The Mission: Impossible series is a real oddity in cinema, in that every film so far has had a different director, but remains part of the same continuity with the same main character. However, the first two films were a real mish-mash, and it took the third and fourth movies to really show what the series could be – fun, exciting action masterpieces with ridiculous plots.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation manages to bring even more excellent action while maintaining the series’ barely-credible handle on plots, and shows that Tom Cruise is still the man to beat (even at his age) for some of the best action set-pieces you’ll see. The acting isn’t very good, and the plot is a fair bit hackneyed, but it’s still a great trip to the cinema.
The film sees Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, star agent for the Impossible Mission Force (yes, that’s really what it stands for), persist in telling his superiors, including the hawkish CIA Head Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), that a “rogue nation” of former secret agents is responsible for terrorism across the globe. With geek sidekick Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and back-up from Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Hunt aims to fight the so-called Syndicate, and its creepy boss Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), as well as the enigmatic Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).
Whether you like or hate Tom Cruise, you cannot deny the man is a hero when it comes to action cinema. Over 50, he still demands to perform his own stunts, to genuinely jaw-dropping effect. In Ghost Protocol, the fourth film, he swings from the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and here he rides motorbikes at breakneck speeds, swims underwater without scuba gear and – well, if you’ve seen any trailers or posters, you’ll know what he does in his most insane stunt yet.
He’s also not too bad an actor, though the superhuman Ethan Hunt is more in league with the indestructible James Bond to be honest (what a mash-up movie that would be), so there’s not much character depth. An interesting sub-plot that sees Hunley doubt Hunt’s sanity is an interesting point not expanded on, and some references to his legendary status hint at a more retrospective film, but this is all quickly glossed over. Renner’s Brandt, who seemed to be a new permanent member of the team in the fourth film, is relegated to almost nothing here, which is a shame, and the same can be said for Rhames, who even ironically points out that he could “do this from home”.
Simon Pegg, as per usual (for me anyway), oscillates between amusing and annoying throughout – there’s only so much of his “what are you doing? You’re not doing that! You are!” nonsense I can take. Alec Baldwin is actually a great addition, as his motormouth, blustering performance befits the character’s infuriated, cynical (and jealous) CIA man, giving the viewers some genuine comic relief at times. Sean Harris as the icy British bad guy is a real disappointment – the actor is known for being incredibly intense, but here it’s like he was told to behave. I would have loved to have seen him go completely off the edge as in some of his other movies, but he’s just your standard Hollywood Brit villain to be honest.
Ferguson has a lot to do as the only woman, and follows in the footsteps of both Maggie Q (the third film) and Paula Patton (the fourth film), who seem to be ditched at the sign of a new film, even when the male characters are brought back. Thankfully, Ilsa’s motivations are more cloudy throughout, and Ferguson never once needs to play the damsel. In fact, it’s quite ironic that she’s the most interesting character, the most complex and the most dangerous when she’s the only woman – you’re never quite sure what she’ll do next, and she’s more than a match for Cruise. And, continuing a great trend from Mad Max: Fury Road, she’s absolutely not a love interest for anyone! I’d like for her to reappear in future films, so let’s hope she doesn’t join her predecessors in being ditched.
Christopher McQuarrie writes and directs, and does much better with the latter than the former. His action is clear, brutal and tangibly realistic, which all helps sell the stunts that Cruise undertakes like the madman he is. One set piece, taking place at the opera in Vienna, is perhaps one of the most tense and enjoyable few minutes of film this year. Writing-wise, the film is at turns quippy and too clever, with the typical Mission: Impossible twists and shocks hardly ever causing surprise so much as a groan (don’t even mention the somewhat cheesy gadgets).
The movie looks good, and really embraces the feel of each location – this film takes in London, Vienna and Casablanca and you’re well aware that it isn’t places standing in for them (although Oxfordians – keep an eye out for Blenheim Palace towards the end!). Cinematographer Robert Elswit, along with composer Joe Kramer, do a good job of making the film look and sound like a Mission: Impossible film, though with the latter the composer is always just following on from Lalo Schifrin’s memorable theme. However, I must give him credit for the quite fantastic way he threads ‘Nessun Dorma’ into the opera action scene – it’s a really intelligent use of music, setting and rising tension!
I’m probably sounding a bit mixed here, but I really enjoyed the film. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but then with Mission: Impossible you know what you’re in for! There’ll be some action, some tension, a mission chosen to be accepted, an implausible face-mask or three (still ridiculous almost 20 years after the first film) and lots of running Cruise. But at the end of the day, they’re actually getting better with each new movie, and I think this pushes the fourth for the best in the series. Whoever and whenever there’s a sixth film, I’ll be there!