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Mission Impossible: rogue Nation

Who's the most unstoppable, unflappable secret agent on movie screens this summer? I'll give you a hint: He's got five letters in his first name and four in his last. Need another? His films boast an iconic musical theme.

No, not 007. It's Hunt -- Ethan Hunt. Tom Cruise is back as the tireless action hero for the fifth time in "Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation," and the series seems to be getting better and more relaxed with age. As the James Bond movies have gotten darker, more serious, and more personal in their plots (with the upcoming "Spectre" looking like no exception), the "M: I" series offers up thrills that are more reminiscent of old-school Bond.

The fun starts with a jaw-dropping pre-credit sequence, featured in the film's trailer, in which Cruise dangles from the outside of a cargo plane as it takes off from a runway. Maybe it's gimmicky, but there is an extra kick knowing that the star does so many of his own stunts (recall the cliff-climbing opening of "Mission: Impossible II").

From there, "Rogue Nation" pinballs around the globe, from Belarus to Havana to Paris to Washington, D.C., to Vienna to Morocco to London, as a disavowed Hunt tries to root out a shadowy, revolution-minded group known as The Syndicate. It's a pretty familiar setup: the Impossible Missions Force has been shut down by CIA chief Alec Baldwin and his absurd hair, forcing Hunt and his team to operate off the grid if they're going to ferret out the bad guys.

Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, and Simon Pegg are all back as Cruise's cohorts, with comic relief Pegg getting the lion's share of the good bits. The new face, both to them and to American audiences, belongs to Rebecca Ferguson, the Swedish-born British TV actor who plays enigmatic female foil Ilsa Faust.

At the risk of damning with faint praise (and maybe it's just the misogynist stench of "Pixels" in my nostrils), but Ilsa is one of the most capable, formidable women you'll find in a male-oriented action franchise. We're not talking "Mad Max: Fury Road" levels of gender equity, mind you, but she handles a motorcycle, a blade, and a defibrillator at least as well as Hunt. She saves his life more often than he saves hers. And while she's certainly attractive, she's no kewpie doll, and there's barely a hint of romantic attraction between the two. Ferguson's body is objectified far less than that of Cruise, who at 53 can still take a shirtless torturing with the best of them.

Ferguson's strong features, perceptive eyes, and confident mien are reminiscent of Samantha Morton. If she and Alicia Vikander ("Ex Machina") are the vanguard of an invasion of Hollywood by Swedish actresses, you won't hear any complaints from this quarter.

Bond films usually have memorable villains, but that's one area where "Rogue Nation" comes up short. There's a standard-issue violent bulldog-type henchman, a standard-issue oily British spymaster, and a standard-issue bespectacled, calm sociopath. None of the three oozes personality.

But Christopher McQuarrie, who directed Cruise in "Jack Reacher" and wrote "Edge of Tomorrow" and "Valkyrie," does deliver the spectacular set pieces you expect. Besides that vertiginous opening, there's a battle backstage at a Vienna Opera production of "Turandot," a stunningly shot and edited motorcycle chase, and a cleverly constructed underwater sequence.

Most impressively, "Rogue Nation" keeps the body count minimal. There are shootouts, knife fights, chases and more than enough extreme peril to keep you on the edge of your seat, but there's none of the gratuitous grimness and gore we've come to expect from PG-13 movies that feel the need to push the boundaries of their ratings. After 20 years in the role, producer/star Cruise clearly doesn't feel the need to be edgy, and the relative lack of guns is in the tradition of the original TV series.

As usual for the fifth entry in a film franchise, there's a lot of talk about whether this is "our last mission." If that's true, at least it'll go out proudly. After all, making a sixth Ethan Hunt adventure that's as solid as "Rogue Nation" would be impossible. Or at least improbable.

-- Marc Mohan for The Oregonian/OregonLive


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