WRITTEN REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris & Alec Baldwin
Music: Joe Kraemer
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: July 30th 2015

 A few years ago, no one would have seen the revival of the ‘Mission: Impossible‘ franchise coming. What started out as a TV series from 1966, then a TV revival in 1988 become a very successful film franchise in 1996. But despite strong box-office and critical reception (for the most part), many people thought the franchise had retired after 2006’s ‘Mission: Impossible III‘ in the face of diminishing box-office returns. But what a difference a single awesome, successful fourth instalment makes with ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol‘.

With the highest box-office haul of the series (and a box-office high-point for Tom Cruise), incredible critical acclaim and the industry prestige of bringing on board ‘The Iron Giant‘ and ‘The Incredibles‘ director Brad Bird for his live-action debut in the director’s chair was a perfect storm to bring back audience interest in the MI franchise. Now, riding high off that success but with ‘Jack Reacher‘ director Christopher McQuarrie brought on board, expectations are high for ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation‘. And while the mission of surpassing ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol‘ may have proven too impossible for the movie to overcome, it’s still successful in being a decent action spy blockbuster.
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Following on from a loose thread in the last movie, ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation‘ has Impossible Mission Force (IMF) agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) trying to prove the existence of “The Syndicate”; an organisation that is hell-bent on committing terrorist attacks to disrupt western industries. However, CIA director Alan Hunley (Baldwin) manages to disband the IMF due to their negligence in recent years and their reliance on pure luck, meaning that what remains of the IMF need to go off the grid and uncover The Syndicate themselves. Ethan enlists his friend Benji (Pegg) to help him and double-agent Ilsa Faust (Ferguson) track down their leader Solomon Lane (Harris) as IMF agents William Brandt (Renner) and Luther Stickell (Rhames) work undercover at the CIA to assist any way they can.

I don’t want to start this review off on a negative note because I did like the movie overall, but after ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol‘ raised the bar so much, it’s hard not to see ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation‘ as a substantial downgrade and a disappointment overall. While Christopher McQuarrie is a very accomplished action director, there’s not a single sequence in this movie that even comes close to the sheer spectacle of seeing Tom Cruise climb up the Burj Khalifa, or seeing Benji and William go into a dangerous meeting without wearing any masks and their lives depending on how well they can pull of their lies. Brad Bird’s stylistic approach, immense kinetic energy and imagination is lacking from ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation‘ even if it is still a solid action movie.
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There are numerous impressive set-pieces scattered across the film, with a lot of the spectacle coming from seeing a (possibly insane) man in his 50s do almost all of his own stunts just so the shot looks better for the audience watching it in the theatres. You can’t help but admire that level of commitment and sheer guts, especially in the sequence we’ve seen plastered all over the posters and trailers where Tom Cruise is clinging to an airplane door while it takes off. Yes, he’s attached with a harness that has been digitally removed but I sincerely doubt anyone reading this review would have been willing to do that numerous times in front of a camera no matter how safe your crew members insisted it was.

The returning ensemble cast do solid work, as is to be expected from this franchise. Tom Cruise is incredibly capable in the action sequences and oozes the effortless charm that made him a movie star in the first place. It’s business as usual for Tom Cruise and not in a bad way, but there’s nothing new here in terms of Ethan Hunt as a character. He’s always the biggest badass in the room, with the ability to pretty much immediately stand-up after any attack or injury, though it does dilute the tension as Ethan Hunt is literally invincible. He’s died TWICE in five movies and he’s coming back for a sixth. How much further can you take this character and what can Tom Cruise do with it? Not to compare this movie too much to the last installment, but part of what made that film so incredibly gripping was that the technology the IMF relied on constantly broke down. Here, the equipment works all the time and is being operated by the perfect specimen of an action star. Where’s the tension here?
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Originally, ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol‘ was going to be Tom Cruise’s last movie in the series with Jeremy Renner taking the reigns of the franchise (just like the Bourne franchise, until ‘The Bourne Legacy‘ disappointed) but now that Cruise is here to stay, Renner’s character William Brandt doesn’t have much to do. Renner is good, as is to be expected, but you get the sense that Renner isn’t happy with his character looking at computer screens and reacting to what all the other characters are doing for most of the runtime. But partnering him up with Ving Rhames is inspired and it’s good to see Rhames take a more active role for the first time since ‘Mission: Impossible III‘.

