Review of “Doctor Sleep”

Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) has been dealing with ghosts and memories of his homicidal father at the Overlook Hotel all his life. As a child he was visited by the ghost of Overlook Hotel chef Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), who taught Danny how to construct boxes in his mind to trap the ghosts so they couldn’t try to possess him anymore. Now an adult, Danny is a homeless alcoholic in need of a new start. Riding a bus to a small town, Danny meets Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis). Billy recognizes Danny as a fellow alcoholic, gives him a job in the city park, becomes his AA sponsor and is a reference to get him an apartment. Danny soon begins work as an orderly in a hospice and is tagged with the nickname Doctor Sleep as he comforts a patient on the edge of death. In Danny’s apartment there’s a wall painted with chalkboard paint by a previous tenant. One morning, Danny sees a message he didn’t write saying “morning.” The message is from a teenage girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran). Abra has “the shine” like Danny, only she’s much more powerful. Her ability attracts the attention of a cult of called the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). The True Knot feed off the shine, they call it steam, given off by those with the gift as they die. The True Knot travel the country, abducting young people with the gift, torturing them to purify the steam, and absorb it to prolong their lives. They also save some of the steam in metal cannisters to feed on later. It’s getting more difficult to find powerful possessors of steam and the True Knot is beginning to age and die. Abra is so powerful, Rose believes she could feed her cult for a very long time. Abra gets in touch with Danny, in person, and he intends to protect her from the True Knot, even if that means returning to the cursed Overlook Hotel.

Is it an absolute necessity to have seen or be familiar with “The Shining” to enjoy “Doctor Sleep?” No, however it would help as this follow up makes references to, and contains characters from, the 1980 film that might cause some confusion to the uninitiated. Does “Doctor Sleep” stand on its own? Yes, it does. Director Mike Flanagan had the unenviable task of taking elements of Stanley Kubrick’s classic, that changed things from Stephen King’s novel, and merge them into a new film made almost 40 years later and based on another of King’s books. He also had to make King happy in the process, something Kubrick didn’t do. “Doctor Sleep” may be the best example of artistic juggling with running chainsaws in history.

The reverence for “The Shining” on display in “Doctor Sleep” might be called slavish by some. However, it’s necessary to give proper credit to a film that wasn’t popular or successful when it was released but has gained a following and respect over the years. I watched “The Shining” the night before seeing “Doctor Sleep” and was surprised by how much I liked it. Sure, Jack Nicholson comes off as very smarmy right off the bat, and Shelly Duvall, who didn’t get along with Kubrick, performed the role of Wendy like she was in a high school production of “Oklahoma,” but the tone of the film, the performance of Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance, and the explosive and violent final act make “The Shining” a one-of-a-kind horror/thriller. “Doctor Sleep” takes the base built by the original film and builds an exciting and tense haunted house upon it.

Rebecca Ferguson is a terrific villain as Rose the Hat. Her beauty and lilting accent lull the innocent into her trap. She and her cult of shine vampires are a roving band of death and greed, finding those that shine and sucking them dry in the most vulgar and painful way. Ferguson’s charisma lights up the screen so that, despite her being the leader of the bad guys, you miss her when she’s not featured. You want to see her twirl her metaphorical mustache as she plots, schemes and carries out her diabolical plans.

Ewan McGregor’s Danny Torrance is a pitiful sight when we meet the adult version. He’s a drunk, getting in bar fights, going home with women he doesn’t know just so he has a place to sleep as he’s homeless, stealing from those women, all to quiet his shine and try to forget what happened when he was a child. When he meets Billy right after he gets off the bus, he admits he’s trying to run away from himself. McGregor is all pain in these first few scenes. You can see it oozing from every pore. As Danny begins to turn things around, there’s a glow in McGregor’s performance as the character’s goodness (pardon the expression) shines through. McGregor isn’t flashy in his performance until later scenes at the dilapidated but still haunted Overlook. Danny is the anchor for the audience. He’s the focal point of our sympathy and we want Danny to be alright. McGregor makes it easy for us to root for Danny.

Kyliegh Curran is great as Abra Stone. Abra is tough and willing to get her hands dirty to fight Rose and the True Knot. Curran delivers a balanced performance, showing Abra as a typical teenager with fears and insecurities, and a brave and mature young woman facing a challenge no one can imagine. Curran gives Abra a calm and steady presence atypical for a teenager. We see Abra has been using her abilities since she was very young and has apparently honed them to a point that attracts Rose’s attention. When the two meet in their minds, the battle is fierce and Abra is more than a match for the older Rose. It’s a battle I would have liked to see more of, but the film makers chose to keep their interactions limited. Curran is an actress I am looking for to seeing more of as her career grows.

