As Tom Cruise ages, his skin becomes increasingly smooth and carefree, making his face less interesting with every movie. For an actor who’s always relied on a furrowed brow doing yeoman’s work in his characterizations, that’s not good. Still, he actually hung from the outside of a plane during takeoff for this film, and that kind of commitment is often accepted as intensity. For my money, the best of Cruise’s recent vehicles was Knight and Day (2010), essentially a live-action cartoon that sent up the Cruise persona. (His best performance was in Magnolia (1999), for which I give equal credit to director Paul Thomas Anderson, who found a way to invert his star.)
The fifth Mission: Impossible movie is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, whose filmography is dominated by Cruise projects. When McQuarrie takes his cues from Knight and Day, he comes up with action set-pieces that recall classic Loony Tunes shorts – violent but bloodless, little at stake beyond the next gag. Rebecca Ferguson has a thankless role, essentially playing la belle femme skunk fatale to Cruise’s Pepé Le Pew (he’s loopy under her spell.) McQuarrie’s best image is when Ferguson defeats Cruise just by standing in front of his speeding motorcycle – it hints at a wittier piece of cinematic imagination, realized on adjacent multiplex screens as George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).