Mission: Impossible is Tom Cruise's blockbuster plaything, a toy chest he offers to directors who catch his eye. Cruise used it to resurrect Brian De Palma, capitalize on John Woo, transition J.J. Abrams from TV to film, and shift Brad Bird from pixels to a real man. Cruise allowed each helmer to adapt his own Ethan Hunt. To De Palma, Hunt was a whizkid. For Woo, a horndog. Abrams: a husband. Bird: a cartoon. Cruise -- not his character -- is the only constant, plus his returning bros Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg and whatever new leggy, longhaired brunette chooses to accept. (This time it's newcomer Rebecca Ferguson, and boy are we lucky to have her.)
Here, Ethan Hunt is a cousin of Jack Reacher — the first film where Christopher McQuarrie directed Cruise — only without the quips. McQuarrie, writer of The Usual Suspects, gives Rogue Nation a suspicious street smarts. People don't just plan — they double- and triple-think the enemy, not that the plot matters more than a mousetrap.
McQuarrie loves blundering into a brawl, but he's too twitchy to shoot great action. One spinning motorcycle stunt would have killed if he'd pulled back so we could actually see it. Strapping Cruise to an airplane is a zippy idea, yet in execution, I found myself distracted by how the wind flattened his hair to his forehead like a sweaty preacher's toupee. Better is a simple, circus-act move where Cruise monkeys up a pole doing what I can only describe as horizontal crunches. (He'd make a mint in Magic Mike 3.) There's also a fine car chase and motorcycle dash that combine everything Cruise does well: insane physics, credible danger, and human fragility.