Mark Reviews Movies

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity)

Running Time: 2:11

Release Date: 7/31/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 30, 2015

By the fifth installment, one would expect a franchise to have run out of ideas, but the Mission: Impossible series has found a way to take the same ideas and recycle them in ways that seem, if not new, then at least new-ish. It would folly to expect a Hollywood movie to reinvent the standard action sequences (the fistfight, the shootout, the car chase, etc.), so ideally, we want to see something a little different or, barring that, something that is choreographed and shot well. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation definitely doesn't reinvent any of the action standards, but at some moment during its multi-layered and progressively structured central car chase, the film might fool us into thinking that it's going to find a way to do just that. The prospect alone is enough.

This series has thrived on its setpieces, and they aren't always just of the running, driving, and shooting varieties, either. There's the scene of Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt hanging from an air duct and trying to grab the side of a desk from the first film. There's the scene in the second movie with Cruise hanging from the side of a mountain. In the previous film, Cruise was hanging off the side of the tallest skyscraper in the world—before running down it. This film's prologue continues the tradition of Cruise hanging off the sides of things by having the actor hang off the side of a cargo plane as it takes off and ascends into the sky.

There are two constants here: a sense of real peril and Cruise. We know Cruise does his own stunts in these films. He's like Buster Keaton in the way he risks life, limb, and/or serious injury for the purpose of entertaining through authenticity. Hanging off the side of a real plane while it takes off is the highest point of derring-do for the actor in this film, but he also fights a brute atop the precarious ledges of lighting rigs at the Vienna State Opera, speeds on a motorcycle down a highway in Morocco, and participates in a lengthy underwater sequence, which we probably should assume isn't the product of special-effects trickery.

It isn't just the novelty of these and other sequences that makes them work. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie knows that there must be more than a simple (if sometimes dangerous) gag, so he gives us action sequences with distinct, developing beats. For example, the aforementioned car chase is, on the face of it, an ordinary car chase that exists to fill in the gaps between two plot points, but there's more to it than your usual, run-of-mill chase.

Firstly, there are four parties involved, each new one chasing the previous one. Secondly, it shifts from the streets of Casablanca and all of the various obstacles of that location to that highway, where Ethan must dodge traffic and use it to his advantage to take out his pursuers. Thirdly, it starts with Ethan having just had a near-death experience, meaning he's not in the best mental condition to take part in a high-speed car chase, which gives it an appreciable amount of humor (That light-hearted touch is becoming a trademark of this franchise). Lastly, it concludes with a moment—an uneven game of chicken between Ethan and someone he isn't certain if he should trust—that actually tells us something about two characters, their priorities, and how far they're willing to go in order to complete their mission.

That last part is one of the film's concerns in regards to Ethan. The Impossible Mission Force is dissolved (again) after a Senate hearing, during which CIA Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) suggests that Ethan is a self-destructive wildcard who succeeds solely on luck and who would go so far as to create a threat in order to perpetuate his lifestyle. The threat in question is the Syndicate, a group of former intelligence agents from around the world who want to disrupt the order of things. They're led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who targets Ethan when the agent gets too close.

The plot, as one might expect, doesn't really matter, although it does have just the right amount of conspiratorial intrigue to keep us involved in between those action sequences. McQuarrie doesn't quite know what to do with the rest of Ethan's team as the plot moves forward.

William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), who arrived in the last film as the voice of practicality amidst the spectacle, joins the CIA and covers as best as he can for Ethan, but the character's pragmatism is now more of a plot device than a winking commentary. Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Ethan's near-constant ally, returns simply to provide an old, familiar face. Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), who joins Ethan in Vienna to stop an assassination attempt (Given two assassins with whom to deal, Ethan chooses a third, unexpected target), gets a little more depth to balance out his primary role as comic relief.

Whatever shortcomings those characters may have are more than compensated for with the addition of Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), who is an ally, a femme fatale, or some combination of both. Either way, she is just about Ethan's equal in the spy game, and Ferguson, a beguiling and strong presence here, is as tough and nimble in her performance as she is during her fights.

What's most impressive, perhaps, is that, somehow and beyond all traditional reasoning, this series doesn't seem to be running out of steam. Yes, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation shows that the now-routine plotting and characters could use a little polish, but it knows what we're here to see: spectacle and finely orchestrated action. On those fronts, we get exactly what we want.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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