Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation wastes no time getting to the action: In the opening moments a valuable package is on board a cargo plane that’s about to take off, and the IMF team of Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Luther (Ving Rhames) has trouble keeping it grounded with technical overrides. Enter Ethan (Tom Cruise), who runs off a hillside perch and leaps onto the plane’s wing, hoping to get inside before it takes off. He grabs on, holds tight. The tension mounts. “Benji, open the door!” Ethan screams.

The plane takes off.

Even though most of us have seen this in the trailer, we can’t believe our eyes as Ethan is literally hanging off the side of the plane as it rises into the air. It is positively exhilarating. If the goal was to rival the Burj Khalifa sequence from the franchise’s last film, Ghost Protocol, mission accomplished.

From there the action Does. Not. Stop. Even the smaller expository moments are rapt with tension, as the story has a palpable intensity that’s accentuated by tight editing, a pounding score, and high-quality sound effects. To call this “thrill-a-minute” is an understatement. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, who thus far has not impressed with directorial efforts (Jack Reacher) but is a fantastic screenwriter (The Usual Suspects, Edge of Tomorrow), has finally figured out how to translate the page to the screen, and we reap the benefits with our enjoyment here.

Most impressively, the action is exciting and the plot is smart but not overwhelming. With the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) officially dissolved by the U.S. government, Brandt goes to work for C.I.A. Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who’s intent on bringing Ethan in to face charges for the destruction he has caused through the years. Meanwhile, Ethan and Benji (and later Luther) try to find Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a former British secret agent who went rogue and now runs the “syndicate,” a terrorist group comprised of presumed-to-be-dead operatives from agencies all over the world. Caught in between helping Ethan, her British intelligence bosses, and her undercover allegiance to Lane is Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), who understandably plays all three sides against one another.

Action sequences take us high in the air, underwater, and on motorcycle rides through the mountains of Morocco. All are tense, well shot, nicely edited for clarity, and genuinely quite stellar. The only action scene that doesn’t work is set inside the Vienna Opera House; at this point early on we don’t know where the characters’ allegiances lie, and suspense cannot be felt if the audience doesn’t know what’s at stake. This sequence consequently falls flat due to lack of information. And it’s obnoxiously loud with Puccini’s “Turandot” blasting in the background.

Thankfully, one misstep can be handled by an otherwise strong entry in the Mission: Impossible series. The previous film is still the best of the five, but one could argue Rogue Nation is the second best, which is a high compliment.