Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation review
The superlative action hero
The espionage genre continues its recent box office hot streak this summer in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, the fifth entry in international superstar Tom Cruise’s spy series. With franchises following assassins such as James Bond & Jason Bourne and art-house films based on John Le Carré material like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy & A Most Wanted Man, the cloak-and-dagger world has picked up an unmistakable, dark, intense flavor that almost feels necessary for a motion picture to qualify in the genre these days. It’s only natural then that perhaps the most famous face in movie history (rivaled only by John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe) would test the boundaries with another blockbuster smash featuring the lighter side of action in his newest film. We’ve seen him play Ethan Hunt for nearly twenty years and up the stakes each time: suspend parallel to the ground, mountain climbing, parachuting out a window, and climbing the Burj Khalifa. So what would he do this time? If you buy a ticket, you don’t wait long to see his newest death-defying spectacle. It factors heavily into all the trailers, as well, continuing the Hollywood trend of spoiling everything before you even see it for real.
As producer and star on every Mission: Impossible film, it’s safe to assume Cruise knows what works (Parts 1, 3, & 4) and what doesn’t (Pt. 2) at this point in his career. The three-time Oscar-nominee certainly knows well-enough not to dabble in the damaged, broken character-types embodied by fellow spy stars Daniel Craig and Matt Damon. While all three maintain the necessary intensity for screen presence and a quality performance, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt stands alone as the only spy with a generally positive outlook on life. Hunt has close friendships as demonstrated with a cast of characters who have worked with him on missions in previous chapters and frequently needs their abilities as he is often not a one-man-army like his genre contemporaries. Yes, we all enjoy the brooding 007, but I welcome a spy who isn’t self-loathing as a change-up to the formula even if I’ve previously seen this basic plot many times. It’s easy to root for Hunt and his crack team because the protagonist isn’t afraid to smile like he’s in a movie and shares plenty of humorous moments with the supporting cast.
Cruise again makes the wise decision of choosing a filmmaking collaborator as he usually selects the directors for his projects. This time, the actor teamed up with Christopher McQuarrie, writer/ director of the actor’s 2012 action-thriller Jack Reacher. McQuarrie, like Cruise, wants to create a Hollywood spy movie and succeeds through embracing the ticket-selling, blockbuster spectacle and ridiculous stunt-action, then assembling it into a classic spy narrative. The plot takes us all over the world: the Vienna Opera House, foggy London, Morocco, and Havana. While the actor/ filmmaker team appears to keep running on all cylinders, they unfortunately fall victim to one big, unfortunate trend in pop culture: the mirroring villain. Like SHIELD vs. HYDRA or MI6 vs. SPECTRE, the Impossible Mission Force are tasked with outing the Syndicate, “…an anti-IMF” as one character plainly states it. At least it isn’t one Iron Man (or Ant-Man) fighting another one. If actor and director reteam for the sixth entry Cruise recently confirmed on the late-night talk circuit, fans will be satisfied, but certainly not surprised—even when there’s a quadruple (or so) agent involvedlike Rebecca Ferguson’s (“The White Queen,” Hercules) Ilsa.
Hunt, like Cruise, couldn’t have survived on these missions for 19 years without a stellar supporting cast. Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, “Monday Mornings”) returns, having starred with Cruise since the 1996 original as friend and field-tech Luther. Simon Pegg (The World’s End, Hot Fuzz) reprises the role of Benji for the third time, another IMF field tech and primary source of comedic relief. Most interestingly, however, is the return of actor Jeremy Renner (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kill the Messenger) as Brandt. Since rivaling Hunt in the 2011 installment Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, Renner found a starring role as a spy in two other franchises: playing SHIELD agent Hawkeye in The Avengers and assassin Aaron Cross in The Bourne Legacy, both in 2012. Renner plays more of a laid-back, diplomatic role here, opposed to the betrayed Cross and underutilized Hawkeye. The actor shares a few scenes with the IMF team as well as a few more with franchise newcomer Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock,” The Departed) in some private Senate hearings. His ability to create three separate, distinctive characters in the realm of blockbuster action is reminiscent of co-star Cruise. Each supporting member, like the main character, shares a measure of humor at some point in the film.
The franchise newcomers—villainous and untrustworthy—shake up the formula enough to make the viewer engaged for a fifth Mission: Impossible adventure. Ferguson’s brilliant, deadly double-agent keeps us invested as her allegiance can never be certain throughout the film, a testament to director McQuarrie’s ability to maintain mystery through all three acts. She proves a worthy rival and ally to Hunt, matching him every step of the way with scheming and ability. The suspense surrounding Ilsa’s sympathies alone create an excellent spin-off opportunity as actress Ferguson matches co-star Cruise in terms of on-screen physicality and dramatic performance. Her other ally, the dubious Syndicate, follows the lead of vengeful Lane, played by English actor Sean Harris (Prometheus, Deliver Us From Evil). Although Ilsa calls Lane a terrorist, Lane sees his acts as “surgical.” He’s a tactical genius, creating the game he wants to play with IMF… even if he develops a laughable, villainous eye twitch in the climatic scenes.
Despite a predictable outcome, spy clichés, and perhaps a bloated run time, Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation continues the espionage craze with enough fresh material to guarantee a bona fide summer blockbuster hit. Tom Cruise proves yet again why each and every one of his films is an event with pure action spectacle and plenty of jokes to keep the viewer in a positive disposition. If you have a few extra bucks and two hours to spare, this film never fails to entertain with globe-trotting spies, more gadgets than Batman, and a cast of movie stars.