Mission: Impossible– Rogue Nation

Without spoiling anything, if you want to catch this scene, make sure you aren't late to the theater.
Without spoiling too much, if you want to catch this scene, make sure you aren’t late to the theater.

The ‘Mission: Impossible’ series has been going since 1996; although ‘Rogue Nation,’ is only the fifth entry due to the fact that the films in the series are spaced out by a minimum of four years. After 2011’s ‘Ghost Protocol,’ (directed by the awesome Brad Bird, the mixed reception of ‘Tomorrowland,’ not withstanding) gave the franchise some much needed invigoration, I found myself excited for ‘Rogue Nation,’ while also bracing for the reality that it might fall short compared to its predecessor (if for no other reason than this film’s director, Christopher McQuarrie, while a decent writer, has yet to prove himself in the director’s chair). I was not wrong.

Roger Ebert once described 1983’s ‘Sudden Impact’ as a Dirty Harry movie with only the good parts left in. That came to mind as I watched ‘Rogue Nation,’ which I want to describe as a ‘Mission Impossible’ movie with only the expected parts left in. All the required tropes are hit: exciting stunts, exotic locations, Tom Cruise nearly losing his life, double crosses, those impossible masks, bad guys who are supposedly trained professionals but somehow can’t hit a man running down a corridor only a few feet away from them, a teased loved interest, and some bureaucratic meta-commentary thrown in for good measure. There’s really nothing here we haven’t seen before; and the film seems to be aware of this, as it takes us from beat to beat without a lot of downtime in between, not making us wait for things we know are coming. Admittedly, this does mildly hurt the pacing; but in all honesty, I was fine with it overall– I’d rather there not be too much lag in action pictures.

I can say with certainty that I liked the action for the most part. The opening airplane tease is good spectacle, enhanced by the knowledge that it was a real stunt and not blue-screened or otherwise artificial. There is also a rather extended scene involving an assassination that takes place during an opera and is quite artful in its execution, with the background music and fight-choreography making it look like a suspenseful dance of sorts. In addition, we get an underwater set piece that creates some genuine tension for the audience, although it is somewhat undermined by the knowledge that Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt can’t die in his own franchise. Lastly, there is a well shot, objectively thrilling motorcycle/car chase that is the closest this film has to a main set piece. It only seems slightly under powered due to the fact that this summer’s ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ raised the bar on cinematic vehicular action rather significantly.

I can also say that I liked the established characters returning from previous films. Simon Pegg is always a joy to see on screen, and Jeremy Renner continues to affirm that he is one of the better supporting characters in action films made today. Additionally, I was quite impressed by the new female lead played by Rebecca Ferguson. She was capable yet sensitive, which is a nice touch. Even Alec Baldwin has an entertaining part. More broadly, I was invested in the overall story; and I think most viewers won’t lose interest in what is going on in the film.

In short, I did enjoy this movie, and I’d call it an overall success and a definite bright spot in the summer of 2015*. That being said, I do have some issues with it; namely that certain parts of ‘Rogue Nation’ are either really excessive or really underwhelming.

In terms of the plot, I understand that double crosses and betrayal and double agents are established aspects of most spy pictures, but this one gets very carried away with all of its lying and double identities, to the point where it A) makes it hard to follow what the characters are doing; and B) makes the audience stop being surprised by twists and instead just sort of wait for the next time they will happen. Put another way, it made the movie unnecessarily convoluted, oddly predictable, and a little too long, in my opinion. It doesn’t help that ‘Ghost Protocol’ was appealing partly because it was much more streamlined and didn’t rely so much on these “gotcha” moments.

Another area where this film suffers in comparison to ‘Ghost Protocol’ is that, while ‘Rogue Nation’s action is fine, there’s no real, singular set piece that is memorable, original, and critical to the picture the way the scaling of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai from the last film was. That scene really made ‘Ghost Protocol’ iconic. By comparison, I was engaged, but not really captivated by the action in ‘Rogue Nation,’ and I’m not sure any of its scenes would wind up on a list of best ‘Mission Impossible’ moments.

I’ve also had it with this series using defected ex-agents of various intelligence/espionage organizations as its villains. This trope has been done to death, and has more than earned its status as unoriginal in the modern age of spy pictures as a whole, and this franchise in particular. It doesn’t help that the villain this time around is pretty forgettable anyways– if he were better written and more developed we might forgive how cliched he is.  Should we get any more ‘Mission Impossible’ sequels, it’ll be to their benefit to find some other group of people to be antagonists.

But truth be told, this might very well be the last one, at least in terms of Cruise’s involvement. He is admittedly the youngest looking 53-year-old I have ever seen, but he is still nearing the end of the era in which he can pull off the lead in action films. Here’s a thought, why not make Cruise’s character the villain next time, as–you guessed it– a defected ex-IMF agent!? Then he could go out in style, and we could continue with whoever the hero in that film would be.

Or not–it’ll probably just get rebooted, because that has become the go-to option for Hollywood Studios.

Despite my problems with the film, it really was pleasing and engaging. As far as spy pictures go, it won’t blow your mind or even impress you the way ‘Ghost Protocol,’ did in 2011, but this film still displays an above average level of competence, and it makes for a fun Friday or Saturday night at the movies. And if this really is the final ‘Mission Impossible’ film, well, I guess that, as a would-be final entry in a major franchise, you could do a lot worse than this.

So go see it; in all truth, you’ll have a good time at the movies with this one.

*My current best-to-worst ranking of the summer films (that I’ve seen) of 2015: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road,’ ‘Jurassic World,’ ‘Inside Out,’ ‘Rogue Nation,’ ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron,’ ‘Ant-Man,’ ‘Terminator Genisys,’ ‘Ted 2.’

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