Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation Review

Posted: August 16, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

mission impossible 5Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The mid 2000s were not the best time for Tom Cruise publically. Between his association with the Church of Scientology, his controversial statements, and infamously jumping on Oprah’s couch, Cruise became more associated with being a weird person than an actor. One of the first Cruise films to be caught in the crossfire would be Mission: Impossible III. The film was well-reviewed and did make a profit, but it was less successful at the box-office than both of its predecessors. However any concern that the franchise was on its way out was alleviated when the fourth entry, Ghost Protocol, opened in 2011 to high box-office and unanimous praise. Four years later and the series has returned yet again with Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation, which has likewise opened to praise and financial success.

After an action-packed prelude, IMF (Impossible Mission Force) secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) finds himself attacked by a mysterious spy organization known as The Syndicate. He soon learns the group is made up of highly trained individuals who are using their skills to bring down governments and cause chaos. Naturally, Hunt must stop them, but this is complicated by the fact that the IMF has recently been disavowed by CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) and Hunt has been made a fugitive. He does however find allies in his fight; including Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Luther (Ving Rhames). There’s also a mysterious femme fatale (Rebecca Ferguson) who is working with the Syndicate, but may or may not actually be an ally.

As the plot for Rogue Nation began to take shape, I could feel myself becoming disappointed. Yet again we have a story of Hunt and his allies being disavowed by their own organization and having to hunt down the villain on their own while clearing their name. That plot element has been used in literally every Mission: Impossible film except the second one. Rogue Nation is not above ripping off the second film though, as it borrows the “former secret agent turned villain” angle. These kind of storylines should be exceptions, not the formula for the series. The villain himself is incredibly generic and boring, with Sean Harris giving an uninspired performance. It doesn’t help that the character just seems stupid given how many times he trusts a character he clearly shouldn’t. In fact, the whole Syndicate is pretty flawed. The actual goals of the group are hazy at best, but the idea of a bunch of rogue agents setting their own missions and causing chaos struck me as very similar to Silva’s organization in Skyfall. In short, almost all of the story ideas seem stitched together from other works.

Getting past the plot, there is a lot to like about Rogue Nation. For starters, this is probably the most serious film since the original. There’s a darker edge to a lot of the violence on display and the performances seem more intense this time around. Whereas III felt a bit too overly clever and Ghost Protocol played more in the realm of cartoony fun, Rogue Nation takes itself more seriously. This also shows in the film’s depiction of spy craft, which features a lot more sneaking and espionage than we’ve seen since the first film, along with less emphasis on the gadgets. Don’t get me wrong, the series hasn’t suddenly become John le Carre, or even Robert Ludlum. At the end of the day, Rogue Nation is still a big budget blockbuster mostly concerned with spectacle, but it takes its world a little bit more seriously and I appreciated that.

The Mission: Impossible series has always been known for its set-pieces, and the fourth film brought that to a new level with the scale of the Dubai tower climbing scene. I don’t know if anything in Rogue Nation over tops this, but they sure do try. The film opens on the scene of Cruise hanging off the side of the plane, and there’s also a pretty riveting sequence where Cruise dives from several feet, later holding his breath for several minutes at a time. The smaller action sequences also work quite well. The highlight is an extended opera sequence which has some stalking, some fighting, and some shooting between multiple characters while the audience only has limited information. There’s also a pretty sweet car chase which transitions into an awesome bike chase. The film’s climax is pretty low-key by comparison, but it works pretty well.

The film is directed by Christopher McQuarrie and he does a pretty good job here. He certainly knows how to put together some great action scenes and I think he’s largely responsible for giving this film its teeth. That said, I was a little disappointed in some of his choices, namely his lack of effort to give the film a unique voice within the series. Part of what made the earlier entries in the series interesting is how they allowed each director express themselves. Brian De Palma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams each made very different movies tonally, which was fun to see and helped hide how repetitive the scripts were. However it seems the studio liked what Abrams did with III a little too much and every subsequent film has basically just mimicked that aesthetic. This is unfortunate for two reasons. First, the insistence on maintaining one aesthetic is not nearly as interesting as shaking things up. Second, Abrams’ take on the material was easily the least stylistically exciting. If they were going to maintain one director’s style, I wish it had been De Palma’s.

Coming out of Rogue Nation, I really wanted to embrace the film more fully. The movie does commit more to a harder edge and I did enjoy the action quite a bit. It’s also a well-paced and very exciting film. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t look completely past the uninspired script, poor villain, and lack of stylistic innovation. As far as summer entertainment goes, this is one of the better options out there. It’s flashy, fun, and it will deliver the thrills its audience wants, just don’t expect the film to sit with you long after you leave the theater.

B

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