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" Time for me to row with all the other slaves "
— Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic

MRQE Top Critic

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Lara punches a shark, rides a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, and dives off a skyscraper —Matt Anderson (review...)

Jolie fits nicely into Lara Croft's boots

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The well-orchestrated action is plentiful, and an intense Tom Cruise approaches his role with the usual grim determination.

What else could we be talking about but a Mission: Impossible movie, this one entitled Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation?

Action set pieces abound in Rogue Nation
Action set pieces abound in Rogue Nation

I shouldn’t be flip, though.

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher and The Way of the Gun) drives the movie with sufficient skill to ensure that the Mission: Impossible series remains one of the more reliably entertaining franchises of recent years.

A breathless opening finds Cruise’s Ethan Hunt hanging onto a speeding jet, but before you even dip into your popcorn, the movie has jumped into a plot that begins with the IM force being dissolved by Washington bureaucrats.

Suddenly a rogue agent, Hunt is left to battle with a world-threatening outfit called "The Syndicate," and we’re left to wonder whether the lithe and lethal woman in this scenario (Rebecca Ferguson) can be trusted.

A spy who early on saves Hunt from Syndicate bad guys, Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust may not be entirely on the righteous side of the fence.

With any Mission Impossible movie, character and plot deficiencies are easily overcome by great set pieces.

Rogue Nation never quite matches the vertiginous thrill of the signature scene from 2011’s Ghost Protocol, the one that found Hunt hanging off a Dubai skyscraper.

Still, McQuarrie is no slouch when it comes to action.

A prolonged sequence at a Vienna opera house proves classy and exciting, action coupled with gorgeous music from Puccini’s Turandot. An underwater scene generates plenty of tension, and Hunt’s obligatory motorcycle chase — this one across a winding mountain road — is executed with quick-cut precision.

The usual suspects arrive, adding color and linking Rogue Nation to the series’ past:

Simon Pegg reprises his role as Benji Dunn, the movie’s technical wizard, as well as a comic foil for Hunt.Ving Rhames returns as an ace tracker.

Jeremy Renner shows up again; he’s the IMF guy who — in the movie’s first half — is stuck in Washington trying to defend his colleagues before a very official looking committee.

Alec Baldwin joins the fray as a CIA chief who wants to shut down the IMF. He regards Hunt as a loose cannon who needs to be eliminated.

Ferguson, a Swedish actress, lands a breakout role. She brings beauty and subtle helpings of gray matter to her character, giving the movie an aura of intelligence, it might otherwise lack.

At 53, Cruise continues to bring coiled energy and a sense of danger to a role that seems tailor made for him.

A gem? Hardly. The plot can feel preposterous enough to be laughable, and the movie doesn’t always bristle with wit. At times, Rogue Nation feels like a Bond movie that’s taking itself way too seriously.

Still, abundant style and excitement keep this one solidly in the plus column. Not bad for a series that’s now in its 19th year.