Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – 2015
Written and Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin
One of the funniest scenes in the entire M:I series takes place during the 3rd act. As the principal protagonists surround a person of interest, one of the good guys, Benji (Pegg) is kidnapped by some of the bad guys. Instantly, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) tells his right hand man, Luther Sticknell (Rhames) to stay with the suspect as Hunt and Brandt (Renner) chase after the people who have already placed Benji in the trunk and started driving off. It takes about five steps for a lumbering Sticknell to lose his target. Cruise and Brandt burst into the next scene running at full speed in the garage as the car pulls away. They give up the ghost about 15 steps in, and literally within the same distance, we see Sticknell – moving faster towards diabetes than his running takes him – huffing his way right into the scene. How in the world did Sticknell catch them? Well, McQuarrie did not want to wait for him, so he just had him there when he needed him. They don’t want to waste the celluloid to watch Rhames run in real time.
Ving Rhames has never been what one might call a small man, but it’s clear that in this film where the action is constant, the most appropriate place for his character is in front of a keyboard. Luckily for him, Benji and Brandt can do a few other things. Hunt…well, he does everything else. Full bore.
By now, everyone has caught up to speed with the M:I cast. What was a hit and largely miss first couple of films has, since Cruise met up with J.J. Abrams, taken a turn for the best. At that point, we got a more solid team to form around Cruise, with a movement towards solid, often physical comedy. The series peak of Ghost Protocol brought in Paula Patton and Renner, director Brad Bird placed each of the actors in a prime position to excel. If this left Rhames off the screen for the most part, it still hinted at things to come when he made an appearance at the end.
This time we have the same team except for Patton who is missed, even if the one major character opposite Cruise is Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust. She plays a Femme Fatale who is surprising for her abilities, her mysterious alliances and that she is over 30. Faust is always in step with Cruise, except when she is a step ahead. Their dance is one of the good things about Rogue Nation, as it gives Hunt a different type of counterpart. One that he trusts, but probably shouldn’t.
She is a double (or possibly triple) agent who is in deep with The Syndicate, which is the titular rogue nation of ex-agents that are going everywhere and doing everything bad. Sean Harris is their leader, Solomon Lane. He provides a creepy, if almost wimpy voice. He is mostly there to remind us that there is one guy that Hunt will face off in the end, after he passes all the other bad guys.
It’s going to be tough, though, because CIA director Alan Hunley (Baldwin) has just lobbied the Senate oversight committee that MIF should be disbanded. This leads to Brandt and Benji joining the CIA, Sticknell quitting and Hunt going off grid, as he works on the mystery of The Syndicate.
In spite of what you’ve heard, the mystery is not real hard to solve. Just following the rule that it’s probably because of a couple pompous Brits and a blowhard American, one will be able to surmise what is going on.
The fun of it all, though, is watching Cruise’s reckless enthusiasm and willingness to look clumsy and lucky as often as valiant and athletic. While there are no scenes in here that match the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol, the airplane at the start of the film approaches it for comedic value and intensity. Still, the opening scene, the underwater scene and subsequent chase are as good as anything else in the series. If the film lets down in the last act, that’s okay. At some point soon, we have to feel a real sense of danger and, dare I say it, loss. If not, the films risk being too safe to be next level entertainment.
Pegg’s Benji is relied upon for much of the comic relief this time, and for the most part he delivers. The more he is used, the less effective he is overall. The film could have used a little more punch from Renner and Sticknell. The less I see of them, the more I wonder why have them in the film at all. If you can’t tell the kind of role Baldwin will play in an action film by now, just think of a Ving Rhames that doesn’t touch a computer. He is there mainly to provide an obstacle and occasional unwitting support. His role could have been played by anyone. Well, anyone but Andy Dick.
This is Cruise and Ferguson’s film, for worse and mostly better. In Faust, Hunt gets the female counterpart that was prominent in the first 2 films, but largely absent in the last 2. We can’t really count Monaghan, because she was not an agent, largely a target and she lasted more than one film. If the film is not as good as the two preceding it, it’s still one of the best films of the summer, and a worthy addition to the string. The effort Cruise puts into everything makes it remarkably breathtaking, even if there is never any thought that he’s ever not going to make it.
McQuarrie is not JJ Abrams, and he’s definitely not Brad Bird. His contributions behind the camera and the keyboard are incredibly solid, if equally safe. As a result, it’s not to the level we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Tom Cruise’s signature series.
(***1/2 out of *****)