MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION
DIRECTOR: Christopher McQuarrie
STARS: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Fergusson, Hermione Corfield
GENRE: Spy Thriller /Action-Adventure
RATING: PG-13 /12 A
RUN TIME: 2 hrs 10 mins approx.
The Impossible Missions Force (IMF) is being closed down and merged with CIA by Alan Hunley (Baldwin). That’s a terrible shame, because they are needed more than ever. A villainous network, codenamed ‘The Syndicate’ is operating worldwide to bring about chaos and thereby form a new order in the wake. They are well organised, ruthless and brutal. Thankfully, IMF Agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is on the case and refuses to give up. He teams with mysterious counterpart, Ilsa Faust (Fergusson) to track down and defeat the Syndicate. It’s a shadowy and deadly mission, taking Hunt and a few ‘disavowed’ yet loyal associates across the globe and ultimately to where it all started: on the streets of London.
Did you notice anything about my plot summary above? Ah yes. There IS no plot! Or at least, there is no tidy ‘pitch’ one can easily summarise. Also, it could sum up ANY of the movies in this somewhat strange ‘franchise’. But then, that was ALWAYS the spirit of these films. Let’s put things in context.
Mission: Impossible was a television series that ran in the 1960s and then the 1980s. It lay dormant in the vaults of Paramount Pictures’ properties, awaiting some super-spy to retrieve it. Or rather, it required Tom Cruise!
The timing was perfect. The 1990s had two main trends. First: adapting old tv shows (Maverick, Flintstones et al). Second: ‘Die Hard on a…’ vehicles, tailored to leading men that were ‘hot’ yet lacked a series to anchor and wanted to take on baddies, armed with just a tight vest and buzzcut (see: Under Siege, Speed, Broken Arrow etc).
And so: BINGO! 1996 = MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. A film starring TOM CRUISE! A sequence of set-pieces, trading off the familiarity of a theme tune and a name and..well..not much else. It was whatever it needed to be that summer.
And, in a year sans Batman or Star Wars or other such big hitters, the film was a resounding box office smash. It was also brilliantly directed by Brian DePalma (think Hitchcock atmospherics) and armed with a very classy cast (Vanessa Redgrave, Emmanuelle Beart, Jon Voight..). It worked and had charm.
That first Mission: Impossible is at once of its time and zeitgeist yet somehow timeless: a cold war thriller for a post-cold war world. Also functioned as a kind of graduation film for Mr. Cruise before he tackled more adult fare (Eyes Wide Shut; Magnolia). The top of his class character: check. Mentor figure issues: check. LOTS of RUNNING: Present and correct. Man in over his head yet winning no matter what with youthful smile: naturally!
And yet, there were cracks in the polished product. It traded on the established mythology of the tv show, whilst copiously and contemptuously abandoning entire principles that defined old episodes for the faithful fans. Mr. Phelps (well I won’t spoil it..Google can do that for you). And it was very much a TOM CRUISE FILM! May as well have been called ‘TOM CRUISE DOES IMPOSSIBLE STUFF!’
Sure, they gave him a character name (Ethan Hunt). But let’s face it: this was just TOM CRUISE. Playing TOM CRUISE. Doing Stunts. And spy-stuff. There was a nominal ‘team’ but those supporting actors served simply to make TOM CRUISE look even more AMAZING as he did IMPOSSIBLE things!
A sequel emerged in 2000. M:I-2. In which TOM CRUISE did IMPOSSIBLE STUNTS. It took 6 years for part 3 to come round. Read some of the abandoned treatments for sequels: as fascinating, if not more so than the actual films they preceded. Once again, Google = your friend!
Oliver Stone’s ‘AI gone rogue on oilrig’ or Joe Carnahan’s ‘Body parts traffickers with heist in the Reichstag and final set-piece on Mount Rushmore’ (Ken Branagh was even cast as a baddie) = films we wanted to see! An intriguing prequel pitch, based in the 1980s with Cruise and Emilio Estevez reunited was also mooted. File under: opportunities, missed.
Ultimately, JJ Abrams (‘rent a franchise savior’) made M:I-3 a satisfying espionage thriller, creeping closer to the spirit of the tv show with an actual TEAM to support Mr. Cruise. But it was still, ultimately: TOM CRUISE DOES AMAZING STUNTS! It did fair business and part 4 was eventually a mission: accepted by Paramount.
