Review of “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is tracking a worldwide terrorist organization called the Syndicate. He believes they are responsible for political assassinations around the world that all looked like tragic accidents. Each of these acts also led to political upheaval in the countries where they occurred. CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) believes Hunt is creating conspiracies in his mind and wants the IMF defunded and absorbed into his agency and convinces a Senate subcommittee. Agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) now works directly under Director Hunley but still tries to protect and help Hunt where he can. Hunt is captured by the Syndicate; but just before he’s going to be tortured by Janik “Bone Doctor” Vinter (Jens Hulten), Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) helps to kill the guards watching him and set him free. Ilsa appears to be a deep-cover agent working within the Syndicate for another intelligence agency. She stays behind to protect her cover. Hunt contacts Brandt to tell him what he’s discovered and is informed the IMF is no more. Hunt decides to stay in the field despite now being declared a target of the CIA. Hunt covertly contacts electronic intelligence expert Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) to help him track down the leader of the Syndicate: A man he’s only seen once killing an innocent woman. The chase will lead Hunt, Ilsa, Brandt, Dunn and fellow agent Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) around the world in an effort to take down a terrorist group that seems to have eyes, ears and assassins everywhere.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” has the slick and polished look of the most recent “James Bond” movies but has a decidedly lighter tone. While the fate of the world is equally at risk in this film series based on the TV show that ran 1966-1973, the characters are allowed to make a degree of fun of the situation that Bond is rarely allowed. While Bond is a lone figure with minimal support from his agency, Ethan Hunt is part of a larger and much more active ensemble. Hunt is frequently saved by one of his fellow agents, either directly or remotely, setting this view of espionage apart from its British counterpart. Each approach has its merits and the M:I series gets a bit more narrative mileage from the comradery of its characters.

Much has been made from the well-publicized stunt of strapping Tom Cruise to the side of a plane and filming him as it took off. The advertising for the film certainly didn’t bury the lead as this is the first scene in the movie. While it is probably the biggest stunt in the film, there are plenty more that occupy a great deal of the film’s over two hour running time. Whether sliding down a rope from the roof of the Vienna Opera House or holding his breath for six minutes to film an underwater scene in one take, Cruise delivers big thrills at great personal risk to himself and his multimillion dollar paychecks.

Whether the acting is any good is kind of beside the point in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” but it is good. The entire cast is spot on with particular praise for Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust. Without giving too much away, her loyalties are always in doubt as she never plays her role with too many clues as to which way she might go. She also looks good in a silky yellow dress as she prepares to carry out an assassination. Ferguson is also adept at physical stunts, performing more than a few wild and vicious moves.

Simon Pegg is always reliable for some lighter moments as tech genius Benji Dunn; but these lighter moments are actually a set up for some dark times near the end of the film. Audiences don’t like seeing the smart, friendly characters face mortal danger. It gives us even more stress than when we watch the characters that we expect to be at the edge of death. We have learned Ethan Hunt can extract himself from every situation; but Benji is far more adept at hacking a security system, not beating up a security guard. After all, his name is Benji…like the dog.

Alec Baldwin also provides a secondary heavy that is almost as detestable as the leader of the Syndicate. Baldwin’s CIA Director Hunley shares many attributes with Baldwin’s “30 Rock” character Jack Donaghy: Both are decisive, ruthless and like to talk in a low growl when they are making a point. Baldwin doesn’t have that much screen time but he uses it to full effect. Hunley is portrayed as a bit of blowhard that talks a good game but has trouble delivering what he promises. Baldwin tackles the role with an intensity that says Hunley might be a bit of a braggart but he means business. It’s a very good performance.

If there’s anything I can complain about in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” it’s the omnipotent villain trope that has played a part in nearly all this series. The Syndicate seems to be everywhere and always prepared no matter what Hunt or his colleagues do. The story elements seem to require someone on the inside of the CIA and IMF in order to be as well informed as they appear. I guess this would be a spoiler so prepare yourself: No one is exposed as working with the bad guys. A couple of red herrings are dropped here and there but none of them ever converts into a double agent. The leader of the Syndicate is supposed to be the product of a friendly government’s intelligence agency that goes rogue and creates his own organization to commit chaos around the world. It would seem that he is far better trained than any of the people trying to stop him as his presence is unknown to every other spy agency in the world. It’s all a bit too neat and tidy to occur in a world where every email, phone call and Internet search is collected by one organization or another for analysis. I would hope someone sifting through all that metadata would notice something that would tip off the CIA. I suppose this is yet another example of me thinking too much about a movie plot but it always strikes me as odd when a bad guy can gather so much material and so many operatives and fly completely under the radar.

All in all, this is a minor complaint as everything that is good about “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” far outweighs the bad. From the cinematography to the action to the interplay between the characters to most of the story, the film is a huge love letter to fans of the series.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action & violence and brief partial nudity. There are several fist fights, a knife fight, car chases, car wrecks, motorcycle chases, motorcycle wrecks and shootings in the film. There is far more blood in the trailer for the new “Hitman” film than there is in this entire movie. The brief partial nudity is so brief and partial I’m surprised it was mentioned. It is the back of a woman as she takes off some wet clothes and puts on dry clothes. Foul language is brief and scattered.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” opened at number one at the box office but with the lowest opening of any of the previous four films. Some news stories attribute this to the bad publicity Cruise received from the HBO documentary on Scientology. That seems unlikely. Perhaps the public is just tired of big budget, big action flicks; especially the fifth in a series. Aside from strapping Cruise to the side of a plane (that everyone with an Internet connection could see as many times as they wanted), what was really different about this version of M:I? The answer is nothing. This is a really well done version of the thing we’ve seen four times before. If people decide not to go should we really be that surprised?

The film is doing well worldwide so we can expect a sixth M:I to be released in two or three years as Cruise has already agreed to star in it. If the studio and Cruise don’t mind a little free and unwanted advice, may I suggest you figure out some twist or variation on the spy genre that will surprise people and drive them to tell their friends about what a unique experience the next M:I is. Otherwise, even the rest of the world may start staying home.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” gets five stars.

Two new films open this week and I’ll see at least one of them.

Fantastic Four—

The Gift—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

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