The force of will — not nature, but human will — that we call Tom Cruise gets a serious workout in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” and it’s an impressive thing to witness. First of all, the man has stopped aging, and no one even thinks that’s weird. He is 53 but seems to have stopped the clock at 35, and if he keeps this up for another five years, it will be time to either call in scientists or start speculating about Lucifer.
His acting is also an act of will. Cruise brings a conviction to his scenes here that is only partly the character’s, but mostly it’s as if he keeps repeating, “I am Tom Cruise, and I am going to fill your mind with this very important thing I am about to say.” And everything he says is important. He has a scene with Simon Pegg in which he’s incredibly intense, and one can hardly imagine why. And then Pegg is intense right back at him, not because that makes any sense, but because Pegg has entered Cruise Land, where all the molecules start vibrating because Tom is in the room.
Cruise’s entrance in this fifth installment of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is particularly memorable. His colleagues in the Impossible Mission Force are trying to figure out how to ground a terrorist airplane before it takes off bearing enough nerve gas to choke a major city. Suddenly from out of nowhere, Cruise appears — should I really say Hunt? — and he’s running toward the plane. His colleagues didn’t even know he was in town. He just shows up, jumps onto the wing and hangs from the door as the plane takes off. You can write the rest of the scene yourself.
The old rule was that action heroes, past the age of 47 or 48, enter a geriatric phase, at which point audiences stop thinking, “This guy sure knows how to fight” and start thinking, “Why does Dad keep on beating up people?” But Cruise is writing his own rules. This time, as always, he leaps from tall buildings, rides a motorcycle like a carnival daredevil and takes numerous punches and falls, without it ever once crossing any viewer’s mind that this might be a strain for him. Of course, Hunt is straining all over the place, but Cruise has got this.
Incidentally, this may be the first “Mission: Impossible” movie in which Cruise’s real height (5-foot-7) is a factor in the fight scenes. Usually, the movies try to create the illusion that Cruise is at least 2 or 3 inches taller, but in several places here the disparity in size between him and his opponents becomes something else he must overcome. This is Cruise’s only new concession to physical reality, and it’s a refreshing one.
This time Hunt and his team are fighting everybody. A diabolical terrorist syndicate run by a soft-spoken maniac (Sean Harris) is on the verge of acquiring enough working capital to act as a kind of mobile rogue nation. Meanwhile, the new CIA director (a sneering Alec Baldwin) shuts down the Impossible Mission Force, because he thinks they’re a bunch of cowboys operating without oversight. Which is not exactly untrue.
Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote and directed, previously wrote and directed “Jack Reacher,” which wasn’t much. But here McQuarrie devises a film that’s a succession of riveting sequences, filmed in a way that’s active and yet elegant. The camera keeps moving within shots, but not in a subjective, jittery way, but rather like a third person narrator calmly emphasizing the essential points.
Cruise, who produced the film, pairs himself well in “Mission.” For most of the movie, he shares the screen with Pegg, who is appealing as his nervous sidekick. He is also paired or at least contrasted with Sean Harris’ villain, who is as laid-back as Cruise is relentless. That’s the only way a villain has a chance against Cruise, to suggest a judo situation, in which all the hero’s energy will be turned against him.
Best of all, Cruise is paired with Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa, an enigmatic mystery woman who might be good and might be bad. Either way, Ferguson’s aura of gravity — the way she seems to read Cruise and take him seriously — prevents him from seeming flighty. She is nothing like a Bond girl, yet another thing in this entertaining movie’s favor.