Cue 2011 and GHOST PROTOCOL. A massive hit: TOM CRUISE still did AMAZING STUNTS. But in a selfless way. There was an actual mission to justify the film’s title and a genuine sense of relationship between the co-stars. It’s a fun ride and in effect, one could argue, it’s the FIRST actual MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film. The preceding episodes were like drafts that happened to be actual movies.
So. I have spent most of this review talking about the preceding entries. Why? Because in effect, ROGUE NATION is simply ALL the preceding movies. But done ‘right’. It’s a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film that EARNS that title in the same way as GHOST PROTOCOL, whilst exhibiting the kind of effort and super-human heroics that justifiably made Tom Cruise a star forever.
You don’t have to have seen the previous films to enjoy this one. Indeed, having seen them might actually impair your appreciation, as you will see old beats replayed (Hunt goes rogue. AGAIN!). But it is very much a movie ‘for the fans’ both of the original tv show AND the film franchise.
IE: This is a film DESIGNED to be a ‘people pleaser’. And please it does. Fans of old school espionage thrillers: you will LOVE this! Prefer softer, ensemble comedy? You will get your fair share of laughs and warm-hearted moments. Conspiracy theorists: watch this and you will feel right at home.
And if you just LOVE TOM CRUISE? Well, merry Christmas. He’s learned how to enjoy himself again, at last! It’s like a greatest hits combo package but delivered with verve. Tom looks distinguished and confident as befits his 52 years but has rediscovered that boyish charm, athleticism, endearing naiveté and commanding competence that made him such an enduring success.
The supporting cast is in harmony. Nobody tries stealing the show. Simon Pegg is well used for a change. I now ‘get’ why he is becoming a bona fide star. Rebecca Fergusson personifies feminine allure (though her delivery / lines feel a tad forced; as though someone were scripting for Emily Blunt on her day off?).
Jeremy Renner is once again a little underused in a blockbuster ensemble, but his delivery feels like an implicit acknowledgement of that (deadpan and brilliant). The villain (Sean Harris) is easy to dislike so does his job, though he does feel like a lost Mikkelsen brother (was Mads unavailable due to HANNIBAL? Call him for the next sequel!). There’s a lovely cameo, too. Hermione Corfield: a name to watch.
The film is shot beautifully, with effortless transitions between exotic locations, c/o excellent editing. The score is superb, though Hollywood MUST learn to move on from the ‘opera as symbolic signpost’ device and if you MUST use opera..PLEASE think BEYOND Puccini! Wagner would have been more apt here.
Each set-piece is born from real imagination and innovation. There’s a visual treat in every scene, with palpable atmospherics to match. London, especially: wow! James Bond and SPECTRE really have their work cut out to use the capital quite so effectively. Indeed, the film would still work even if the whole thing were simply London based. Those scenes alone = worth the admission price. It’s a testament to the genius of Christopher McQuarrie as a Director. Once again, a Mission: Impossible film is presenting us with an heir to the Hitchcock legacy.
Quibbles? The ‘Hunt on the run from own side’ routine IS getting tired and could easily have been cut here. Story/plot are a muddle, frankly and to some extent serve simply as a basis for the set-pieces. Do they HAVE to add the political conspiracy?
The British do not come out of this very well, London landscapes aside. IS Cruise’s Hunt in love with Fergusson’s Faust? If not, why not? Why does Cruise KEEP showing off his athleticism /beard growing / pec and bicep curling abilities? Tone is sometimes muddled and very occasionally, pace can lag in consequence, especially with the endless near-climaxes.
And yet: with execution THIS good and craftsmanship so perfect in every department, one simply fails to criticise drawbacks or care even slightly for their impact. MISSION: ACCOMPLISHED! It’s the best of the series: integrating the best parts of each preceding film, whilst thereby standing on its own.
This is a fun ride and one of the most entertaining and satisfying of this summer’s blockbusters. It misses greatness very slightly, c/o a lack of coherence and clarity in story /plot and a failure to add up to a truly convincing ‘whole’ as an adventure film. But, with this being draft #5 in an ongoing quest for perfection, and getting surely better each time, one is left with anticipation rather than franchise fatigue for the now surely inevitable Mission:6.
Grade B. Cleared for Active Duty!