Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

Review Date: 08/03/2015

Rating: 3/5 Peanuts.

In a Nutshell:

Though clearly the Mission: Impossible franchise has given up on creating clever plot-driven spy thrillers, the film fully delivers in the insane action sequence department, ensuring yet more installments until Tom Cruise’s body gives out – which may never happen given his current rate of aging.

Full Review:

My last review was Sherlock Holmes, the first film in a multi-film franchise that I’ve reviewed so far. I have every intention of writing a follow-on review for the second outing with the great detective, which made me at least momentarily consider going on a Mission Impossible viewing / review spree in anticipation of Rogue Nation’s debut this weekend. Then I came to my senses, so I’ll summarize (from memory rather than being fresh) as follows: There’s the pretty solid original, the sequel that should have killed the franchise, the one everyone forgets and the one that was surprisingly good. Now, with Rogue Nation delivering enough adrenaline to audiences for Tom Cruise to create his own clan of shiny and chrome War Boys, the franchise seems to have finally found itself.

Indeed, with Ghost Protocol (the 4th for those keeping score) we witnessed something rather remarkable: a soft reboot. Stylistically, the cinematography felt tonally appropriate, the pacing struck the right balance between action and plot development, the characters felt if not authentic then at least appropriate, and the threat was the right mix of realistic (harkening back to Mission Impossible I) and ridiculous (Mission Impossible II). Rogue Nation picks up where Ghost Protocol left off. It does what a good sequel should do: it feels like you never stopped watching the predecessor while simultaneously mostly eschewing reliance on what came before. I actually had to look up who directed installments 4 & 5, and was surprised to find they were two individuals rather than the same guy, which to me is the mark of a good transition. While I’m not sure the Mission Impossible franchise will ever reach James Bond or Fast & Furious status in terms of churning out sequels – the films are probably too inextricably linked to Cruise to accomplish that – I think they can at least churn out as many as Tom Cruise is willing and able to make from here on out.

But enough about Mission Impossible the franchise, let’s talk about Mission Impossible Rogue Nation. As I said before, the film’s tone closely resembles Ghost Protocol, with a slick, sexy feel where everything is infused with just a hint of danger and intrigue. Indeed, between the pacing – which expertly moves the audience through a progression of incredible action set pieces – and the serviceable plot – an “anti-IMF” out to… kill a bunch of people I guess – the audience is allowed to turn off our brains and come along for the ride. This isn’t Mission Impossible I with a twisting, turning plot keeping you guessing, but it also isn’t Mission Impossible II which pretends you’re too stupid to notice how few fucks were given in the making of that film.

Having seen a few behind the scenes featurettes, I have to give the filmmakers, and especially Cruise, all the credit in the world for the stunt work. In 2011, Cruise wowed audiences by hanging off the side of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. As if to one up himself, Cruise opens Rogue Nation by dangling off the side of an airplane. Just stop and think for a moment about how insane that is. They literally strapped Tom Cruise, one of the most famous, most expensive and most bankable stars in Hollywood onto the side of an airplane at the ripe old age of 52 and took off into the air not once, not twice, but six goddamn times just to film a cold opening. That’s nothing if not dedication to fans, and proves to me that no matter how crazy he may or may not be in his personal life, I have to respect how much of himself Cruise throws into his movies.

So if the plot’s ok and the action’s great, what else is there to talk about? Well obviously the cast does a great job, from Tom Cruise giving you everything you’ve come to expect from Tom Cruise to Simon Pegg throwing out one-liners for the audience to greedily snatch up like a T-Shirt Cannon at a football game, to surprisingly satisfying performances from an overly bureaucratic Alec Baldwin and a play by the rules Jeremy Renner, who can’t ever seem to decide if he wants to be the M or the 006 to use a Bond analogy. And of course honorable mentions to Rebecca Ferguson and Ving Rhames who round out the cast in an enjoyably forgettable sort of way.

But a film is only as good as its villain, and in this Rogue Nation delivers in spades. Sean Harris (who I finally recognized half way through the movie as Micheletto from The Borgias) plays the antagonist Solomon Lane with such understated menace that I found myself thoroughly captivated whenever he was on screen. Always dressed in blacks, Harris cuts an imposing figure, and his performance is one of a rageful, skillful cold blooded killer barely restrained behind his posh and immaculate grooming. The way the other actors play off his performance fully sells it too, and I found myself remembering the impact of Tom Hardy’s Bane, a force of nature hidden behind a mask.

So why 3/5 Peanuts? Mostly because action alone isn’t enough. Though there were no obvious plot holes in the first viewing, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone pointed a few out to me. And while the acting was serviceable, there were no stand outs aside from Harris who is barely present. While there was comedy from Pegg, it wasn’t a “funny” film, and while I felt there were real stakes I also never doubted Cruise would accomplish his mission, which didn’t even feel impossible in this go round. This movie played it down the middle, and while they set themselves up beautifully, it ultimately is an enjoyably forgettable instalment in an (until recently) inconsistent series.