I almost feel as though I’m supposed to be ashamed of this, but as an actor…I like Thomas Cruise Mapother III. Tom Cruise (The actual human) is a batshit-crazy lunatic enslaved by a sinister space cult that has somehow snuggle struggled it’s way into Hollywood…but The Actor has charisma and undeniable screen ‘presence’… not to mention a death wish-like devotion to giving his fans AND The Casual Moviegoer a Good Time at the Movies. ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ is EXACTLY that: A Good Time at the Movies.
We’ve had a sweet run, this summer of 2015. Many of the expected ‘tent-pole’ blockbuster wannabes this year have actually given us, more or less, what we’re looking for in ‘escapist entertainment’. ‘MI:5’ does not disappoint. In fact, half-way through a kick-ass sequence in the 2nd Act, I caught myself thinking “This MAY be some of the most kinetic and competently-pieced action I’ve seen this year…right behind ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, of course! Not much is going to top THAT fine ‘classic-to-be’…but ‘Rogue Nation’ certainly does give it a shot.
The Story opens at the Bond-like tail-end of an ‘impossible mission’, where ‘Hunt’ (Cruise), ‘Benji’ (Simon Pegg), ‘Luther’ (Ving Rhames) and ‘Brandt’ (Jeremy Renner) are frantically trying to rescue a load of weaponized poison from the cargo hold of a massive military Airbus A400M transport jet. Featured so prominently in the trailers, on The Big Screen this scene’s a pretty awesome sight (the roar of the accelerating engines was Richter Scale-like in the theatre…and it was great!). After a cheeky (and painful!) ‘punchline’ to the sequence (and the obligatory, ‘fast cut’ credit intro, set to yet another variation of the classic theme track), we meet back up with ‘Hunt’ as he is suddenly out-foxed and trapped in the nefarious grasp of the shadowy ‘Syndicate’; an ‘urban legend’ of a terrorist organization (that reminded me a lil of ‘Quantum’, from the Daniel Craig Bond films), who’s primary focus seems to be wide-spread covert murder and destruction throughout the world’s espionage community (or maybe they’re more like ‘S.M.E.R.S.H.’ from Ian Fleming’s Bond novels….(shrugs)) All the while, Head of the CIA ‘Hunley’ (Alec Baldwin) is doing everything in his power to have the Impossible Mission Force disbanded and it’s material assets transferred to the direct control of the Central Intelligence Agency. Once again, ‘Hunt’ finds himself excommunicated by his own government and, with the help of a mysterious female operative-of-questionable-allegiance named ‘Ilsa Faust’ (Rebecca Ferguson), sets out to expose ‘The Syndicate’ and find the cold and murderous head of the organization, ‘Solomon Lane’ (Sean Harris). ‘Hunt’ assembles his small-but-capable team and takes the fight ‘underground’.
This movie was tons of fun. My girlfriend opted out of this one, as she feels that Tom Cruise and his crazed out-look on the world are a threat to Humanity, so I went ‘Han Solo’ on a piping hot summer day, for a noon matinee. Settling in moments before the Paramount logo swept onto the screen, I murmured “Just take me away and show me a good time for two hours…that’s all I ask.” Happily, that’s precisely what I got.
The ‘Mission: Impossible’ films are an odd mix. As much as I love director Brian DePalma’s cinematic prowess and his respectable catalogue of impressive film titles (‘Carrie’ (1976), ‘Scarface’ (1983) and ‘The Untouchables’ (1987), to name a few), I thought that the very first Tom Cruise-driven adaptation of the late 60’s-early 70’s spy show stumbled out of the gate when it was released in 1996. It was nicely shot, edited with effective simplicity and did a masterful job of giving us a tense and suspenseful spy story that existed in it’s own ‘universe’. Narratively, especially where The Bad Guy was concerned, it didn’t quite work for me. I never understood what motivated ‘Jim Phelps’ (Jon Voight) and his wife ‘Claire’ (Emmanuelle Beart) to betray and murder their covert IMF team like they did. I’ve seen the flick numerous times…and still don’t fully ‘get’ it. So, that’s a strike against. But that was a small, forgiveable trespass compared to what happened to ‘Mission: Impossible 2’ (2000). ‘MI:2’ was THE movie that essentially showed John Woo (‘Hard Boiled’) the door out of Hollywood. His overly operatic, melodrama-heavy approach (that had been SO fresh only a few years before with movies like ‘Hard Target’ (1993) and ‘Face/Off’ (1997)) to the pedestrian idea of the Impossible Mission Force going after a former agent who has gained access to a horrible biological weapon was (and still is) mostly laughable. So, reeling from that one, they went back to the drawing board and recruited TV showrunner extraordinaire JJ Abrams (‘Lost’) to make ‘Mission: Impossible 3’ (2006) his first feature film. In my opinion, he knocked it outta the park and set the tone for the rest of the MI films to come.
