In the last decade or so arguably the greatest action/spy/thriller franchises have been Jason Bourne, James Bond, and Mission Impossible. To their credit, each series has crafted several passable films fortified by a few real stalwarts of the spy thriller genre. Although many of these series thrive on gadgetry, set pieces, and a cynical tone more at home in the modern millennium, one thing that set some of the better films apart were interesting female characters.
James Bond is an icon. Jason Bourne is a modern icon. Tom Cruise as an action hero is an icon on his own merit. But we expect that to a certain degree. What the cinematic world has not had for as long are phenomenal female action heroes and the parameters seem far more complicated than simply being adequate at kicking butt. For instance, Casino Royale boasted Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) arguably the greatest of the Bond Girls because she was far from simple eye candy — a throwaway sidekick — she actually was witty and interesting and tragic. All those things.
It’s also no surprise that writer-director Christopher McQuarrie teamed up with Tom Cruise yet again to follow up the surprising success of Edge of Tomorrow which showcased another strong female lead in Emily Blunt.
Thus, in some ways, it makes sense that Rebecca Ferguson steals the show in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. But it’s not any less surprising. There are numerous other major names. Obviously, Cruise first and foremost then Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, and Ving Rhames. But they’re all playing the parts that we’ve seen before. Computer geniuses. CIA Operatives. Rogue agents. Program Directors. There’s a shadowy villain played by Sean Harris and yet another organization with vague but nevertheless ominous intentions called “The Syndicate.” You get the picture.
But for the simple fact that female action stars are often few and far between on the big screen, Rebecca Ferguson is a true scene stealer. And she starts off quickly by subverting our expectations as an audience. She’s very pretty indeed but her role is not necessarily about her looks which is terribly refreshing. She’s smart, clever, enigmatic, and she seemingly has the most complicated trajectory in the entire film. As an audience, we don’t know where her loyalties lie although we have our suspicions. But more powerfully, she does not quite know herself. Best of all there are no overtly provocative scenes crammed into the story line with the sole objective to sell tickets.
Tom Cruise proves he can still carry a great action movie yet again and that’s because he’s playing it smart — surrounding himself with great talent — and benefiting from his supporting cast. Rogue Nation is not groundbreaking by any means but it’s wonderfully diverting with all the impossible missions, double crosses, and intrigue that we could want. What it sets out to do it does quite well and keeps us entertained in the process.
As a caveat, the fact that our main heroine is named Ilsa and because the film found its way to Casablanca amid its jet-setting, it made me eager for a little bit of Bogart & Bergman. Also, I wouldn’t mind catching a few reruns of Peter Graves. But that’s not to take away from this film. Enjoy it unabashedly. It really is a great deal of fun.