Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Damn, the Mission: Impossible film franchise has been around for nearly 20 years! It doesn’t seem that long ago that I sat in that gigantic movie theater outside Golf Mill Mall to watch the original. Time flies. But I’m here to talk about the fifth film in this very uneven series, not reminisce about days gone by at the multiplex.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is forced to go on the run when his theories about a “Syndicate” of anti-IMF agents rub his superiors the wrong way, and together with a few trusted fellow agents attempts to piece together the clues that could lead him to his target.
I absolutely loved the last film in the series, Ghost Protocol, due to its fast pace, fun action scenes and great cast of characters. It really made a splash at the box office, and reignited Cruise’s career, so a follow-up was greenlit almost immediately. Rogue Nation certainly is a worthy addition to the franchise, but I still felt it paled in comparison to its predecessor.

Writer/Director Christopher McQuarrie, who previously directed Cruise in Jack Reacher, shows off a deft hand at the spy thriller genre with some creative visual touches (loved the unbroken underwater shots), an emphasis on allowing the plot to unfold slowly and making sure the characters are never pushed off to the side in favor of mindless action. In fact, there isn’t much action in this installment aside from a couple of short shootouts and a car/motorcycle chase. This film has a lot in common with the original film from 1996 in that it is focused on espionage over explosions. I’m totally down with that as I still enjoy the first Mission: Impossible a great deal.
The returning cast is all in fine form once again. Simon Pegg’s Benjie gets yet another upgrade among the cast to a full on field agent. Ving Rhames makes his triumphant return as Luther, a character I still feel should get more screentime. I was sad that Jeremy Renner’s Brandt didn’t have much to do except talk on the phone for most of the runtime (probably because he was shooting Avengers: Age of Ultron at the same time) since I felt his addition to the cast in the previous film added a great counterpoint for Hunt. Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules) is a sexy enigma whose arc is just as interesting as the main plot. She’s great at fight scenes too (love that flipping leg lock move). Sean Harris (Prometheus) makes for a credible and somewhat creepy villain as the mysterious Solomon Lane. And as expected Cruise excels in his signature role of Ethan Hunt. He could play this part in his sleep at this point and I’m sure he’ll continue to do so for many sequels more. He’s come a long way from the obnoxiously smiling pretty boy I saw in Risky Business to convincing me that he’s always a few steps ahead of the villains in these films. And he has a set of balls the size of Minnesota with that insane airplane stunt in the opening stinger.

While I did enjoy the movie a great deal I do have to say that the energy level was turned way down. Where Ghost Protocol was constantly surging forward, Rogue Nation takes its time putting all it’s pawns in place before letting them check the king. It’s not a bad thing per se, but I was bored on more then one occasion. Especially during the midpoint. But things pick up considerably once the impressive water filtration station infiltration (say that five times fast) scene goes down. That was one of the most suspenseful scenes I’ve seen in a film all summer! It’s expertly conceived and executed. The same goes for the opera scene.
Another issue I had, and this is something I tend to nitpick due to my love of the craft, is that the musical score by Joe Kraemer is lackluster in the extreme. It’s unimpressive on multiple levels and just feels… well, wimpy. It has absolutely no oomph! Even the Mission: Impossible theme sounds like it was composed for a direct to television movie from the 90s. Seeing that Kraemer’s resume consists of mostly direct to video trash this doesn’t surprise me. Disappointing.

And Alec Baldwin feels a little out of place in the film. It’s almost like he’s apologizing for abandoning the role of Jack Ryan way back in the early 90s by playing a more surly and bureaucratic version of the character. And his dueling hairstyle war with Jeremy Renner was more than a little distracting.
But each of these films is it’s own thing. Each director brings his own sensibilities to the table which is why I feel that this franchise has endured for as long as it has. Brian DePalma gave Mission: Impossible an old school European vibe. John Woo did to Mission: Impossible II what John Woo usually does - fill the screen with cheesy off-the-wall action scenes and flocks of doves. J.J. Abrams made Mission: Impossible III a feature film adaptation of his hit television spy series Alias. Brad Bird brought a sense of fun to the party and shook things up by threatening to relieve Cruise of his top billing in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. And Christopher McQuarrie took a step back and scaled events down to bring the series closer to its spy series roots in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. 

Rogue Nation is definitely worth seeing on the big screen. I recommend it wholeheartedly. But it did leave me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. Following up Ghost Protocol left a mighty big pair of shoes to fill, and while Rogue Nation definitely tries to step up to the plate it never quite reaches the finish line. Maybe in the next sequel we will finally get a film that really takes advantage of the team aspect that has been missing from the series since the beginning and was the core of the television series its based on.

3.5 out of 5

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