Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Contains spoilers.

The Mission Impossible series started off Tom Cruise as a realistic spy. Every mission since then has basically fallen apart and resulted in extensive action. Now the series is basically a collection of action and spy clichés, namely that it isn't about espionage in any way.

Tom Cruise reprises his role as Ethan Hunt, a super spy and government field agent and actor and expert car driver and skilled diver for the Impossible Mission Force. And right off the bat, a mission's already falling apart. He's having to salvage a mess by jumping onto a moving plane and then holding on with his bare hands as it lifts off the runway... then Benji (Simon Pegg) hacks the systems and opens a door for Ethan, so he can jettison a crate of nukes from the Chechen rebels. Then he goes back to base and discovers three things: first, the Syndicate, a group inciting terror in Western countries (an "anti-IMF," as Benji puts it), is real; secondly, the IMF has been infiltrated; thirdly, he's trapped with poison gas of some kind. He wakes up tied to a post and on the verge of being interrogated. Thanks to Ilsa Faust, (Rebecca Ferguson) who is undercover and basically a female Ethan Hunt, he gets away without much difficulty. And although the IMF has been officially dissolved (which definitely didn't happen in the last movie in any capacity) he teams up with Benji, Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Luther (Ving Rhames), and sometimes Ilsa to systematically end the Syndicate.

In no way is this related at all to James Bond's missions, which involve a mysterious and evil organization called SPECTRE, or to the troubles of Marvel's SHIELD, which combats a super-powered, espionage group called HYDRA. The Syndicate is completely unique in the world of clandestine groups. They don't operate in multiple countries, they don't create mayhem that looks like simple [if tragic] accidents, they don't turn secret agents against their former governments, they don't assassinate heads of state, they don't abduct people and make life hell for the good guys, they don't employ ultra-high-tech gadgets or dress in primarily black, utility clothes and turtlenecks, and they don't have a master plan that's been thought out by a certifiable, evil genius. Just kidding, the Syndicate is exactly like that. And in similar fashion to every other mission, they seem to take personal issue with the IMF.

...it never really feels like [Ethan's] in danger, he always wins.

The story itself is nothing special, more modern cleverness that sews together the action scenes. And since this is an action movie the story isn't all that important, even though some of the logic and twists are interesting, and the love story (even though Ethan Hunt has a boo) has a fun dynamic. Instead, in what seems like a more and more common occurrence in big-budget action films, it's almost obvious that the exotic action sequences were pinned down before the story itself, a fact which McQuarrie even attested to. The desert motorcycle chase could happen in Southern California or Arizona as easily as Morocco; the opera scene could be in Washington D.C. or Sydney as easily as Vienna. The locations don't even matter, they just serve to change up the backgrounds from one color to another, because why have a $150 million budget if you're not going to go to multiple countries to use it?

Despite the needlessly complex story, there's an obvious air of subtext in McQuarrie's plot development. He includes a scene surrounding and steeped in a performance of the opera Turandot in Vienna, which is about love and outsmarting that love. It reflects, in a way, the adversarial, cunning, and respectful relationship between Ethan and Ilsa. But you'd really only know that if you googled "Turandot" so the subtext is fairly lost between fights, one of which occurs backstage, during the opera.

But again, this is an action movie, so the subtext doesn't matter either. You're here to see Ethan Hunt dangle off the side of an airplane, drive away from explosions, hold his breath for half an hour, and survive all the world's assassins. And you'll get that. In fact, it's almost refreshing to see a secret agent that doesn't switch between guns and other guns to deal with the bad guys, but it can also be annoying to never really be kept in suspense because it never really feels like he's in danger, he always wins.

Ethan deals with henchmen through a combination of wit and guile, not always with his fists. As opposed to kicking, punching, and then picking up a gun, Ethan slides a car around and uses distractions to take out enemies, very rarely using guns and only occasionally using martial arts. McQuarrie tries desperately to keep us in suspense, but Ethan is so swell at escaping danger that it never quite crosses the threshold from exciting to thrilling. Even when he's literally drowning and we see him floating lifelessly it can't be the end, it feels more wrong than suspenseful.

But I suppose that's what we came for, to see Ethan defy death by dying, being saved, and then kicking ass immediately afterward. While the story may be purposely confusing and the suspense lackluster, the action itself is fast-paced, unrelentingly so. The whole movie is like a third-act, climactic action scene, but a 130 minute one. Even the opening scenes have action. There's word action between Brandt and the CIA, there's running action in London, there's explosive action and motorcycle action. There's even opera action. Every kind of action is here. They even managed to throw in a knife fight and a car duel and a car bomb and snipers. Even Benji fights!

There may be endless cliches and the villain may be meek and forgettable (I honestly forgot his name for a while after the end, mostly just remembering a black turtleneck) and a lot of what I have to say seems negative, but this is a pure action movie. The drama isn't real in any way and Tom Cruise is a hero. The action is fast-paced and drags you into the movie in a primal way, regardless of the confusing story.

 

Adrenaline is the key here. McQuarrie gets it going and every time things seem to be slowing down to let us and the characters breathe it jumpstarts and speeds back up again. The soundtrack is reminiscently Mission Impossible, the spydom has it's fun gadgets, the photography is cut nicely, and more important than anything, in the end, Rogue Nation is entertaining. It can be annoying to see someone run in a straight line and still have dozens of shots miss but it's pure fun to see Ethan team up with the female version of himself to kick ass.

TL;DR: I changed the rating scale to curve towards action because this isn't a spy movie. It doesn't give a shit about the story, it's a country hopping action puzzle: the most important thing is being action packed and having the puzzle pieces fit together and really just showing that Tom Cruise is awesome and can kick butt the same way that James Bond and Jason Bourne and Jack Ryan can. But his name is way better: Ethan Hunt. The action's packed in there, and the plot is legible sometimes, but who cares? There's action.

  • Acting – 17 / 20
  • Story – 3 / 10
  • Cinematography – 7 / 10
  • Soundtrack – 8 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 8 / 10
  • Action – 21 / 30
  • Other – 0 / 10
 

Grade D = 64 / 100