Rogue Nation keeps the pedal to the metal to deliver exhilarating action, while losing some of its franchise identity.
‘Ready or not, here I come.’ No, I’m not just quoting the classic song by The Fugees remixed for the M:I5 trailer. I’m saying this because its how the near 20 year old franchise is approaching audiences today, July 31st 2015. With so many action films coming out these days (many of which are quite sub-par), it’s hard to get super excited for another one, nevermind a fifth entry in a franchise. But here’s the thing—the folks behind Mission:Impossible-Rogue Nation know they’re delivering something better than the rest (or most of the rest). After the first ten minutes of Rogue Nation, you’ll realize how much the marketing of the movie has duped you, but in the best way possible. Director Christopher McQuarrie has created a smart action flick so loud and ridiculous that it’s hard to catch your breath. But although Rogue Nation delivers the smarts and the thrills, it doesn’t stick to the formula that has separated (and benefited) the Mission:Impossible franchise from the rest of the spy pack. While no one was saying that the Mission:Impossible franchise was dead, especially after a $209 mil domestic box office take with 2011’s Ghost Protocol, each new installment is met with speculation whether this will be the final outing or not. Rogue Nation all but directly acknowledges this speculation when Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt says, “This may very well be our last mission. Let’s make it count…” Ha! We all know you’ll be back! I’ll put all the speculation to rest—it’s not the final outing. Rogue Nation is as energetic and exhilarating as the franchise has ever been while at the top of its game.
Once again the new Mission:Impossible movie pits Ethan Hunt against an evil force as well as a few of his superiors. With the IMF dissolved thanks to CIA Chief Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) goes rogue searching for the Syndicate, a rumored organization attempting to wreak havoc around the world. Helping Hunt, yet again, is his comedy-relief sidekick team of William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and franchise staple Luther Stickwell (Ving Rhames). Joining the cast is Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Ilsa Faust, a femme fatale spy with an unknown motive and killer instincts. Whether friend or foe, she’s a perfect compliment to Hunt, yet it would’ve been nice if she wasn’t really the only female with more than a few lines in the movie.
And now for my nit-picky but (I believe) worthwhile rant: Rogue Nation abandons the clock timer as the iconic device to drive the franchise’s action. In M:I movies, the audience should always have a clock timer ticking in the back of their minds. The excitement from all the elaborate stunt work isn’t a result of the stunts alone, but also through how they’re framed within a precisely timed IMF mission. Rogue Nation delivers beautiful Monets without the frames. It also relies heavily on visceral hand-to-hand combat and reckless (though expertly shot) car chases, which are fun to watch but more welcoming in Bond and Bourne films. The problem with so much of the aforementioned action is that it’s tiresome and predictable. We know who’ll come out the victor (hint: Ethan Hunt) and we know the bad guy(s) will momentarily have the upper hand before losing, whether they’re wielding a gun or knife, on a motorcycle or in a car. We get it. But when I walk into a Mission:Impossible film, I want to see how “impossible” break-ins and spy missions are accomplished, not how countless henchmen are dispatched.
Rogue Nation even includes an instance in which the baddie presents the dissolved IMF team with an enticing “impossible” mission, complete with a short delivery window, but the audience isn’t provided any of the quintessential M:I enjoyments that we’ve come to expect. We’re supposed to be walked through the plan on how Ethan Hunt et al will accomplish the impossible feat. We aren’t. We’re supposed to be constantly reminded by how little time is remaining, with each part of the mission dependent on the timely execution of the other parts. We aren’t. Instead, we’re left guessing with the expectation that we’ll just be surprised by it somehow working out (meh) and then to add insult to injury, we’re treated with the throwaway line after the mission is all but done, “we’re cutting it close.” How close!? An hour!? A minute!? A few seconds!? Isn’t that the whole point of this franchise?—to be amazed at the precisely choreographed and timed execution of an incredible heist or spy game. McQuarrie may be a strong and smart action writer/director with a proven partnership with Cruise (Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow), but I got the sense that he didn’t quite understand what makes Mission:Impossible missions so suspenseful and still so engaging 20 years and five installments later. An iconic theme song and Tom Cruise running at full speed do not make a great Mission:Impossible movie, though they sure help. But again, don’t worry. Not all the fun in Rogue Nation is lost…
…because the production team behind Mission:Impossible – Rogue Nation still created a super frickin’ fun action flick. The action is slick and well-produced. At 2 hr 12 min, M:I5 is no walk in the park—it’s a sprint through the forest. It’s an elaborate spy game filled with exotic locations, elaborate set pieces, a top notch femme fatale, a fantastic soundtrack, and a charismatic lead. Any action film released these days that benefits from a smart script and engaging story deserves our attention, and Tom Cruise has been the x-factor that pushes the M:I franchise to greater heights. Each installment features a new Cruise stunt trying to top the last: Suspended acrobatics in #1, rock climbing in #2, base jumping and being thrown into a car in #3, swinging around the side of the Burj Khalifa in #4, and now hanging onto the side of a plane in #5. Cruise is the golden standard to which all actors performing their own stunts are compared. As long as Cruise and Co. continue to treat Ethan Hunt with the same fire power they’ve done in Rogue Nation, there’s no slowing down the franchise.
But, Skydance Productions, you’re mission, if you choose to accept it, is to insert more timers into the mix next time! Thank you. This review will self destruct in five seconds. 1-2-3-4…
Mission:Impossible – Rogue Nation opens in theaters today, Friday July 31st.