The Mission Impossible franchise has always had something to prove. The first film was an action movie based on a television series from 30 years prior, striving to find it’s own footing amidst an established mythology. The second was a follow-up to what was a surprise hit and had to sustain that momentum. The third had to win back the legitimacy…that was lost by the second, and the fourth had to usher in a whole new cast of teammates for Ethan Hunt to ignore while he goes on a superjog.
This couldn’t be more appropriate as every Mission Impossible film starts with Ethan Hunt being disavowed and forced to prove his innocence or his worth. Of course, this won’t ever change. The series will be damned to prove itself again and again to viewers who constantly say “Yeah the last one was good, but there’s no way this one will be worthwhile”. Mission Impossible has never been the belle of the ball and that’s what’s always forced it to try to look its best.
Fighting against impossible odds can either make or break a film. Naturally, this is what’s pushed Rogue Nation to be one of my favourite films of the year so far. Right off the bat, Rogue Nation impresses with one of it’s more incredible set pieces. Much like spy-sister James Bond, the scene takes place as sort of a mini mission, showing the spy team at the end of an escapade. The impressive part is the particular stunt at the centre of the piece. With minutes to spare before the plane takes off, Ethan tries his damnedest to catch it.
Of course, while everyday human beings do this by driving a little bit over the speed limit, Ethan decides to run alongside the plane, up a hill, jump onto the wing and then cling onto the side door as it reclines into the air. The scene absolutely sets the tone for the rest of the film, embracing the close calls and sheer dumb luck that’s made the franchise work so far. The shot that’s positioned from the side of the plane is particularly effective as you get the sense of how quickly the ground gets farther and farther away from Ethan’s feet. Not to mention the scene is 100% real.
It’s a testament to how good this film is that the next few paragraphs aren’t just a summary of how the movie fell off from there. The story is, Ethan Hunt has become obsessed with the idea of an evil organization consisting of ex-operatives who are either presumed or pronounced dead. Now before you get too excited I should preface this by saying, this is not the film where Tom Cruise fights zombie spies. This evil organization is known as the Syndicate, and it functions, as Simon Pegg’s Benjy so eloquently puts it, as an anti-IMF. As if that wasn’t bad enough, CIA director Alec Baldwin uses the IMF’s reckless methodology as impetus for the groups most recent dis-assembly. Now the group is against a seemingly unbeatable opponent while being cut off from their best resources, just like the last time.
‘Rogue Nation’ actually acts somewhat as a parody of Mission Impossible. Everything that the series is known for is exaggerated to such a degree, that with a lesser script it would be tantamount to ridicule. Then again, the series has never been grounded in reality, but this movie takes that concept and runs with it. Typically, this would be the point where I tell you the movie will require you to suspend your disbelief, but that’s probably where ‘Rogue Nation’ shines. The way the action scenes are constructed and shot has a sense of realism about it.
This is in no doubt helped by the fact that Tom Cruise does his own stunt work, but that wouldn’t really mean much if there wasn’t anything worth watching. There are vehicular stunts that look like at least 4 cars were destroyed before the scene was finished shooting. This type of grit is something that most films try to achieve but fail at. When Vin Deisel revs his supercar from one skyscraper into the next, it’s a fun visual, but it doesn’t compare to the sense of danger and tension that the stunts in this film accomplish with great fervour.
Aside from the action, Rogue Nation actually makes for a pretty great comedy. Action and comedy usually combine one of two ways. They’ll either have cheesy one-liners and are funny because of how seriously they take their ridiculous situations, like Fast and Furious, or, they’ll make fun of those situations, like 21 Jump Street. Rogue Nation falls somewhere squarely in the middle. On the one hand, you’ll have an intense action scene with a few jokes written in, whether they be from dialogue or just a clever visual gag. Then you’ll have legitimate banter that plays like it was from a well-trained improvisation duo.
Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg pair up for the first half of that equation. Pegg masterfully provides comic relief that doesn’t detach from the drama of the scene, which tends to be the case with such moments in lesser films. You get the sense that he’s making these jokes as a way to cope, preventing a nervous breakdown, rather than out of apathy for the destruction and mayhem.
The other side of that coin is with Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt. His scenes with Alec Baldwin were a particular highlight for me. Essentially, with Ethan Hunt on the run, Brandt has to be evasive with any inquiry as to his whereabouts. As dry as that might sound, Renner’s timing, as well as his delivery, is impeccable. I liked the way these scenes were able to keep the ball rolling, rather than feeling like the plot-heavy breaks from action that they were.
Perhaps that’s what makes ‘Rogue Nation’ work so well, presenting things that are accepted as a run of the mill as new and interesting takes. Renner should be especially commended on his performance though. Not just because he was able to go toe to toe with Alec Baldwin and Ving Rhames, but also because his work on the film was apparently hindered by a lack of information about the script. Which on second thought, fits his character’s position in the film so perhaps Christopher McQuarrie is just a mad genius.
Performance wise new additions to the cast include Rebecca Furgeson and Sean Harris. Ferguson plays the British equivalent to Ethan Hunt. I liked her performance because it elevated her as a cut above the typical femme fatale that is a tired trope of the spy genre. She was able to convince of more than just her character’s ability but also brought a sense of humanity to her role as a spy. On the flip side of that, Harris plays an amalgamation of bond villains past.
He wears black turtlenecks, outstanding suits and speaks in a quiet calculated tone. It’s effective, in that his performance makes you more uncomfortable than the theatre seat you’re already in, but there’s nothing particularly new being brought to the table. Then again there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The best scenes involving Harris are when he and Ethan are spouting over the top lines about how they’re going to be the end of each other. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that he wears so many turtlenecks since he looks like human-turtle hybrid.
Mission Impossible Rogue Nation has a few problems, mainly the fact that the plot to end the world is kind of stupid, but then again I’ve never thought the series with a group called the “Impossible Missions Force” was the pinnacle of smart and subtle cinema. It’s impressive for a film to run at 2 hours and 11 minutes and still feel as brisk as it does. Granted, there is a moment where the runtime is felt but then the movie waves it’s hands and puts something shiny in your face so you stop looking at your watch. Not for nothing but, some of the shots are just beautiful. Yes, scenes like the opening plane mission are breathtaking, but there are moments when McQuarrie picturesquely presents the shots of even the smallest moments. The camera lingers for just a moment longer than you expect just because, well, it’s damn pretty to look at. The music in this film was also infinitely impressive and has some of the best use of a score with a film in recent memory. The score isn’t one that you’re going to sit and listen to on its own like a John Williams classic, but it accentuates the scenes and gives them an added sense of atmosphere. I really enjoyed this film and recommend it highly. I would say see it in the theatre simply due to the fact that it isn’t in 3D, an approach that is more than welcome especially for scenes that are already inherently dark.