Review of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation.
So the plot is screwier than a screw factory’s assembly line, the villain’s motives more nebulous than a studio executive’s cigar smoke, fidelity to Bruce Geller’s vision a product of wishful marketing, and Ethan Hunt miraculously harder to kill, let alone bruise, than Bruce Willis in the Die Hard series; this latest entry in the Mission: Impossible series is still the best next to Brian de Palma’s inaugural translation (De Palma’s insulting faux-pas notwithstanding).
Maybe someday we’ll get a Mission: Impossible written by someone with the original TV series in their video library and a bookshelf filled with Le Carré novels. Until then we can enjoy Rogue Nation on its own terms as a ‘90s-style action flick, in which case it delivers a boffo, if straightforward, buffet of stunts, fights, car chases, gadgets and the usual mayhem that comes with this sort of fare. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is given an intriguing institutional opponent, chillingly personified by Sean Harris, in the form of the Syndicate – an anti-IMF group whose aim is to destabilize the world order and make a little money on the side. Beginning with a clever inversion of the usual mission briefing, Hunt is kept perpetually off-kilter as he pursues a quarry so elusive that even the CIA doesn’t believe in its existence.
What sets this outing apart, kind of, from the previous installments isn’t so much a change in the formula – as always, the Mission: Impossible concept is franchised to different directors who mold it to their own styles – but that the formula is well-suited to Christopher McQuarrie’s workman-like approach. J.J. Abrams offered a twisty but shallow plot, and saddled Hunt with an awkward fiancée that, far from humanizing him, only added a damsel-in-distress cliché to a pedestrian macguffin chase that rested too much on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s laurels. Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol was fine but forgettable, with action set pieces defused by clichés like the last-second save, and a weird obsession with malfunctioning gadgets. (Returning Hunt’s wife Julia seemed like vindication for Bruce Geller, who strictly ensured that his original TV series never distracted audiences from the plot by delving into agents’ personal lives.) McQuarrie delivers an old fashioned cat-and-mouse game that leaps from action spectacle to action spectacle, enlivened by beautiful settings like the Vienna Opera House and infused with surprisingly memorable scenes like one involving the British Prime Minister. The film’s best asset, by far, is Rebecca Furguson as an operative whose smarts and posterior-kickery effortlessly equals Hunt’s and, refreshingly, is never subject to Hollywood’s typical condescension towards strong female characters. She has a good on-screen chemistry with Cruise that, thankfully, doesn’t feel the need to dive into the tiresome waters of romance.
As usual, Hunt is provided appendages in the form of technician Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), computer expert Luther Stickwell (Ving Rhames), and analyst-turned-bureaucrat William Brandt (Jeremy Runner, on break from his heroics in Bourne and Avengers). Except for Pegg, whose real role is to inject personality into the movie as Hunt’s wacky sidekick, none of the team really has much to do other than show up and push buttons on slick gadgets. The films have never been particularly concerned with the elaborately plotted con games that defined the TV series, and this remains true of Rogue Nation; this is Tom Cruise’s show all the way, except when it’s Furguson’s, which is just about every scene she’s in. The film does benefit from a more interesting form of self-awareness: A framing story in which CIA director Alan Hunley, drolly played by dry martini Alec Baldwin, pushes to dissolve the IMF on account of the high-profile destruction that result from its operations. A smart film would have used this as commentary, but this isn’t a thinking person’s film so, naturally, it’s just a twist of the plot.
Best of all, however, is the film’s climax, a departure from the usual hero-villain confrontation. It’s gotten rather boring by now to have films where villains continually rub the hero’s vulnerabilities in their faces, only to be shot in the end – or dropped from a building, or blown up, or otherwise killed – and, well, that’s it. Rogue Nation gives Hunt, and us, a very satisfying moment of triumph as a pay-off for the film’s tribulations.
With a sixth film in the works, there’s not much hope that Mission: Impossible will receive the 21st century update that the TV series deserves. I’d love to see a reboot that returns to the cerebral plotting of a team of agents who achieve their goals by manipulating opponents through guile and deception, contextualized by a more fully-conceived IMF that operates in a morally self-aware narrative. Until then, Rogue Nation serves up a good platter of outlandish thrills, and there’s always Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean trilogy to watch when in the mood for a caper movie with actual intricate plotting.
Frédérik is the Page’s Assistant Editor and Resident Art Critic. He can be reached at email@example.com, and invites you to connect with him through various social media.