“Doctor Sleep” is rated R for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use. There is a barroom fight that is very bloody. A body is shown with a knife in its chest. A character kills himself with a rifle shot to the head. We see various people shot. The True Knot people die in a weird way. A car crash shows the driver being thrown through the windshield. A little boy is sliced with a knife numerous times before he dies. A woman’s leg is cut with a knife three times. Drug use is limited to seeing a woman snort cocaine, but the True Knot’s ingesting the steam/shine could be seen as drug use. We see numerous ghosts with various injuries, including the naked bathtub hag from “The Shining.” Foul language is scattered.

Danny Lloyd, who played Danny Torrance in “The Shining,” has a brief cameo in the film. Some shots from the original movie were repurposed for “Doctor Sleep,” including the opening helicopter shot over the lake and past the small island. Some music is reused including “Midnight with the Stars and You,” heard in the party scene in the Gold Ballroom. There are numerous touches from “The Shining” that are sprinkled into “Doctor Sleep,” but they don’t take over the film, just add a hint of flavor. There is much to love about “Doctor Sleep” that has nothing to do with “The Shining.” It stands on its own as a very entertaining and tense film. It builds on “The Shining” without tearing it down. It’s a rare feat to both honor and advance a film so separated by time and those involved in making it.

“Doctor Sleep” gets five stars.

This week, I’ll be reviewing “Ford v. Ferrari” for WIMZ.com.

Other new films are:

Charlie’s Angels—

The Good Liar—

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Kid Who Would Be King”

Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) are the targets of bullies in their school. Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris) target the younger and smaller kids, stealing their money and punching them. Alex stands up to them and is facing expulsion for tackling Lance. Alex and his single mom Mary (Denise Gough) have been going it alone since Alex’s dad left. Mary tells Alex he was fighting his demons and couldn’t be around them. Running from Lance and Kaye after school, Alex hides in a construction site of a building being demolished. There he finds a sword stuck in a partially demolished column and pulls it out. He shows it to Bedders and they put the writing on the hilt into Google translate, discovering it says “Sword of Arthur.” Believing it is the legendary sword Excalibur, Alex hides it in his closet, so his mother doesn’t take it away. Meanwhile, the evil sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), imprisoned deep in the earth centuries earlier, is aware the sword has been found and begins gathering her strength to return to a world that is lost in darkness, despair and anger. The wizard Merlin (as a young man, Angus Imrie/as an old man, Patrick Stewart) has also felt the discovery of Excalibur and has returned through a portal located at Stonehenge. He pretends to be a student at Alex’s school to keep an eye on him. When Merlin discovers there are only four days to a total solar eclipse, he announces to everyone that Morgana and her army of undead skeleton soldiers will return to take over Britain and the world and that Alex is the Once and Future King. Soon, Alex, Bedders and the reluctant Lance and Kaye begin an adventure to fight off evil and save the world.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” is the ultimate fantasy kid’s movie. The hero is a child of meager means, not physically imposing, with few friends and missing his absent father. His best friend is a fat kid that is afraid of everything and doesn’t like breaking rules. The other kids on the quest are his enemies that he reluctantly takes on as allies so they can see the threat they face. There’s also a loopy wizard that changes into an owl when he sneezes and can’t be out after dark as it weakens him. It’s up to Alex, the kid with no leg up in life, to save the world whether he wants to or not. It stretches credibility and runs on a bit too long, but “The Kid Who Would Be King” deserves your patronage and loyalty.

Louis Ashbourne Serkis is the son of motion-capture king and actor Andy Serkis, best known as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films, Caesar in “The Planet of the Apes” trilogy, King Kong in Peter Jackson’s film of the same name and as the Marvel villain Ulysses Klaue in the MCU. He comes from a very active acting family and young Serkis clearly has inherited the performance gene. Serkis is an emotive young actor, his performance coming as much from his facial expressions as from his voice. Alex is dealing with a great deal of pain and loss and Serkis shows that without it being too melancholy or melodramatic. Serkis is a natural performer and is relatable to the target audience of children while not being annoying to the adults that brought them. It is a pleasing performance that works well within the insanity of the story.

The rest of the cast is great with Dean Chaumoo as a standout as Bedders. The insecure child constantly questioning whether what they are doing is the right thing borders on being annoying, but the story is guiding us down that path, leading to a confrontation between the two best friends that reshapes their relationship. It’s a simple and wide-eyed performance that is the only credit on his IMDb page. I thought he probably had done live theater in Britain, but a Google search of his name only turns up a page from King’s College School in Wimbledon announcing his getting the part with no reference to any other acting. If this is his first ever role, he should be congratulated for giving such a good performance.