One of the things I’ve ALWAYS admired about this franchise is the clear desire (and stated intention) to bravely keep each installment fresh through the use of new directors for each title. Each movie ends up with it’s own ‘fingerprint’…and that’s very cool. Brad Bird (‘The Incredibles’) used the ‘polished grit’ style of Abram’s successful effort as a springboard for his own take on the material with ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ (2011); a movie that surpassed expectations and turned out to be one of the most invigorating Summer Movies of that year. Fast forward to today, and we now get writer / director Christopher McQuarrie’s (‘The Way of the Gun’) take on the series.
McQuarrie had worked with Cruise previously on 2012’s ‘Jack Reacher’, a lower-key but effective action / thriller that showed that McQuarrie had a slick eye for action sequences (as if ‘The Way of the Gun’ hadn’t soundly proven THAT already!). Couple that with the man’s ‘ear’ for snappy dialogue and his handling of interesting characters, I had a feeling that we, as movie-goers, were in for a fun time. And I was right!
Right off the bat, this movie is worth the price of admission for the top-tier action scenes alone; many of them done ‘in camera’ and often with the actual actors performing them (Cruise is notorious for this). It starts off on a sweet ‘high note’ with the awe-inspiring opening ”barnacle act’ on the side of the gigantic military plane’ sequence that set the tone for what was to come. In the 2nd Act, there are two absolutely kick-ass vehicle chases that, like ‘Fury Road’, had me wondering how many stunt people got mashed to a sticky pulp while filming some of these intense scenes. The camera work is also highly commendable, especially one scene featuring a small army of motorcycle-mounted henchmen in pursuit. McQuarrie chose to shoot and edit many of the shots in a way that stuck us, the viewers, right in the high velocity ‘thick’ of the chase. Some shots zipping in and out of traffic at high speed and in close proximity, had me tensing up without realizing it. I only noticed when the tempo on-screen dropped…and I’d let out a breath that I’d been unconsciously holding in.
The cast is pretty damn good. Of course Cruise brings it as ‘Agent Ethan Hunt’, even though the character seems a little uneven, personality-wise, from movie to movie. I’ve never thought they nailed him down to an actual, relatable ‘character’ (like, say, Harrison Ford’s ‘Indiana Jones’)…’Hunt’s just…’Secret Agent Man’. But that’s fine…cuz these are fun escapist movies about ‘Secret Agent Men and Women and Their Secret Agent Stuff’. ‘Hunts’ crew were all good, as to be expected from the likes of Rhames, Renner, and Pegg. Alec Baldwin’s ‘Hunsley’ character really could’ve been played by any number of elder male actors in Hollywood, but he reminded me of an older, pudgier version of his ‘Jack Ryan’ from ‘The Hunt for Red October’ (1990), so I used that as ‘Hunley’s backstory, in my minds eye. It helped. Many people have complained that Sean Harris (‘Prometheus’ ) was a weak choice for the villain of the piece, but I strongly disagree. With his distinctive rodent-as-man visage and calculating, reptilian mannerisms, I thought he fit right into this universe. He naturally seems to be an antagonistic ‘type’ that ‘Hunt’ and his crew would go after, and many times his quiet rasp of a voice carried a healthy amount of menace that seemed at odds with his bookwormish appearance. The character, as a whole, was admittedly thin, but then again, in a ‘cloak n dagger’ story like this, that ambiguity can help add an effective aura around the potentially ‘hollow’ portrayal. Just look what that did for Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’!
All in all, ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ is a terrifically well-crafted and fun action-adventure spy movie that really does take the good points from the previous two ‘MI’ flicks and accents them with McQuarrie’s own ‘effectively disciplined’ ‘flavor’. It’s well-written, VERY well shot and edited, the actors bring their ‘game’ to the picture and I wasn’t bored once. The 3rd Act does slow down a bit and the climax isn’t quite up to the adrenaline level of at least 4 action scenes that came before it, but I was left with a smile on my ugly mug when the credits finally rolled. 3D probably would’ve been sweet (‘MI:4’ was), but I had a good time with 2D…as it was the only version showing at my local theatre. As we Cruise into August, this is a good one to remind us that the 2015 Summer Movie Season is still going strong…while also whetting my appetite for Guy RItchie’s upcoming adaptation of ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ (looks cheeky and amusing). If you just want to ‘escape’, in the darkened, air-conditioned confines of a movie theatre during this friggin heat-wave of a summer (at least here on the Pacific Coast of North America)…’Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ is a solid, entertaining bet.
* I did like how they openly (and somewhat playfully) acknowledge just how much impossible luck has miraculously aided ‘Hunt’ through many of his past missions (they do slyly reference events from previous flicks). These moments of self-aware levity were most welcome, and flowed nicely in and out of the dialogue.