Worth A Look: 50%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 8.33%
4 reviews, 12 user ratings
|Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation
by Brett Gallman
When â€śMission: Impossibleâ€”Rogue Nationâ€ť opens with Tom Cruise clinging to a plane as it lifts off, itâ€™s staggering on multiple levels.The first is obvious: you almost canâ€™t believe that Cruise is still willing to do something this insane, though it also shouldnâ€™t be that much of a surpriseâ€”after all, this is what he does, and his boundless enthusiasm for performing crazy stunts in the name of entertainment is now legendary. Itâ€™s certainly become part of the appeal of this franchise for nearly two decades now. But whatâ€™s even more staggering about this particular gambit is that it comes so early: as you watch the plane ascend even higher, coaxing your mouth agape in awe, you also wonder just how much crazier â€śRogue Nationâ€ť is going to get. I mean, where do you even go from here?
"In which Tom Cruise renews his commitment to doing anything to entertain."
Writer/director Christopher McQuarrieâ€™s answer is refreshing: you canâ€™t really go bigger than this, nor do you attempt to outdo the high-wire grandeur of â€śGhost Protocol,â€ť where Cruise literally dangled off the worldâ€™s tallest building. Rather, you strip this franchise down to its spy movie essence by tangling the audience in a web of genuine intrigue. You raise the personal stakes even higher than before: if the previous film had the IMF disavowed, then this one has a CIA head (Alec Baldwin) lobbying to shut it down right in the middle of Ethan Huntâ€™s ongoing investigation into The Syndicate, a global shadow organization thatâ€™s been orchestrating chaos for years. After that opening sequence, you can feel McQuarrie bringing â€śMission: Impossibleâ€ť back down to earth.
By grounding the film, McQuarrie finds himself in the same position as Hunt and his ramshackle IMF crew. Now labelled a fugitive of the law, Hunt has to piece together scraps of information and feed it to what remains of his team, as both Benji (Simon Pegg) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) find themselves practically strapped behind desks back in Washington. For much of the early-going, Hunt is without his typical resources: gone are the fantasyland gadgets and ludicrous technology. At one point, he has to communicate via coded snail mail.
Without the usual touchstones to lean on, McQuarrie adopts a similarly scrappy approach by crafting a deliberate but absorbing story, one that unfolds in small pieces as Hunt connects sparse dots that begin to form a labyrinthine conspiracy. Where this filmâ€™s immediate predecessors were largely preoccupied with having Hunt chase a Macguffin from one exotic locale to the next, this one has him hunting down virtual ghosts and untangling layers of deceit he isnâ€™t sure even exist. Despite the potential world-breaking stakes, itâ€™s a low-key rummaging through a digital paper trail. The previous movie had Hunt shutting down a nuke mid-air; this one has him sifting through white noise and an air of possible deception to recover a flash drive.
Combating this as someone who has suddenly become akin to an analog watch in a digital world, Hunt treks the globe to infiltrate assassination schemes and stage elaborate heists with limited resources. His by-the-skin-of-the-teeth methods are matched by McQuarrieâ€™s practical, hands-on craftsmanship: â€śRogue Nationâ€ť may be a journey through ones and zeros, but its conception is anything but a mass of weightless pixels. Each sequenceâ€”including the incredible opener with the planeâ€”has an appreciable, real-world heft that feels all too rare lately (hell, we have a movie this summer thatâ€™s literally titled â€śPixelsâ€ť).
Each sceneâ€”whether it be a chaotic motorcycle chase through Morocco or a slow-building confrontation in a Vienna opera houseâ€”is realized with such clarity and precision that we must consider McQuarrie to be one of our great American action filmmakers. You donâ€™t sense that heâ€™s merely assembled these sequences from mounds of coverage footageâ€”they actually feel, you know, directed rather than stitched together haphazardly. High-speed, adrenaline-charged scenes feel every bit as measured as the more deliberate, simmering scenes.
Itâ€™s the latter that especially benefit from McQuarrieâ€™s knack for pacing. Not since Brian De Palmaâ€™s original has the â€śMission: Impossibleâ€ť series embraced the inherent suspense of the spy genre. While previous sequels have occasionally employed it as a means to an end, â€śRogue Nationâ€ť consistently nudges its audience to the edge of its seat with impeccably designed sequences. One particularly breathless one tasks Hunt with holding his breath for over three minutes in order to hack a security system, but when even his ragtag crewâ€™s best laid plan goes awry, it leaves you wondering just how in the hell theyâ€™ll survive this time. Or, as I muttered under my breath, â€śoh shit.â€ť Between this and the crackerjack timing of an opera assassination sequence, â€śRogue Nationâ€ť generates so much suspense that it genuinely has you wondering if Tom Cruise is going overcome impossible odds. Thatâ€™s more impressive than thousands of special effects shots.