Another great performance is Angus Imrie as the young Merlin. He’s all enthusiasm and energy as the wizard that gets younger as he ages (Patrick Stewart appears a few times as an elderly version of Merlin). Merlin is the comic relief of the film. His wild hand gestures as he’s performing a spell seem like an opportunity for anyone wanting to stop him to punch him in the face. No one does as that would bring an unwelcome bit of reality to the story. Since the movie is about knights and demons and wizards and sorceresses, no one wants the real world to interfere. Imrie is a joy when he’s on screen. His apparent love for the role (possibly acting in general) shines through the screen and he adds just a little bit of extra spark to a film that is already filled with energy.

While is said no one wants reality to interfere with the film, sadly my middle-aged brain wouldn’t let some things go. For instance, when Morgana sends her evil undead soldiers to attack the kids at night, only the people Alex has knighted can see them and the rest of the people in the world disappear, leaving all their possessions where they were, including their cars. A scene in the film finds the kids fighting the undead knights using a car then, when the last one is beaten, all the people return, including the people in the car the kids were using. It’s a reality-bending bit of world building that ignores the real-world consequences. The film does that a great deal, including for Alex to succeed, he must kill Morgana. That’s a heavy burden to put on a kid who isn’t old enough to drive. The children of Alex’s school must battle the undead army. No consideration is given to if any of them will be hurt or killed. It’s a minor issue I have with the film, but it feels like something that could have added a bit of depth to what is otherwise a light kids adventure story.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” is rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language. The kids battle the undead army, trees that come to life, underground roots and a couple of fire-breathing dragons. Lance and Kaye are shown bullying Alex and Bedders on a couple of occasions. The reality of an absentee father and the reasons for his being gone are briefly explored. Foul language is mild and very scattered.

The movie takes its time in guiding Alex and his knights through their adventure. The missing dad is revisited one time too many and the consequences of abandonment are hammered into the audience unabated. We get it! Stay and raise you kids! Otherwise, “The Kid Who Would Be King” is a fun and lighthearted romp that children will love, and their parents will find entertaining enough. It’s silly and funny with likable characters and a good message. And remember: Always follow the chivalric code! It will see you through life and serve you well.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” gets five stars.

With only one new wide release, I’ll also possibly check out some new arthouse films. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

In Like Flynn—

Miss Bala—

Stan and Ollie—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is in Berlin and on the trail of three missing plutonium cores that could be used to make three bombs. Ethan, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are double crossed and the nuclear material is stolen by a shadowy group called the Apostles, the remnants of captured anarchist Solomon Lane’s (Sean Harris) group. CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) insists her agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) go with Hunt and his IMF team due to Ethan’s choice to save Luther in Berlin but let the plutonium cores go. Ethan and Walker parachute into Paris to infiltrate a meeting between a representative of terrorists code named John Lark and an arms dealer known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby); but an effort to subdue Lark in a men’s room fails when during a fight he is killed by Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Ilsa’s sudden appearance and her unwillingness to explain it adds more plates for Ethan to keep spinning. To retrieve the cores Ethan must break Solomon Lane out of an extremely well-guarded convoy as he is the price being asked by the White Widow. Ethan doesn’t know who he can trust as there is treachery from the Apostles and possibly within his own team.

Tom Cruise is still a tool. I’ve had that opinion for quite some time due to his adherence to a pseudo-religion made up to win a bet by a hack science-fiction writer and transformed into a money-making cult by its leadership over the decades. Cruise’s calling former Today Show host Matt Lauer “glib” during an interview that strayed into psychology and drugs to treat depression was the moment I truly turned against him. He can believe whatever he wants but I don’t have to support him and his films. At least that’s what I thought and said back then. As with most things my opinion softened over time. While I think Cruise is misguided in his beliefs I will go see his films. If they stink, I’ll say so. “The Mummy” wasn’t great but wasn’t awful, and I said so. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” doesn’t stink and doesn’t fall in that middle ground. It is quite spectacular.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” manages to take a terrifying reality of the modern world and make it entertaining. It takes the very plausible and frightening scenario of nuclear material for sale on the black market and turns it into a twisty and believable mystery. Granted, parts of “M:I-F” stretch credibility, especially some of the tech and the life-like masks, but the overall bones of the story hold up to scrutiny. Sadly, we live in a world where nuclear material can go missing and those tasked to keep an eye on it have no idea where it might be. This probably happens more than we know (especially from facilities in the former Soviet Union) and I’d prefer to remain ignorant so I sleep at night.

