Film Review – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
In all of the advertisements for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), the key image features super agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) dangling off a cargo plane in mid-flight. Reports stated that Cruise performed the stunt for real, with the help of digitally removed wiring. Even crazier: he did it not once, not twice, but eight times to get all the camera angles needed. It’s a heart-racing moment, without a doubt. I point to this particular scene because with all of the attention it has received leading up to the film’s release, it came as a surprise that it took place within five minutes of the runtime.
If there’s one thing you can’t deny Tom Cruise, it’s his willingness to fully commit to a project. It’s what made him arguably the biggest movie star in history. Whatever he chooses – whether it’s flying jets (Top Gun), racing cars (Days of Thunder), or wearing a fat suit (Tropic Thunder) – he never take things at half measure. He’s always dedicated 100% to make the best product he can, even when that means putting himself in death-defying situations. That explains how a franchise he has spearheaded for two decades continues to expand and even improve. He never rests on his laurels; he always operates as though his next role will be his last.
He’s an enigma as an action star. At fifty-three, Cruise doesn’t appear to be losing a step at all. He runs, jumps, and fights with the energy of someone half his age. In the fifth entry of the series, we see Ethan Hunt hang on to moving planes, get into high-speed chases in cars and on motorcycles, hold his breath underwater for an ungodly amount of time, get shot at, beat up, and more. Cruise’s physicality during the action sequences is amazing to behold. During a scene where Ethan is tied up to a vertical pole, Cruise escapes by shimmying up it in a way that would make any parkour enthusiast proud.
But unlike the indestructible machines that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone inhabited, Cruise fills his characters as flesh and blood humans. It’s a nuance in his acting ability that has gone underrated. He makes us believe that Ethan can be killed. Ethan often questions his own choices, and openly expresses his weariness and frustration over all the obstacles he has to overcome. What Ethan does is extremely difficult and dangerous, and Cruise makes sure that we realize that, sometimes with funny results. Soon after escaping a near death experience, Ethan attempts to hop over the hood of a car, only to land face first on the ground. It’s a comedic touch that works even better because of the actor executing it.
This is the second pairing of Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, after Jack Reacher (2012). If Cruise ever decides to stray away from his “different-director-for-each-entry” philosophy, he may have found the person he should stick with. McQuarrie establishes the right tone here. Not only does the story have plenty of action and espionage, but it also has a number of laughs as well, something that the recent James Bond outings (despite how great some of them are) don’t handle quite as well. The narrative picks up almost immediately after the events of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), with the IMF team disbanded and Ethan Hunt on a worldwide search to find the shadowy organization known as the Syndicate. McQuarrie structures an intricate (but not convoluted) string of twists and turns that takes our heroes all across the globe. Familiar faces such as Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Luther (Ving Rhames) return to lend support, along with new faces like CIA rep Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) and the mysterious agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).
It’s a shame that Paula Patton couldn’t reprise her role from Ghost Protocol, but in return we get a character and performance that may have surpassed any female role in the series thus far. Rebecca Ferguson makes a big impression as Ilsa, a highly skilled agent that may or may not be an ally to Ethan’s team. Ilsa is just as – if not more important – to the outcome of the plot than Ethan. The two make a strong pairing, and the action scenes they share have a kind of synchronicity comparable to choreographed dancing. Excluding the main character, Rebecca Ferguson is the standout here, and deserves to come back in future installments.
McQuarrie’s direction is clean and discernable, and while he occasionally falls into the trap of composing the action with an overly frenetic style, he knows when to focus in on a money shot. He does a great job of capturing the actors within the mayhem. When Cruise hangs off of the plane, we can clearly see his face. When Cruise and Pegg get into a car chase, the camera sits back so that we can see through the windshield and tell that it’s those actors in the car with Cruise behind the wheel. And in the ensuing motorcycle chase, McQuarrie shows that it is indeed Cruise driving at high speeds without a helmet. It’s these details that make the scenes a blast to watch. In fact, if McQuarrie missteps anywhere, it’s in frontloading the film with these high point moments, leaving the climactic scene feeling a little ho-hum in comparison.
I don’t know if Rogue Nation tops Ghost Protocol as the best entry into the Mission: Impossible series, but it sure comes close. It has a compelling story, memorable set pieces, and knows not to take itself too seriously. Like the Fast and Furious films, this is a franchise that’s amazingly getting better the further it goes along.