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film review

In the latest Mission: Impossible instalment, nothing can defeat the charming and fearless Tom Cruise, who’s constantly engaged and possessing a quite possibly insane desire to do each and every one of his own stunts as the platonic ideal of an action star.Bo Bridges

Tom Cruise is not like us mere mortals. At 53 years old, the actor is a living, breathing manifestation of pure determination – more motivational poster than man. Physically ripped, constantly engaged and possessing a quite possibly insane desire to do each and every one of his own stunts, Cruise is the platonic ideal of an action star. And thank god for that.

In an industry obsessed with the shiny and new, Cruise is a refreshing and reliable throwback. We may occasionally reduce him to a Scientology-obsessed nut, but that's just because it's easy and cynical, two things that the entertainment news cycle relies on. Xenu aside, Cruise holds a rightful critical spot in the language of blockbuster cinema. He's the slick, charming, captivating man of action who we all secretly want to be. He's pure popcorn.

The fact that Cruise never slips into leading man complacency – always insisting on working with the top filmmakers, always developing intense rehearsal procedures for stunts that should very well end him – is also what keeps his improbable Mission: Impossible brand afloat.

On the surface, there's no reason that the series should be releasing its fifth instalment. Based on a mostly forgotten TV show, each entry in the franchise is essentially a facsimile of the other: There's the hunt for a MacGuffin, an exotic beauty who tempts Cruise's Ethan Hunt into trouble (although never sexually), a threat to dismantle the IMF agency and a generic villain who purports to be Hunt's equal, but never warrants even half his attention (the only exception to this last rule is Mission: Impossible III, because of Philip Seymour Hoffman's delightful sociopath).

Yet, each M:I film is its own unique thrill ride, largely thanks to Cruise's non-stop charisma and fierce dedication to being the best implausibly talented spy he can be. (And before you ask: Yes, I will even go to bat for John Woo's second entry, a wildly weird exercise in genre extremes.)

The series continues its surprising streak in this latest entry, nonsensically subtitled Rogue Nation. The story's beats, again, are familiar: Hunt faces off against a twisted mirror-image of himself in the form of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a former MI6 agent who's building a capital-E Evil organization called the Syndicate, as all the unique villain organization names were already taken.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, there's Rebecca Ferguson as the deep-cover spy Ilsa Faust (now that's a name) and returning players Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames. But it's a bit pointless to spend much time deciphering co-star performances or picking apart the nuances of the plot. Everything, even Alec Baldwin's tight and itchy turn as a CIA buzzkill, is mere window-dressing to Cruise's attempts to kill himself on-screen.

Anyone who's stepped outside their home in the past few months will have already seen the image of Cruise hanging from the outside of a moving plane, Rogue Nation's signature visual. Yet, despite the promotional overkill, the scene still feels terrifyingly fresh on the big screen. Sure, we don't actually get to witness Cruise plummeting to his doom, but the fact that he knew the possibility was there when he filmed it, and still went for it with gusto, is a remarkable mix of showmanship and hubris.

The same goes for Cruise's other brushes with on-screen death, including a frantic motorcycle chase through the streets of Morocco, a taut cat-and-mouse game behind the scenes of a Vienna opera and an underwater plunge to the most improbable data-storage facility in the world (during which he reportedly held his breath for six minutes, which is as crazy as it sounds).

During filming of the fourth M:I film, whose subtitle of Ghost Protocol is still the series' best joke, it was rumoured that Renner was being groomed to take over the franchise. Thankfully, his by-the-book hero Brandt never caught fire beyond a supporting role – not that the actor was really to blame. Who, after all, could make suicide missions look as much fun as Tom Cruise?