What I mean by that is Cruise's incredible work ethic in this series. While not particularly ingenious, what is astonishing and breathtaking to watch is the fact that you know it is Cruise doing these stunts, driving that car, holding his breath. Although this installment has some Bondian overtones (the idea of a shadowy "rogue" network and the question of whether a force such as IMF is perhaps outdated, too unorthodox, or simply uncontrollable), the lure of Mission Impossible is really the relatability. Because the audience knows Cruise is doing his own stunts, not only are we more invested and impressed, but we're drawn into the action more closely. We try holding our own breath for as long as he does, we try to configure a way out of a mind trap, and yet we're comfortable because of the trust we put into the storyteller and Cruise's hands.
This past year seems to be a return to movie-making of the 90s -- both action and horror movies are understanding what exactly makes an audience click with the practical effects Mad Max, the actual cars sliding out of a plane in Furious 6, and Cruise actually hanging from the side of a plane in Rogue Nation. I compare MI to the Bond series as well because Cruise isn't afraid to take a hit. As sleek as Daniel Craig is, you won't see him take unsophisticated bangs to the head like Cruise consistently did in Ghost Protocol. Furthermore, the MI series cinematography has come to such that we're able to fully comprehend and appreciate all the little moments in skirmishes, like the bare nick when Cruise grazes his leg against the road in the midst of his motorcycle chase. In a cinematic universe where CG, pyrotechnics, and visuals have started their monolithic reign, it's surprisingly action movies like this one that lately encapsulate the true magic of movies. It reminds me of the old Spielberg days where audiences could revel in the sheer fun of watching movies. This is why movies like this summer's Terminator or Jurassic World will never last.
What Rogue Nation lacks in its story (which was arguably done on purpose), it doesn't lack in spades for visuals. Extremely talented cinematographer Robert Elswit is at the helm here, drawing hues and shadows and heightening the suspense in chases, a Hitchcockian sniper-out, and making us unconsciously and consciously aware of how the visuals elevate the story. Relative newcomer Joe Kraemer constructs an interesting soundtrack -- implementing more usage of the flute in any action movie I've seen lately, and also cleverly incorporating the threads of Puccini to supplement the thematic elements of the story.
Does Tom Cruise have something to prove? It's a question that's worth asking, but deserves more investigation than allowed in this review. What can be said is that Cruise has always been very aware of his actions, his appearance, and even the media surrounding him. I've been known to recently remark what a shame it was given his acting chops in earlier movies such as Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia that he seems one note now. It seemed to me that he had found his niche and was comfortable within the confines of the action star label, but I've realized with Rogue Nation that I was shortsighted. Cruise has indeed found his niche, but it's not one that he's merely comfortable in. Whatever he brought to his acting in his early career, he has channeled into a dedication to the work, physicality, and reality of his action movies. His current movies may not require as much acting as before, but that's not to denigrate or to look over what it does require and what he provides unequivocally. Say what you will about him, but Cruise is an actor that is completely in control of his realm and everything he gives.
Rogue Nation is bottom line entertaining - a definite cut over your standard summer popcorn fare. It doesn't have quite as much fun as earlier ventures, but the movie makes up for it with Cruise's acrobatics. I think Ghost Protocol (the previous Mission Impossible movie) made the perfect marriage between Cruise's practicals with Bird's sense of fun imbued into the spy world. However, Cruise makes up for it with his hearkening back to the action stars of old, and I'll continue to watch whatever he dishes out in this franchise as long as he's making them.