Just when Tom Cruise had been written off as an action star, he makes a triumphant comeback — at age 53 — with “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.” The summer’s most entertaining popcorn movie not only eclipses “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Jurassic World” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” with its action sequences, it also brings to mind Cruise’s prime days (“Top Gun,” “Jerry Maguire,” etc.) on the Hollywood A-list.
Here are five reasons “Mission: Impossible 5” is the strongest film in Paramount’s 19-year-old spy franchise.
(1) It’s sleeker than any James Bond movie you can remember.
The first “Mission: Impossible,” which opened nearly two decades ago in 1996, was a standard bigscreen reboot of a TV show. But the franchise received a jolt in 2006 with J.J. Abrams’ “Mission Impossible 3,” which interwove the heart-pumping twists of “Alias” (season one) into a theatrical recipe that could give Daniel Craig as 007 a run for his money.
This new “Mission: Impossible,” directed by Christopher McQuarrie under Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, ups the stakes at every level. Cruise not only dangles from an airplane in the opening sequence, he withstands multiple beatings from a villain known as the Bone Doctor (Jens Huten), goes for a terrifying dip in an underground water chamber, stops an assassination attempt at the Vienna opera, leads a car chase in Casablanca and commands a motorcycle ride through the winding roads of Morocco. If the Oscars gave a trophy for stunts, “M:I 5” would win it.
(2) The script lands on both feet.
Whereas story has never been a strong point of the “Mission: Impossible” movies, this isn’t a spy adventure that require CliffsNotes to follow along. In this installment, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is battling a secret agency known as the Syndicate, run by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, enjoying every moment of playing the villain). Hunt is aided again, of course, by his crew at IMF, which includes Simon Pegg (the perfect comedic foil), Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames. McQuarrie, who also wrote the script, wisely keeps the narrative focused on the battle between good and evil, not letting any extraneous plot twists trip up his action.
(3) Cruise gets his sexy back.
Ever since he jumped on Oprah’s couch in 2005, Cruise has struggled to maintain his heartthrob persona. Thankfully, “Mission Impossible 5” finds him a leading lady — Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson (of TV’s “The White Queen”) — who manages to re-awaken Cruise’s sex appeal. The two have the best chemistry for a Cruise movie since he romanced Renee Zellweger in “Jerry Maguire.” For all the praise for last summer’s “The Edge of Tomorrow,” one of the central flaws of the film was the lack any romantic spark between Cruise and Emily Blunt. Even though Ferguson is only 31, the age difference between her and Cruise isn”t noticeable or distracting, because she comes across as his equal.
(4) The leading lady carries half the movie.
Ferguson doesn’t just elevate Cruise, she also carries half the film, playing a spy who may or may not be on his side. She keeps up with every punch he throws or weapon he fires. Like Rosamund Pike in “Jack Reacher,” “Mission: Impossible 5” will be remembered as a breakout vehicle for its heroine. In another summer of action tentpoles that treat female characters as afterthoughts (see: “Avengers” or “Ant Man”), “M:I 5” gives us a female lead who shares equal screen time.
(5) “M:I 5? is a throwback to how summer tentpoles should be.
Most action movies now are so serious, a byproduct of the Marvel universe, where superheroes sulk in their own darkness. And when “Jurassic World” tried to be a fun, it just came across as silly with its high-heel-wearing heroine played by Bryce Dallas Howard. But “Mission: Impossible 5” finds the right tone for a summer blockbuster. Its 131 minutes of escapist entertainment prove that not all sequels must be pale imitations of what comes before. This is the rare Hollywood franchise that only gets better with age.