“M:I-F” turns Ethan Hunt into a troubled hero. Hunt is wracked with guilt over the life he shared with his wife Julia, played by Michelle Monaghan, and the danger he put her in. He dreams of a wedding where the vows are perverted into what his actual life is like by Lane and they all die in a nuclear explosion. Hunt saves Luther despite allowing the plutonium to fall into the wrong hands because he believes saving one life is just as important as saving millions. Hunt seems to be paying for his various sins by trying to save everyone practically by himself. It must be tiring to work with someone like Hunt that constantly takes all the weight on his shoulders and causing his partners to share the burden out of a sense of obligation. It also says a great deal about the friendship between the team as they take on these impossible missions with Hunt despite the long odds.

That friendship is believable thanks to a terrific supporting cast of Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson. While not technically part of the team, Ferguson’s Faust should be considered an associate member as she’s played a big role in the last two movies. There’s the potential for a love affair between her and Hunt but wisely the filmmakers haven’t fallen into that easy trap. Pairing these super spies working for two different countries would never work as they would A) never be in the same place at the same time long enough to have a relationship and B) Hunt would face the same emotional demons as during his marriage to Julia but compounded by them both being in the field, making each a target to get at the other. And on top of all of that they could never chat about work since everything they do is classified.

Rhames and Pegg are kind of the Laurel and Hardy of the “M:I” series. Rhames is the large and powerful member of the duo. He’s soft spoken but can turn up the pain when needed. Pegg is the twitchy and seemingly incompetent one that comes through when the pressure is on. Together they serve as Hunt’s backup and emotional support team. They work as characters since neither stray too far from what appears to be their natural selves. I can see a Luther and Benji spinoff film…or maybe a Blu-Ray bonus feature.

Naturally what attracts the most interest in the “M:I” series is the stunts. While nothing quite rises to the white-knuckle level of climbing on the outside of one of the world’s tallest buildings or being strapped to the outside of a plane as it takes off, “M:I-F” still manages to impress with the HALO jump and the car/motorcycle chase through the streets of Paris. While much of the jump was really done by Cruise there are clearly parts that are handled with either CG or stunt people. Despite this it manages to be an exciting and harrowing stunt. Cranking up the adrenaline scale is two chases through Paris in a motorcycle and a car. Narrowly avoiding pedestrians, other cars, police vehicles and motorcycle cops, Hunt whizzes through the narrow streets and alleyways of Paris. The motorcycle scenes are shot with Cruise not wearing a helmet. Even a mistake made by a professional stuntman would risk serious injury; but stunt performers are a dime a dozen. There’s only one Tom Cruise. Production was shut down for over a month while Cruise recovered from a broken ankle suffered while jumping between two buildings. The $80-million in added costs, from needing to pay the crew and cast to keep them from taking other jobs, was covered by insurance. Tom Cruise is 56 years old. While he’s certainly not ready for an assisted living facility he should perhaps let the professional stunt performers that normally play the nameless henchmen in his films do the truly dangerous stunts.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language. There are numerous shootings and stabbings in the film, but none are bloody. There are also some very violent fistfights that would leave people not in a movie with concussions, broken jaws and noses. There are also a few car crashes. There’s a helicopter chase that leads to helicopter crashes with bodies being thrown and flung out of the craft. Hot oil scalds a character’s face leaving him looking awful. There is a couple of attempted hangings, a man beats up a woman and the death of the bad guy can only be described as unique. Foul language is scattered and there is the one rating-allowed use of “F**k.”

Are there more “Mission: Impossible” films coming down the pike? I don’t know. “…Fallout” seems to put a bow on several dangling story threads from previous entries in the series as well as dealing with Hunt’s guilt over Julia. Could another threat to global world peace and safety be used to lure Hunt and his IMF team back into the field and on the big screen? Sure! Big paychecks can get anyone to do just about anything. Is there really a need? Right now, no. In three years, maybe. Since this sixth film in the franchise had the biggest opening of all the films, both domestically and worldwide, there’s a better than average change we’ll see Ethan Hunt choose to accept another mission. While Tom Cruise is a tool he does make a very entertaining action/adventure movie and if there is another, I’ll see it.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” gets five stars.

