IMF agent Ethan Hunt [Cruise] has been off-the-grid for a while tracking supposedly unrelated acts of mayhem and destruction. He believes these actions are linked by a group of ex-secret service agents from around the world, dubbed The Syndicate. Unfortunately for him, the head of the CIA, Alan Hunley [Alec Baldwin] is hell-bent on dissolving the IMF for its reckless methods, despite its perfect success record. After being captured, Ethan encounters Ilsa Faust [Ferguson] who appears to be working for the Syndicate but is in fact an undercover British agent. Without breaking her cover or incriminating the other IMF members (Jeremy Renner as Brandt, Simon Pegg as Benji and Ving Rhames as Luther) Ethan does everything in his power to hunt down and expose the Syndicate’s enigmatic leader Solomon Lane [Harris]. But is Ethan’s quest little more than a personal vendetta against his espionage equal?
**Severe plot spoilers throughout this paragraph**
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is serviceably directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who previously helmed the unappreciated The Way Of The Gun and the deservedly ignored Jack Reacher. But with all the set pieces, rushing from location-to-location, secret compartments and an overall time-limit threat, not to mention the hijacking of government officials to uncover national secrets, it quickly occurred to me that this feature breaks away from simple spy action drama and in my opinion is in fact a National Treasure film minus Nicolas Cage and the spurious but ultimately questionable history references. And while that may sound preposterous to begin with, let’s break it down. Ethan Hunt wants to clear the name of the only family he has (the IMF), so goes off the radar then, with the help of his wise-cracking techno friend, kidnaps the Prime Minister so he can stop an evil Englishman from getting his hands on tonnes of money that rightfully belongs to the government. Seriously! How is that not National Treasure 3: The Red Box!? But I digress.
Aside from McQuarrie’s decent direction and Robert Elswit’s pleasing cinematography, Mission: Impossible suffers from a general air of silliness. Some might say ‘fun’ but I say silliness. Firstly, in each and every Mission: Impossible release, Tom Cruise proves that he desperately wants to end his life in the most elaborate spectacle possible but he also wants us to know that he and his character are on the same page. Not only can both of them dish out an exceptional amount of punishment but they can take it too. And that’s where the silliness element comes in. I’m all for over-the-top effects and stunts that really push the suspension of disbelief but Hunt is literally impervious to damage. It’s absurd, he survives so much with next to no negative fallout. But what every audience member and critic has to acknowledge is that, for the most part, all of this looks spectacularly good; mostly because it’s real. See, the fact that the film takes so much care and attention to highlight when dangerous effects are practical (which is greatly appreciated by the way), it makes the CGI additions feel even more fake. Blockbuster cinema is all about spectacle and while Rogue Nation proves to have that in spades, it also falls into the classic pitfalls of computer generated effects – unavoidable but when done right/sparingly, necessary and commendable. But with the motorbike chase and the car flipping in defiance of the laws of physics, audiences can tell (at least I hope they can) when it’s not real and it really sullies the final product. It’s like taking the time to hand make a beautifully decorated cake only to wheel out a cardboard replica and say, “Here, eat this! It’s just as delicious.” And you are fooling no one, Mission: Impossible!