Of course, McQuarrie and company almost seem aware of how impossible that is. So much of â€śRogue Nationâ€ť feels designed to stretch Ethan Hunt (and, by proxy, Cruise) to his limits, to bury him in a hole and question his relevance before having him claw out. It almost feels like this franchiseâ€™s echo of â€śSkyfall,â€ť only itâ€™s not as dour or ponderous, and its answer doesnâ€™t resort to call-backs or nostalgia to confirm what weâ€™ve already known for 20 years now: Ethan Huntâ€”and Tom Cruiseâ€”rules.
What it further supposes after all of these years is that he is not only faster, stronger, and cooler than youâ€”heâ€™s also much smarter, as â€śRogue Nationâ€ť has Ethan Hunt often relying on his wits as much as his physical prowess. It turns out that heâ€™s Jigsaw from the â€śSawâ€ť series but without the homicidal tendencies: an incredible mastermind who can will any situation into going the way he wants it to, even if he can only talk his way into it.
Nothing encapsulates this filmâ€™s willingness to engage beyond a physical level than its delicate, cerebral climax. When was the last time a summer blockbusterâ€™s most intense and rousing moments came during conversations? You can almost feel McQuarrie throwing down a gauntlet and embarrassing any movie that dares to impress with empty spectacleâ€”who needs any of that when you have an immaculately crafted screenplay built upon strong character work and breathless pacing? Sometimes, the best spectacle is assured craftsmanship.
Granted, McQuarrie is helped tremendously by a franchise that is hitting its stride in terms of characters and chemistry. Thereâ€™s a real â€śthe gangâ€™s all hereâ€ť vibe to â€śRouge Nation,â€ť which finally pairs Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) with the crew thatâ€™s assembled over the past two films. You like these guys, and McQuarrie preys on that by consistently placing them in peril and even teasing the possibility that Brandt may assume the position as IMFâ€™s latest turncoat. Again, in a film where the fate of the world hangs in the balance, McQuarrie takes the time to suppose that these fractured relationships would be just as devastating.
He especially plays a long con with the introduction of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a shifty agent who may or may not be working on behalf of the filmâ€™s villain, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, continuing the franchiseâ€™s recurring difficulty with developing memorable villains outside of Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Strutting into the film with icy, penetrating eyes and a coy expression, Ferguson has an elusive, alluring presence thatâ€™s shaded by the faint hint of regret and uncertainty. When she proves to be as badassâ€”if not more badassâ€”than Ethan Hunt, itâ€™s exciting that the likes of Black Widow and Furiosa have company, but itâ€™s even more exciting that sheâ€™s eventually tasked with carrying the film in a different capacity than Cruise himself.
Where Cruise has always played Hunt with a sort of blankness that makes him an avatar analogous to James Bond (even during â€śMission: Impossible 3,â€ť a film designed to give him depth), Fergusonâ€™s Isla is fascinating because she resists (and perhaps loathes) a system that tasks its agents with morally compromising tasks. If â€śRogue Nationâ€ť is about anything other than reconfirming Tom Cruiseâ€™s greatness, itâ€™s found in Isla, the sort of vaguely wounded but righteous soul at its center, there to question the insanity unfolding around her and suggest that even Ethan Hunt doesnâ€™t need to keep trying to kill himself to save the world. In exploring Ilsaâ€™s humanity, McQuarrie also continues to ground Hunt, who is more compelling when heâ€™s made to look vulnerable.
What develops between the two is atypical of Hollywood romances in this sort of movieâ€”it may brush up against affection and love, but it feels mostly platonic and professional. These are two warriors who understand each other in a way only they can. They arenâ€™t lovers so much as theyâ€™re professional dance partners who eventually know each otherâ€™s moves and rhythms, and it just so happens that their stage is full of shootouts.
It comes as no surprise that â€śRogue Nationâ€ťâ€”via IMFâ€”is a metafictional confirmation of its series and star. Much like â€śSkyfall,â€ť itâ€™s an attempt to revitalize through returning to its roots while lightly treading on what espionage thrillers mean in a modern world with corrupt governments and crooked agents. Questions about the IMFâ€™s methods seem especially valid after Edward Snowden, but McQuarrie wisely doesnâ€™t get too caught up in this. I keep referring to â€śRogue Nationâ€ť as â€śgrounded,â€ť and you could even toss in â€śgrittyâ€ť as well, two terms that usually double as warning flags. However, itâ€™s never grim, nor is it glumâ€”it may be less outlandish on its surface than previous entries, but it remains just as light on its feet.
Conventionally speaking, "Rogue Nation" is not a comic book movie, yet it supposes that Ethan Hunt is the superhero we need right now: a paranoiac truther attempting to weed out a New World Order operating right under the worldâ€™s governments. By turning this sort of personâ€”who is more often seen posting memes and shady articles on Facebookâ€”into an ass-kicking avenger, Cruise proves that truly no mission is impossible for him. After five movies, I really love Ethan Huntâ€”and not just because heâ€™s an extension of Tom Cruiseâ€™s compulsive need to entertain us.You wonder how long Cruise can keep this up. Something tells me he's just as curious to find out, too, and, if "Rogue Nation" is any indication, it's going to be a journey that improves with age.
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originally posted: 07/31/15 17:51:05