This week’s films run the gamut from a political documentary to teenagers with superpowers. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Darkest Minds—

Death of a Nation—

Disney’s Christopher Robin—

The Spy Who Dumped Me—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in streaming, movies and TV available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Girl on the Train”

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a broken woman. Her marriage to Tom (Justin Theroux) ended badly after they were unable to conceive a baby and Rachel began treating the depression with alcohol. She would black out and Tom would tell her all the violent things she did. He began an affair with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) who he eventually married after divorcing Rachel. He and Anna have a six-month old named Evie. Rachel rides the commuter train into the city every day and is able to see her old house through the window. She also sees the house next door and makes up stories about the young couple living there. That is Megan and Scott (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans). Rachel has seen them having sex through the big window of their house that faces the tracks and believes they are a perfect couple; but that isn’t the case as Megan is restless and doesn’t want to have a baby despite Scott’s wishes. Megan sees psychiatrist Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) and tells him all her secrets and desires and how Scott is an emotional bully. On her daily commute, Rachel sees Megan on the porch in the arms of another man. Distraught, Rachel gets very drunk and plans on confronting Megan about the apparent infidelity. The next day, Rachel wakes up after blacking out, covered in blood and discovers Megan has gone missing. Is she responsible? What happened in the hours she can’t remember?

Based on a book by the same name, “The Girl on the Train” is a twisty, slow-burn thriller that had the potential of being a very good movie. It has lots of sex, infidelity, lies, misdirection and substance abuse and could have really kept the audience guessing about whodunit. Sadly, all the mystery of the mystery is exposed far too early and the story is strangely uninvolving despite being made very complicated and with a fairly large cast of characters.

The cast isn’t to blame for the shortcomings of “The Girl on the Train.” Emily Blunt’s Rachel is about as sad and pathetic as any character in any film I’ve ever seen. Her investment in the lives of Megan and Scott, two people she’s never met, is about the only thing holding her anywhere close to together. When she sees what she perceives as Megan’s betrayal of Scott it turns her into a member of the drunken morality police and marks her rock bottom. It is a performance that must have been taxing for Blunt as it required so much raw emotion, so much crying and at times so much naked honesty from the character. Blunt manages to make Rachel both annoyingly pathetic and someone you want to wrap up in a tight hug.

Rebecca Ferguson plays Anna, the “other woman,” like a creepy Stepford wife. She is all about raising her child and maintaining her home and anything that interferes with that is met with a look that implies she is plotting your death. Ferguson is kind of the heavy of the story for a while and is fairly easy to dislike. Her jealousy of Rachel doesn’t make her any more pleasant. For this character it is an effective performance.

Haley Bennett plays Megan like a bit of a spoiled child. Megan admits to being restless and she’s always comparing her life now to what it was like when she was 17 and living in a hunting cabin with her boyfriend. It is a pivotal part of the story that eventually leads to the tragic events that play out. Bennett, who bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence, has a smoldering sexuality that is a good match for the character. She looks both innocent and seductive at the same time. It’s a delicate balance that Bennett uses to her full advantage.

The rest of the cast is impressive as well. What doesn’t work in “The Girl on the Train” is the arm’s length way the story is told. I never felt invested in these characters. The story meanders, jumping back and forth in time, filling in backstory leading the audience up to the events of Megan’s disappearance and juxtaposing that with what’s going on in Rachel’s life as she’s trying to pull herself back together while also befriending Scott. The story becomes a tornado of information that is mixed together in a haphazard way. Perhaps the disjointed narrative made emotionally investing in these characters impossible or maybe the script didn’t stick closely enough to the book to give us the depth of feeling for the people we learn so much about. Whatever the reason, “The Girl on the Train” feels like a static display in a museum: All the information about the subject is in front of you but it lacks any life.

“The Girl on the Train” is rated R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity. There are several brief sex scenes. The most graphic nudity is mostly backsides. All other body parts are imaginatively hidden. Violence is scattered but bloody. Foul language is also scattered.

“The Girl on the Train” is somewhat intriguing until a revelation from Rachel’s past mostly exposes who is responsible for Megan’s disappearance with about a half hour left in the film. After that, you’re just waiting on that character’s inevitable comeuppance. Watching the film from that point on makes it a bit annoying. Thrillers shouldn’t give you the real villain until much later. After all the information we are given about these five main characters, knowing who is responsible so early makes all that comes before it seems wasted. “The Girl on the Train” has the potential to be a mind-bendingly complicated and involving thriller but it seems to take the road most travelled from the train to the conclusion.

“The Girl on the Train” gets three disappointed stars out of five.

Number crunchers, joke slingers and reluctant power wielders are invading your local multiplex. I’ll see at least one of the following:

The Accountant—

Kevin Hart: What Now?—

Max Steel—

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

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.