Alec Baldwin fits into this franchise very well as the director of the CIA and despite him wanting to disband the IMF, his reasons aren’t unwarranted. The IMF saving the world in the last movie was based mostly on luck with lots of property damage so while the organisation does do good, they’ve had too many close calls. It’s the type of role he can play in his sleep, but Baldwin does it well. The same can’t be said for Rebecca Ferguson as franchise newcomer Ilsa Faust whose entire role in this movie is to cause script contrivances. She starts off the movie as a double-agent wanting to betray the Syndicate, but her allegiance keeps changing over the course of the movie with no purpose or thought other than extending the movie to over two hours. If you actually keep track of who she’s working for at that moment and why she’s doing what she’s doing, the plot of the movie completely falls apart. Ferguson is okay, but it’s a thankless role with no depth.
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But after three movies, it’s clear that the franchise MVP is Simon Pegg as Benji. His character has the most range (BY FAR) with him being hapless comic relief one moment before seamlessly transitioning to a sincere and committed friend who refuses to let Ethan take on this mission alone. The sequence with him hooked up to the CIA lie-detector talking to Alec Baldwin is a highlight of the film and demonstrates Pegg’s immense range. Pegg is and has always been an incredible, underrated actor and Benji’s ability to provide exposition while also being the emotional centre of the team makes him well-rounded and I look forward to seeing him in future instalments.

As for The Syndicate, Benji describes them as an “Anti-IMF”. But ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation‘ never does anything with that concept. In fact, despite them having dangerous plans that can threaten the world, they’re actually pretty damned incompetent.

The henchmen go down like Goombas and are dumb as a brick. One member of The Syndicate is riding a motorcycle and aims his gun at Ethan Hunt who is riding a bike alongside him. However, he didn’t bother to look forward and proceeds to crash into a car. Incidentally, their aim is on par with the Stormtroopers from ‘Star Wars‘ when it comes to firearms. The muscle of the organisation is given a large build-up and even has a nickname; “The Bone Doctor”, but in his first scene he’s knocked out after a single kick from a tortured and weakened Ethan Hunt who LITERALLY had his hands tied behind his back.

And “The Bone Doctor” is meant to be the physical threat for our heroes in this movie…
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Sean Harris is the leader of The Syndicate and outside of a raspy voice, he doesn’t have much of a presence. With the exception of ‘Mission: Impossible III‘ this franchise has never had good villains but that’s not a tradition you should actively try to keep. Though this movie does get points for having the Brits be the one of the villainous groups for a change which is a nice change of pace for this franchise.

However, this franchise is known for its action set-pieces and they do impress for the most part. The movie opens with the plane sequence and nothing beats seeing it on the big screen. There’s a great car chase in Morroco which is followed by one of the best motorcycle chases in recent memory. Christopher McQuarrie did a terrific job with the car chases in ‘Jack Reacher‘ and in terms of action-chops, it’s the vehicular stunts where he truly shines, although the movie does peak with those sequences despite there being another 40 minutes of the film left as it starts to limp across the finish-line.
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There’s a memorable sequence in a grand theatre during an opera (though they do the cliché “Fight scene happens while “Nessun Dorma” plays in the background” bit. Seriously, writers, Puccini’s Turandot is NOT the only Italian opera ever written) where Ethan Hunt has to stop two assassins who are planning to kill the Austrian Chancellor…but he only has one bullet. There’s an impressive break-in that is tense…until you stop and think about it. There’s an artificial “ticking clock” incorporated into the sequence that doesn’t need to be there (why does Benji need to be sneaking in at the same time Ethan is there?) and the mechanics of the room Ethan needs to break into do not make a lick of sense. It’s a sequence that needed another draft or two in the writing department before executing.

Christopher McQuarrie does well but, as I said earlier, Brad Bird is a hard act to follow. He fits the franchise well, but you get the sense he’s on auto-pilot and his approach lacks the energy of the previous instalment and the fist-fights are underwhelming. But the stunts still look awesome and while Joe Kraemer’s score isn’t particularly noteworthy, the original Lalo Schifrin theme tune still holds up and is still awesome whenever it kicks in.
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This review is probably a bit more negative than I intended. While ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation‘ is a decent action movie, it does feel like a significant downgrade from the last two instalments and in terms of franchise rankings it’s slap-bang in the middle. The story seems to be on auto-pilot and while Tom Cruise is as committed and insane as ever, it’s hard to find tension in a movie where the main character has literally come back from the dead twice. The set-pieces are strong (though nothing tops the last instalment) and while Simon Pegg has proven to be a vital component in making these films work as well as they do, new additions such as the Syndicate are incredibly underwhelming and Rebecca Ferguson’s character is just a frustrating inclusion and exists only to be a hassle. I recommend it as a summer movie, but the franchise is starting to lose its luster and needs to shake things up next time, because this film had a “it’s good enough” mentality.

I give ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation‘ 3 stars out of 5.

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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews

Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 23rd Aug 15

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