one of his ex-colleagues on the now-disbanded Impossible Missions Force and reveals that he has “reason to believe” Lane will be at the Vienna Opera House during a performance of Turandot.
Wouldn’t you know it—he’s right!
Later, Hunt has to hold his breath underwater for three minutes. He ends up underwater for more than three minutes. He drowns. Then someone comes by and gets his body, which takes another minute. The person pulls him onto a rock, gets a defibrillator from out of nowhere, charges it up, and Hunt springs back to life. He’s dizzy and woozy and can barely walk, but in about 30 seconds he’s driving in a high-speed chase through the streets of Casablanca.
One of Hunt’s ex-colleagues is under suspicion of being in touch with him. The CIA polygraphs the guy weekly. He passes every polygraph test, even though he’s lying. How?
And on and on it goes. Hunt’s people can do everything brilliantly, but when the plot demands it, Luther Stickell (played by the awesome Ving Rhames) loses track of someone who’s five feet away from him in an airport.
Look, nobody expects an international spy thriller to be credible. You don’t go to one of these movies, or to a James Bond film, because you actually believe genius madmen live in underground volcanoes or have assassins working for them who can shoot people and ski-jump at the same time. But it’s annoying when characters are granted magical powers over space and time and life, which has always been the profound weakness of the Mission: Impossible series.
As the title promises, this movie places its characters in impossible situations. But it allows them to extract themselves from these impossible situations using essentially supernatural means, and that’s a cheat.
The writer-director Christopher McQuarrie knows this in some way, which is why he begins the movie with an amazing stunt in which we can see Tom Cruise himself is attached to the outside of a plane as it takes off from an airfield and goes straight up into the sky. The purpose of this shot is precisely to locate Cruise and his character in some kind of extreme version of reality and make your jaw drop. But once that bit is over, it’s all transparent and embarrassing fakery.
I guess moviegoers mostly don’t mind this; I’ve written before about how ever since the Lethal Weapon movies back in the 1980s cars have been granted magical powers to not get flat tires or stop running when other cars crash into them. But here’s the important thing: While others might not mind, I do.
There’s one reason and one reason only to see Rogue Nation, and that’s an actress new to the big screen named Rebecca Ferguson. She plays a spy with the exceedingly unlikely name of Ilsa Faust who saves Hunt’s life but whose allegiances appear to shift with every scene. Rebecca Ferguson is beautiful but not in the least fragile, and she radiates command. She all but chews up Tom Cruise and spits him out with languid hauteur. Despite her conventional Anglo name, she’s actually a Swede with an English mother, so she speaks with a British accent that is nearly flawless but a trifle odd around the edges. It lends her character exactly the kind of mystery she needs, and she is altogether, from first moment to last, sensational. This makes her the second major Nordic discovery of 2015, after Alicia Vikander, who played the gorgeous robot in Ex Machina and will appear in no fewer than five other movies before the year’s end.
Tom Cruise has been a star for more than 30 years; Rebecca Ferguson may still be around in 2045—by which time maybe cars really will be able, at long last, to fly.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.