The Syndicate is Real.

Exotic locations, dazzling action sequences, and a thrilling spy quest…Ethan Hunt is back and ready to take on his biggest threat yet.

We are five movies into the franchise now, and while most series would have begun their descent into shlock and gimmicks, Mission: Impossible manages to improve with each new film. Writer/director Chris McQuarrie manages to cherry-pick the best elements from each entry in the franchise, while subverting many of the clichés and pitfalls into which the other films have fallen. Rogue Nation is by far the most unique and unpredictable film in the series thus far.

Unpredictability is important here, too. The series is built on eleventh hour turncoats—plot twists and betrayals from people who you were meant to believe were on Ethan’s side. The problem with this is that it’s no longer a twist if every movie does it…then it’s just a thing you are expecting to happen. Rogue Nation avoids this by showing its hand early on, even in the trailers. Rather than waiting to the end to say “Ha! This character is a bad guy,” the film instead says upfront “This character is probably a bad guy…but is he/she really bad?”

It’s an excellent change to the formula that ultimately furthers the capabilities of the film. By having us question the uneasy relationships between the characters, the movie exchanges hopeful shock for an extra dose of tension. We are on our toes more than ever, momentum builds, and when we reach the climax, we’re on the edge of seats.

Playing around with character loyalties results in more than just added suspense, too. The earlier films boiled down to “Ethan Hunt is good, those guys are bad.” They were fairly black and white, and the betrayals saw characters align with either the black or the white. However, this film gives us some middle ground to explore. It shows us that people can want the same outcome as Ethan Hunt but still disapprove of his tactics and plans. Yes, viewers will ultimately be able to identify into which camp characters will fall, but along the way we are reminded that there can be more than one way to tackle a problem, and Ethan Hunt’s way may not be the best way.

As mentioned before, the movie avoids many of the clichés that defined its predecessors. There are no fake-out deaths, no over-the-top end-of-the-world threats, no nameless MacGuffins that are unresolved. This film takes the time to establish the rules and it follows them. Believe it or not, it’s a smaller scale story, as the Syndicate is an off-stage puppeteer, rather than a spotlighted puppet. It’s a subtle villain with a subtle threat, which adds to the unease and paranoia.

This can all be attributed to the film’s stellar script. McQuarrie delivers us one of the most nuanced and complex scripts since the original film. The MacGuffins are explored, motivations are fleshed out, loyalties are questioned, and the action feels organic. Nothing in the film is cut-and-dry, but nothing is convoluted. It’s the perfect balance of intrigue and mystery to keep us invested in the film.

The primary reason these complexities are relayed to the audience so well is that Chris McQuarrie wrote and directed the film. It’s one of the more seamless transitions in the summer blockbuster season. Every piece of exposition and all sarcastic quips are relayed in step with the action on screen, a feat that can only be accomplished so flawlessly when a clear image of the final product is in the writer’s head. This is especially clear in the second act, when action and exposition are at their most pivotal.

And that action, well, it’s awesome. From the fantastic opening sequence to the amazing chases and fights, every single scene is engaging and entertaining. Furthermore, the use of practical effects made the action even more believable. There was really only one shot in the film that looked fake, and I won’t say where it for fear ruining it for viewers, but as a whole, the action felt very believable.

The shot of Ethan Hunt hanging off the side of the plane, featured on the poster and in all of the trailers, also occurred in the opening scene of the movie, which was fantastic, because it didn’t spoil the end of the movie. There have been a lot of complaints from moviegoers these days, even from us on the site, about trailers giving away the biggest and best parts of the film. Thankfully, the trailer kept most of the later action under lock and key, so once the film was nearing the final, climactic fight, I had no idea what to expect.

While the action is great, the acting is good. Not amazing, just good. After all, it’s an action movie, not a character study. These films have never been about diving into Ethan Hunt’s psyche and breaking down the mind of spy…they’ve been about how a team of agents overcome impossible odds to save the day. So while Ethan goes up against his smartest and most challenging foe to date, the character doesn’t undergo any major change, which is fine, since that’s never been the focus of the series.

All in all, the film is a resounding success. It was different enough from the earlier films to avoid falling into the same old traps, but familiar enough to fit with the tone and spirit of the franchise. It’s the best of both worlds, and one of the reasons this franchise is continuing to be as good as it is. The fantastic effects and exotic locations keep the film engaging and exciting, the story is tight, and the stakes are unique. It’s a perfect summer blockbuster and an amazing film to experience, should you choose to accept.

Alex Russo likes to talk. A lot. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.

Alex Russo

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