I am an unabashed Tom Cruise apologist (on-screen, let’s avoid off-screen for now…or forever.) In a reality where “movie stars” can rarely carry the weekend box office anymore, Cruise still has that power. Sure, he has starred in some of the most popular films of all time but he does it with a conviction that few show. Which is why it’s surprising but also delightful to report that his (arguably) most famous franchise – Mission: Impossible – is hitting its stride with the later sequels. Gone are the dense plots in favor of action and wit that would make the Fast & Furious blush. This shift is even more prevalent in the latest edition – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

Since the foible that was M:I2 the series has embraced Cruise’s movie stardom. His ability to fully embrace an action scene as well as sell the amount of double and triple-crossing in these films is all his own. M:I3 used the presence of Phillip Seymour-Hoffman as a worthy adversary to breathe new life into the series. Ghost Protocol upped the ante with some of the best action sequences seen in modern cinema. Rogue Nation is just as satisfying as it continues this trend by giving the audience the spectacle of a blockbuster with the intricate plotting of the original.

mission-impossible-5-teaser-posterIn the opening scene of Rogue Nation the Impossible Mission Force is up to its old tricks. A bevy of Russian missiles have been stolen and the Americans need to stop it because, duh – missiles + terrorists = bad. What transpires here could’ve been so generic but instead Director Christopher McQuarrie gives us an incredible set piece that involves an airplane taking off, some nifty gadgets and outrageous stunts.

These are no ordinary terrorists however. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and company are hot on the trail of the “Syndicate” – a multinational organization that works in the shadows to do bad stuff to innocent people. They also may not exist (classic Mission: Impossible.) That’s a problem because across the sea in D.C. the IMF is under fire from the CIA. CIA Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) wants the organization disbanded for the amount of destruction they’ve caused on their globe-hopping missions. William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is the only line of defense between the Senate and the dissolution of the IMF.

But Brandt, despite his best efforts, is unsuccessful and the IMF is immediately taken apart. Overseas however things are more complicated. Ethan has been tagged by the CIA as the lynch pin in IMF’s constant folly’s and Hunley wants him reprimanded. Meanwhile he is pursuing his leads to expose the syndicate and their plans for many more nefarious attacks.

From there McQuarrie layers in some great set pieces, switchbacks and characters along the way. For fear of spoilers I won’t say much more but suffice it to say it is an immensely satisfying ride.

Cruise is rightfully the centerpiece here carrying the lion’s share of the film’s weight. But Rogue Nation’s ensemble is an ample cast that is more than equipped to provide some backup. Simon Pegg returns as Benji Dunn – Ethan’s right hand man and tech expert. Pegg brings his signature brand of dry humor and is given a more expanded role here. It really works mostly because Pegg is a stand up physical actor whose comedic timing adds a wonderful layer to the character. Renner and Baldwin are both playing stiffs in suits but they sell it with ease. Baldwin especially seems to revel in Hunley’s immense power (even though he’s not very good at his job) and gives the character some real legs. Hell even Ving Rhames is back to provide the hacking expertise IMF needs.

But the major standout is newcomer to the series Rebecca Ferguson. Here she plays Ilsa – a beautiful double agent working for the syndicate. Ferguson is easily the physical match of Cruise, pulling off some truly awesome stunt work. Her character is also not played as a love interest but rather an equal. It’s remarkably refreshing (especially for a Cruise movie) to have a fantastic actress not being used as a simple pawn in a man’s story.

Rogue Nation does an admirable job of unfolding such a wacky plot that could unravel in the wrong hands. Doing this with a wry smile and some of the best action of the summer should be commended as well. McQuarrie was clearly the right choice to continue what Ghost Protocol started. He understands the power of Tom Cruise – the movie star – and uses all of it here. This is a mission you should absolutely choose to accept.

Rating: Capture

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Opens Today in Theaters Everywhere