Adrenaline junkies get their money's worth in the fifth installment of the long-running super spy franchise.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
The astonishing thing about Toy Story 3 [spoiler alert] is that the folks at Pixar actually convinced us, for a good 30 seconds, that Woody, Buzz, and the gang were actually going to be melted alive, turned to plasticky slush in a veritable pit of doom. The movie was made for the whole family, of course, and watching our beloved miniature friends meet such a gruesome demise is something that would never, ever happen under Disney/Pixar’s watch. And yet there we all were, clutching our armrests, tears welling up in our eyes, convinced that this was, in fact, the end.
This variety of audience manipulation has come to define the long-running Mission: Impossible franchise. Each new director and crew in charge of the series is faced with this (dare I say) impossible mission of convincing us that, this time, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt might actually die. Selling us on this idea gets more and more difficult with each film because Ethan has been dodging bullets, falling off motorcycles and hanging off of dangerously high things for almost twenty years now, and he shows no sign of slowing. It’s a tough, tough sell.
So the question is, with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, are Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie good salesman? Does M:I‘s fifth installment keep you on the edge of your seat, worrying that Hunt and his team may never see the light of day again? Impossibly (there I go again), it does. It doesn’t have the same heart or infectious humor of Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol, but it follows the same winning formula, making it one of the best thrill-rides of the summer.
Hunt and his fellow members in the Impossible Mission Force (a clunky moniker, though its abbreviation, IMF, rolls off of the tongue nicely), a government-funded espionage agency, face an evil they’ve never known in The Syndicate, an international terrorist group whose primary objective is to obliterate the IMF. Taking The Syndicate down head-on proves to be a stiff challenge for Hunt and company when a meddling CIA director (Alec Baldwin) convinces the government to dissolve IMF, forcing Hunt into hiding as he plots his next move.
Left wasting their days away behind desks at the CIA are the straight-laced William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and the klutzy, tech-savvy Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, whose comedic timing makes him an invaluable member of the ensemble), but before long Ethan reaches out to them to help him smoke out The Syndicate. Series veteran Ving Rhames rejoins the team on their mission while series newcomer Rebecca Ferguson dips and twirls around the movie as a deadly double-agent.
Where the movie gives you your money’s worth is in its elaborately staged stunt sequences, all of which are heart-stopping. The movie opens with a shot of Cruise dangling off of the side of an airplane as it lifts off; it was all done for real, with practical effects, and with it Cruise further solidifies his status as the craziest, Evel Knievel MF’er in Hollywood, hands down. To say it’s spectacular is an understatement. But not to be outdone are the handful of other, equally impressive action scenes, which all feel equally distinct and indispensable. A showstopping set piece sees Hunt holding his breath for upwards of two minutes as he infiltrates a futuristic underwater storage unit, while a more intimate moment later in the movie sees Ferguson’s character facing off with a giant thug in a tense nocturnal knife fight. The best of the bunch is a wonderfully orchestrated assassination sequence set in an opera house, paying homage to Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.
These mini-opuses of spy-thriller fun are so well crafted and suspenseful that we do, as I said, genuinely fear for the characters’ lives. But that fear only comes from the baseline fact that we fear for them as human beings; as characters, none of them are so endearing or lovable that we harbor a deep emotional connection. That’s Rogue Nations‘s biggest shortcoming: while the characters say witty things and obviously care for one another, we don’t get to learn much about them on a personal, hopes-and-fears level, outside their world of globe-trotting, car-chasing and evil plan-thwarting.
McQuarrie continues the theme of teamwork-over-tech launched by Bird in Ghost Protocol, though Bird frankly did it better. Again, when the imaginative gadgets and do-dads fail our heroes, they must rely on each other to save their skins. It’s this human element that made Bird’s movie so great, and while it’s still very much at the core of Rogue Nation, the message feels dampened. This is mostly due to the movie’s almost fetishistic fascination with strange-looking spy things; from a sniper rifle disguised as a brass instrument to USB drives disguised as lipstick (that one’s not even that clever), McQuarrie just can’t help but show them off. Best to leave the gadget porn to 007.
Rogue Nation isn’t the best M:I yet, but it’s easily third on the list, if not second (it’s about as good as J.J. Abrams’ M:I3). Cruise is still a nutjob, we still love watching things blow up in glorious global locales, and the cast has never been better, so why not keep the series going? As far as Hollywood cash-cow franchises go, Mission: Impossible is one I’m always happy to see pop back up at the theater. Now, the real question: What the hell are we going to dangle Tom off of next? My vote? Millennium Falcon. Crossover of the ages, right guys?! Guys?