So with amazing effects and a plot that, while a bit stupid, is followable and entertaining, how are the performances? I think we can all agree that outside of cinema, Tom Cruise is a mental little gremlin. But professionally speaking the man is a titan. He will push himself more than any actor, give more to the audience and goes above and beyond for the sake of art. On top of that, he’s committed himself so completely to being the best at everything that when it came to the driving stunts, the stunt crew told Pegg that Cruise would be driving because he was better than anyone on the stunt team. And for a director, this is both amazing because of the shots you can achieve and terrifying because your lead actor could effectively kill himself and then you’d be the guy that let Tom Cruise ride that crazy cinematic-autoerotic-asphyxiation train into the clouds to whatever he believes comes next. Other than Cruise we have the usual mix of fellow agents with one interesting surprise. Jeremy Renner has been wheeled out once again just to play Jeremy Renner; which is a damn shame, in The Town he gave an outstanding performance but of late it’s like producers keep saying, “Let’s just get that Hawkeye guy. Make him be Hawkeye here.. but without the bow and arrow.” Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin and Simon Pegg give the respective performances one would expect, not a negative comment as such but there’s nothing of specific substance for them to spread their legs with. And Sean Harris serves as a great bad guy, in the vein of Blofeld and Moriarty, but unfortunately never really lives up to those inspirational sources. The interesting addition is Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson as British double agent Ilsa Faust. Too many times we’ve seen love interests and fellow female agents paraded through these films with no real personality or presence, so investing in any of them is an act of sheer futility and tedium. But Ilsa is a genuinely interesting individual – for the most part. Acting as a female Ethan, she is capable of doing everything he can but is limited only because she is a mere mortal, whereas Hunt is the “manifestation of destiny.” Seriously. The film’s own words right there. Somehow Ferguson manages to play the two dimensional sexy femme fatale role as well as the ass-kicking action heroine with complete and utter ease – many have tried, many have failed. But whether she will follow the path of her fellow male counterparts and return for another release remains to be seen.
Rogue Nation’s real strengths lie in the technical achievements. The camera work and editing are fast paced but clearly executed but the audio work is stellar. From the design, to the mix, everything that can produce sound does so with distinct resonance and brilliantly makes use of the cinema’s surround sound systems (which several releases seem to ignore for whatever baffling reason). On top of that we have a really impressive score from Joe Kraemer, who previously worked with McQuarrie on The Way Of The Gun as well as several other things that don’t seem worth mentioning. Taking the opportunity to bleed a well-known theme with exotic locations means a range of tones, instruments and styles; all of which are utilised to great effect. I’m not entirely sure the repeated use of Nessun Dorma works as well as hoped but it’s an interesting touch and doing something unexpected in a film of this magnitude is ultimately noteworthy.
The Mission: Impossible releases make up a very unusual series which completely varies from film-to-film. This one feels like the closest thing to a direct sequel, directly referencing events from the first and fourth films. But we should really ask ourselves, is this a good thing? Other than the central anchoring of Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames, each instalment displays a dramatic shift in direction and overall style. Meaning that every release is a sort of standalone and prior knowledge and call-backs are few and far between – if you exclude the self-referential homaging of lowering people on wires and motorbike chases and mask reveals, etc. But this film closes with a few open-ended threads that imply franchise logic more than anything else. And as we know, franchises are all the rage. So can we expect more like this? Never-ending missions, returning bad guys, tied in plots? Who knows? If handled well, go for it, if not.. we’ll see.
31th July 2015
The Scene To Look Out For:
Well into the second act, we experience a weird shift in tone with the introduction of a single character. Amidst all the “whose side are you on?” stuff, we finally get to meet the head of MI5 and while Simon McBurney plays him excellently, he feels like he’s just walked out of a John Le Carre novel. Which is great until you realise how thoroughly out-of-place that makes him. It might work in certain contexts but when you’re paralleling it with a US agent jumping onto the wing of a moving plane or beating up a roomful of guards, the subtle counterespionage allegiance thing seems a tad odd. Sort of like when American sitcoms cut to something happening in Great Britain and it’s always Parliament Square and the entire population are wearing bowler hats.
Tom Hollander plays the Prime Minister of England in a rather minor role but it got me wondering. I don’t think we ever got to hear the Prime Minister’s name, so I’m openly assuming it was Simon Foster. This means the Mission Impossible universe is in the same universe as Armando Iannucci’s In The Loop. This pleases me, the idea that there’s this hyper manic intelligence organisation and it’s arguably being overseen by characters like Malcolm Tucker and Selina Meyer. You know what? I’m going to go one step further and suggest that also means this is in the same universe as John Adams. Why not?
“Join the IMF and see the world.. on a monitor.. in a closet”
In A Few Words:
“Jovial, upbeat and admittedly fun, Rogue Nation is a step above the first three MI films but feels like it’s very much in the shadow of its immediate predecessor”