Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you begin an espionage action movie.
Particularly one as gloriously over the top, in all the best possible ways, as Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, the latest instalment in the classic TV show-cum -movie franchise that literally shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Showing a distinct need for speed from the very first scene where the perennial hero of the hour Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is left hanging, with grim determination off the side of a massive Russian transport plane – in defiance of the laws of physics but frankly who cares? – while tech whiz, and quipper extraordinaire Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) is frantically working through some Cyrillic-based software desperately trying to get a critically-important door open, the film puts pedal to the metal, again literally, and guns its way through 130 minutes of exhilarating near-nonstop action.
While this might suggest a film too dumb to remember its next line, and to be fair, it is in some ways the original big, loud, dumb and fun espionage action blockbuster with multiple world locations, turns and counter turns and sneering villains, there’s actually a great deal of cleverness wrapped up in its big, brash epic scenes.
For instance, the screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure that the four IMF agents at the core of the story – along with Hunt and Dunn, we see the return of William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) – aren’t simply pawns for the greater action good.
All four men – to be fair the main woman in the piece Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) does tend towards the, though admittedly capable, doe-eyed femme fatale end of things at times – are given plenty of opportunities to strut their character stuff, making it clear in the process why they are such close friends, and super-talented IMF agents.
The teamwork between them thus makes sense and in turn, makes much of the action spinning in ceaseless circles make sense; this isn’t just action for action’s sake – well not all the time anyway – but rather motivated by a need to be there for people you actually care about and want to see around for the next mission.
It helps, of course, that their backs are collectively up against a great big wall of power plays, political machinations and intrigue.
Not only are they fending off their enduring big bad The Syndicate, headed by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a blond-haired, sneering rogue MI6 agent – everyone is rogue pretty much; it seems to be the spy fashion du jour – but the CIA, in the form of unthinking establishment power player for hire Alec Baldwin who plays CIA Director Alan Hunley, is after them for not playing nice in the espionage sandbox.
(Apparently there are rules and etiquette and Hunley is peeved that Hunt et al have deigned to give the finger to Miss Manner’s Guide to Good Mannered Espionage.)
So there are a lot of reasons to band together and work hard to unmask The Syndicate, which the CIA believes is all in Hunt’s over-actively imaginative mind, and convince the spying powers-that-be in Washington D.C. that the IMF is one of the good guys.
To do this, of course, requires jet setting at breakneck pace across the globe, touching down but only long enough to wreak havoc and mayhem in Havana, Paris, Vienna, Casablanca and Minsk, foiling some plots but not others – apologies to the world leaders who end up as collateral damage – and generally trying to out-think, out-gun and out-exhaust Lane and his assortment of spy agency castoff goons.
Granted the plot isn’t overly convoluted but what is there works and works very well, lending some sense of gravitas and import to the operatically-epic scenes – again literally as gunmen without number it seems scramble around the Vienna Opera House either perpetrating and trying to foil nefarious deeds – which dominate the film with one impossible set piece following hot on the heels of, and almost seeking to trump, that which precedes it.
If you’re looking for a thinking man’s spy drama then Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is probably not your movie.
But then the Mission Impossible franchise has never sought to stake out that kind of storytelling ground.
In that respect, Christopher McQuarrie plays to the series’ strengths, allowing Hunt to be the fulcrum on which everything else pivots, the centrepiece of sequences so audaciously, almost ridiculously bombastic – underwater diving beneath a power plant in Morocco anyone? Without air tanks or easy escape by the way – that you wonder how anyone gets out alive.
And, of course, in the cartoony world Hunt, and his allies and adversaries inhabit, you only really die, or sustain terrible injuries, if your villain fodder.
Everyone else bounces around planes, drowns in secure underwater cyber vaults, is knocked out by heart paddles, falls into gaping holes, and emerges unscathed, ready to quip and fight another day.
And that’s exactly as it should be in a Mission Impossible film.
Throw in an unexpectedly humourous revelatory finale, one in which the British PM almost steals the show, and you have one of the strongest cinematic entries yet in Hunt’s already endlessly hyperbolic resume of larger than life espionage capers.