Has there ever been a less appealing action hero than Ethan Hunt? Five ‘Mission: Impossible’ movies in and he still feels like a blank slate, a robot with Tom Cruise’s empty grin and a vocabulary ripped straight from the Bumper Book of Pithy Quips. We learn nothing new about him in ‘Rogue Nation’ other than the fact he can hold his breath for three minutes and is really good at remembering stuff. If they met at a party, even James Bond would sneak away in search of better conversation.
All of which leaves ‘Jack Reacher’ director Christopher McQuarrie’s would-be-edgier series entry feeling a bit uncentred – there’s only so much dead air Simon Pegg can fill with nervy British prattling. And these two are very much a double-act this time around, as Hunt is declared a wanted man by the CIA and must track down the mysterious Syndicate (imagine Spectre on a budget) without his usual resources. They’re aided and/or hindered, depending on her mood, by Rebecca Ferguson as slippery double agent Ilsa, the most interesting character here by a mile.
‘Rogue Nation’ is an uneven film: in the plus camp we have Ferguson, the wonderful Sean Harris as a psycho with the voice of Baron Greenback from ‘Dangermouse’ and a fistful of tight, not-too-flashy action scenes (short of some fleeting funny business with a plane right at the start, there are no daft, gravity-defying stunts this time).
But the debit column is a line or two longer, from the uninvolving plot to the blunt dialogue, from Cruise’s empty-shell performance to Alec Baldwin delivering perhaps the most idiotic line ever in a major blockbuster (at the screening we attended, the entire audience hooted with laughter). If, as we suspect, this turns out to be Ethan’s last impossible mission, we can’t imagine he’ll be greatly mourned.