Fasten your seatbelts for the five-star Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, the explosive fifth instalment in the constantly accelerating action-thriller series that is unquestionably the best action film of the year.
It delivers what it promises, and much, much more: daredevil action sequences, action-packed chase sequences, deadly adversaries, ticking time bombs and explosive thrills. It offers the ultimate in entertainment and succeeds on all levels, showcasing the art of filmmaking. It's a film you have to see to believe fully. Yes, it's an ultra-spectacular experience that will keep you on the edge of your seat. You will be exhausted after watching the film; it's a film you experience and totally draws you into the hard core physical action and involves you with its rewarding emotional pay-off.
Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, facing his most blisteringly impossible mission yet, confronting The Syndicate, an impenetrable, exquisitely trained group of renegade spies who have left behind their countries for an agenda all their own - an agenda intent on destabilising the very foundations of civilisation.
This time out, Cruise's iconic character, Ethan Hunt, finds himself in non-stop peril - physical, mental, and emotional - from the film's literally high-flying opening moments through one relentless situation after another.
Hunt's situation is precarious on every level. The IMF is on the outs, the CIA doesn't trust him, and now he's discovered a rogue agency with the spy power to bring down any nation it targets - and they want him to join their crusade of destruction or they want him dead.
Reteaming with Cruise as Hunt's fellow agents are Jeremy Renner as William Brandt; Simon Pegg as whiz-kid Benji; and Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell, with Swedish Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules) as the mysterious Ilsa Faust; Sean Harris (Prometheus) as Solomon Lane and Alec Baldwin as CIA Director Alan Hunley.
What makes this fifth journey into the world of Mission Impossible work extremely well is director Christopher McQuarrie, whose interpretation of his screenplay amplifies the vision he had for the film.
Sharp, taut, suspenseful storytelling
This time McQuarrie brought his skills as one of today's most original action screenwriters and his renown for sharp, taut, suspenseful storytelling.
He came in with the desire to pay homage to the most beloved characters and high-flying attitude of Mission: Impossible while forging the next step in its future. He also aimed to take the series into unexplored territory. "Two things jumped out at me that we hadn't seen before: a villain who was a real physical threat to Ethan and a strong, independent woman who would give Ethan Hunt a run for his money," McQuarrie points out. "So those were priorities for me. I really wanted to bring in a woman in an equal role. Until now, women have played a more functional role within the IMF universe, but with Ilsa Faust, we've changed things up a bit."
It is also the synergy between McQuarrie and Cruise that takes the film to an explosive and extreme level; this marks the fourth time they are working together, with McQuarrie producing and co-writing Valkyrie, directing Jack Reacher, and rewriting the script for Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow, where Cruise suggested that McQuarrie direct Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.
From the first words on the page to the moment the cameras started rolling; McQuarrie worked in tight collaboration with Cruise. The writer-director notes that as a creative pairing, the two have an unusual synergy, fuelled by opposite energies.
"Tom really has been the core of 'Mission: Impossible' in every sense - and he's so inherently involved in the character and the storyline that he has a unique sixth sense we all rely on," states McQuarrie. "I love to work with him, yet we approach filmmaking in two different ways. I'm all about logic, order and problem solving. Tom is all about emotions and challenge building. And together that really seems to push us both. Tom always says to me: 'How do we get character and humour into this moment?' He might be walking across the street but he wants to jam-pack every single second, every gesture, every line with character, and that's what makes this series work above and beyond the fantastic, thrilling action."
The man behind the action
South Africa-born Wade Eastwood is the man behind the action and serves as the film's stunt coordinator.
Eastwood says there could be no better partner for truly creative stunt work than Cruise. "Tom is so good at this he could have been a great stuntman if he wasn't already a great actor. So working with him is like working with the very best stunt person - except he's combining performance within the action in unique ways. He does 100% of his own stuff - and that's not just for the media, that's the truth," Eastwood asserts. "For him it's never just about the stunt, but about fully creating his character as an agent who has learned to survive by the skin of his teeth."
