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I appreciate the theory behind choosing different directors for each new entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film franchise. It carries the promise of a fresh take every time out. De Palma was the ideal filmmaker for this inaugural experiment; his freedom of visual expression found great partnership with the physical daring of star Tom Cruise. The second installment is the weakest of the bunch, but still harbors John Woo’s dove-infested slow-motion trademarks. JJ Abrams delivered a competent but largely undistinguished third chapter before Brad Bird surprisingly took the franchise to new heights of visceral excitement and truly jaw-dropping set pieces – the likes of which haven’t been seen in American action cinema in some time.

The new film – subtitled Rogue Nation – doesn’t achieve the same super-charged gut punch of its immediate predecessor, but it realizes an appealing tone that nevertheless sets it apart. Under Christopher McQuarrie’s assured direction, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE becomes a pleasing exercise in nostalgia. He brings out the undertones which have flavored the series from the beginning; sweeping globe-trotting spectacle in the vein of the Hitchcockian spy thriller. Just take a look at the film’s most stunning sequence – a two-way assassination attempt at a Vienna opera house – where the imaginative staging and grand locale immediately take you back to the elegance of The Man Who Knew Too Much. As the story deepens, we travel from Vienna to (where else?) Casablanca. Even the customary mission assignment (“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”) is delivered on classic throwback vinyl.

This approach feels respectful of the traditions which came before it, and true to the nature of the franchise. As a result, the film doesn’t bombard or exhaust you; in fact, it all feels rather subdued despite its four showpiece action sequences. But nothing in it exhilarates as much as the Dubai skyscraper climb in GHOST PROTOCOL. Still, its obvious affection for the espionage thrillers of yesteryear serves as a nice change of pace in these times when action films are marred by headache-inducing chaos and the tedious cloudiness of CGI. ROGUE NATION may not find anything new in the old, but it’s a refreshing homage, and that’s good enough. Grade: B

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