Christopher McQuarrie’s directorial debut in the Mission Impossible franchise, having already written for and directed Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher (and written for him with Edge of Tomorrow and Valkyrie) is a lot of fun. It’s got great action set-pieces and a nice dose of humour, but best of all, it’s got a female lead who is so good, she brings Cruise up a few notches; he’s at the top of his game in every scene he shares with her.
She’s Ilsa Faust, played by the sublime Swedish/British actress Rebecca Ferguson (the BBC’s The White Queen), and you can tell by her name how this chapter in the franchise has been constructed – it’s basically a Bond movie with an alternate set of characters. The best set-piece in the film, taking place during a big production of Turandot at the Vienna Opera House, is the most Bond-like, in the tradition of those many Bond action sequences where a vicious fight takes place simultaneously with some sort of performance (and where assassinations are also being attempted). Likewise, the villain – and all his henchmen – are directly influenced by Bond villains, going all the way back to Robert Shaw’s turtle-necked bruiser in From Russia With Love. McQuarrie playfully acknowledges all this by sticking a silver Aston Martin DB5 in a shot towards the end of the film.
But the biggest Bondian element – and the film’s ace – is Ilsa and her relationship with Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, which is flirtatious, mysterious, dangerous and downright sexy. Ilsa (her first name surely inspired by Ilsa Lund from Casablanca, where some of this film takes place) may be working with Hunt and his team or against them, on the side of good or evil, and this ambiguity, combined with an obvious attraction to Hunt, defines all the best Bond women. Hunt himself is more Bond-like than in any of the other Mission Impossible films, and the whole thing has a very British feel, with most of the characters outside of Hunt’s small team being British, and many scenes, including the climactic sequences, set in London.
It’s not as good as Casino Royale or Skyfall, but it’s better than some of the Brosnans, and it’s a lovely little palette cleanser as we wait for Spectre. Genial, exciting and featuring that thrill you get seeing a star being born (in Ferguson), it’s excellent big screen entertainment.