Cruise says Eastwood walked the same tightrope the franchise walks. "Wade is very conscious of safety, but he also knows that this is Mission, so we've got to push it all the way to the edge. He can do that because all the people he works with are top of the line."
The film celebrates the glorious history of a film franchise that began two decades ago; with each new film, the team led by dedicated star and producer Tom Cruise has uncovered ways to match, and then exceed audience expectations, each time in different ways.
Having begun as a cult phenomenon on 1960s' television, Mission: Impossible has become a 21st-century cultural phenomenon - a filmmaking event that consistently pushes that border where the classic drama of spy-versus-spy intrigue meets creative action sequences that have become legendary.
For Cruise, a fifth time playing Hunt and serving as producer presented another chance to see just how far he can take the character, and the entire genre of sophisticated global espionage games.
New challenges of every kind
"Each time I think 'I've seen it all' and I've been through every action challenge a film can have, the next film introduces new challenges of every kind - because we're constantly pushing not only the action sequences, but the storytelling and characters," Cruise says. "To me the ultimate Mission movie is never just about action and suspense - though we love innovating in that area. It's really about the combination of action, intrigue, and humour with this very specific, breathless kind experience we create for the audience. It's about giving audiences the greatest sense of adventure and scale -- while keeping a classic sense of cinema. We do that more than ever in Rogue Nation."
While the previous film in the series, Ghost Protocol, saw Hunt transforming from a lone wolf to a team leader, now he must hone his new-found leadership skills under fire. Rogue Nation finds Ethan more dedicated to defusing the destructive power of evil than ever - in part because he's grown as an agent and a person. "Ethan has evolved," Cruise observes. "He's learning to listen to everyone else while still following his own instincts. I think he's really progressed in terms of understanding people for who they are, including himself. I've always seen him as someone's who's highly skilled, who has a high level of athleticism and who will be relentless in pursuing what he believes is right all the way to the end - but he's not a superhero, he's very human."
Scale - epic, heart-hammering scale - has been at the heart of Mission: Impossible since the original television series, which took viewers on grand escapades that broke the boundaries of television's usually narrow scope. But in an era when audiences have seen so much in the way of dazzling effects and clever stunts, how do you keep pitching the bar higher and higher?
The answer, says Christopher McQuarrie, is not to think about the bar at all. Instead, think about telling the story in the most visceral, uncompromising way you can.
"I think a big component of how we approached this was to not talk about comparisons," he counters. "You can see that the Torus sequence follows in the tradition of the Langley Heist that Brian de Palma did in the first film; or the A400 plane sequence follows in the tradition of the Burj Khalifa climb in Ghost Protocol; or the Morocco motorcycle chases follow in the footsteps of John Woo's climactic chase in Mission: Impossible II. But I think trying to compare them is apples to oranges. The more important question is: Am I doing the continuation of the story in Rogue Nation justice? The thing we've seen is that it's not only about creating spectacles. We found that the more intimate we made this film, the greater the audience investment was, and the higher the stakes, in every scene." That excitement has never really changed, for Cruise or for millions of fans.
Cruise concludes: "Mission: Impossible is the first film I ever produced - and now here we are at our fifth one. I love making these movies. I love the spy genre, I love this character, I love the wonderful challenge of making these films and I love the chance to invite all kinds artists to come in and create these incredible, suspenseful adventures. Most of all, I love seeing the fun audiences have with these films. That's the thing I've always wanted to do with whatever kind of film that I'm making: give audiences something enormously entertaining."
Bizcommunity readers can win some super Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation goodies, including water bottles, Tablet cases and Mission Impossible DVDs by sending an email to az.oc.oidutsgnitirw@leinad.
Daniel Dercksen has been a contributor for Lifestyle since 2012. As the driving force behind the successful independent training initiative The Writing Studio and a published film and theatre journalist of 40 years, teaching workshops in creative writing, playwriting and screenwriting throughout South Africa and internationally the past 22 years. Visit www.writingstudio.co.za