Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - Review

[We also recorded a podcast review of this film.]

In 1927, silent film star Harold Lloyd clambered up the side of a 12-story building, every move documented by a camera crew. Obstacles abounded: falling objects, slippery edges, a clock face which slowly, agonizingly, pulled away from the wall. The climb formed the climactic stunt in Lloyd's comedy film, Safety Last and was a Hollywood mystery for years—did Lloyd really do it? Was he really that high? (He did, and it was...sort of.)

I couldn’t help but think of Harold Lloyd during the opening sequence of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, which finds Tom Cruise clinging to the outside of a massive plane (for real) as it blasts into the air. Like Lloyd’s climb, Cruise’s plane stunt provokes a sense of awe: he really did it! That's really Tom Cruise on a plane! Both Safety Last and Rogue Nation showcase a particular brand of daredevil showmanship that’s rare in this age of green screens and computer trickery. An added parallel: as Safety Last’s comedy has remained fresh nearly a hundred years later, so the lighthearted but intense Rogue Nation manages to be far, far more fun than its gritty competition: Daniel Craig’s Bond.

The plot is nothing unique, but for what it lacks in originality, it makes up in execution. 

A new terror organization known as the Syndicate is assassinating world leaders on the sly. The film's beginning finds secret agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) tracking them down - he knows of the organization's existence, but without proof, he's on his own. It gets worse. When his own organizationthe Impossible Missions Forceis disbanded, he must go rogue (spoiler!) in order to continue the chase. It isn't long before he's joined by his hapless sidekick, Benji (Simon Pegg), and the two track the Syndicate through a variety of exotic locations.

On the way, they encounter Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) a femme fatale with ambiguous loyalties. Is she in the employ of the Syndicate's sleazy leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) or is she really a double agent for British intelligence? Inevitably, events lead to both parties racing to attain a computer chip MacGuffin which holds the key to both the Syndicate's destruction and its ascendancy. 

Christopher McQuarrie (who both wrote and directed the movie) excels in creative problem solving. For a film of its kind, Rogue Nation manages to be extraordinarily unpredictable. McQuarrie balances a sizable cast, complete with several players whose allegiances are uncertain. Hunt may be airily unencumbered by back-story or personal considerations, but this doesn’t mean he has no meaningful relationships. His team is his family—a fact brought to bear even more strongly than in the previous movie. Simon Pegg does his best Martin Freeman, combining heart, humor, and an O so British panic in his role as damsel in distress. Jeremy Renner backs up Hunt in the political world, playing both sides and trying to simultaneously butter up his new boss (Alec Baldwin) and earn the trust of Hunt's old companion Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames). 

And then there's Ilsa Faust. Rebecca Ferguson brings a chilly intelligence to the role which reminds me of old screen stars such as Lauren Bacall. Speaking of which, with a name like Ilsa, it’s a sure thing that the gang will end up in Casablanca (when a certain character joins the IMF near the end of the film, I was fully expecting “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”). She's an interesting wild card at the heart of the plotand fares far better than your average Bond girl (I'm guessing the "shoes" moment was a jab at Jurassic World). She's efficient; she's complicated; she's not just a plot device.

As Hunt races through the requisite betrayals, showdowns, and physical punishment, a theme begins to emerge: how much can one man take? It’s a cunning wink to the other inevitable thought: Tom Cruise is 53—how long can he keep doing this? The film presses the point: it isn’t long into the story before Hunt collapses from a bullet wound incurred escaping a minor villain. The franchise is nearly in its twentieth year and while, happily for world peace and movie sales, Ethan Hunt isn't showing any signs of slowing down, it’s impossible not to be painfully aware of his mortality. 

All of which makes Cruise's perseverance and sheer guts all the more inspiring. The determination, skill, and commitment to his craft which he displays in this film compels respect, and—another thing necessary for success—drives his damaged public image into the background. 

While some were disappointed that there was no dramatic aesthetic difference between Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation, the continuity means that both the series and its protagonist seem to have hit their creative stride. They've found the perfect balance of wit, humor, drama, and Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise. Earlier films had as much as a six year gap between installments, but Mission: Impossible 6 is already in development. If that means more of the same, well, bring it on. 

Now: what's Joss Whedon up to these days?

4.5/5 stars

Hannah Long


  1. Great! Now you made me watch Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy.

    1. There are worse ways to spend your time. Safety Last is good, but my personal favorite's The Kid Brother:


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