Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
How do you keep a 2-decades old franchise alive and relevant with a new sequel? In the case of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, you return to your roots.
Step 1: Hire a director who understands the foundation of the series. Instead of trying to compete with the Fast and Furious franchise as far as trying to make every movie bigger and better, McQuarrie takes a step back. I’m not saying the film itself is a step back in quality or execution from the last installment, it’s just toned down, which is good. Good because Mission: Impossible is based on a TV show about spies and even if the first film nailed the sophisticated espionage premise to echo the idea of the show, later installments have diverged from that formula. This culminated in Brad Bird’s overwrought Ghost Protocol which seemed to revel in the spectacle more than the adventure. McQuerrie was able to stop this trend of each sequel trying to outdo the last one, but at the same time make a film that didn’t seem like a disappointment because it didn’t go as big as it could have. McQuarrie doesn’t give us a straight-up action film, although it has plenty of that, he gives us a spy film. In this day and age of CGI-fueled blockbuster monstrosities, it feels very refreshing (and rare) to have a franchise look back at what made it successful in the first place and embrace those characteristics with a newfound ambition.
Step 2: Play to fans of the franchise. It has been succesful thus far for a reason. Rogue Nation plays to the strengths of its predecessors, especially the original 1996 film. It’s not trying to win over new audiences by competing with certain other franchises that happen(ed) to have films come out this year, it’s entertaining those who have been devoted to the previous four films. It’s full of brilliant Easter eggs, each harkening back to a memorable moment of the previous films, but it never downright plagiarizes what came before or evokes nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia. More importantly, Rogue Nation understands that although Tom Cruise is a formidable action star, we’ve seen him in this type of role many times before. To avoid familiarity, this film modifies its approach towards its main character. Although Cruise is still the main character, the others have larger roles with their own storylines. This is more similar to the original film, taking away the one-sided perspective of the last three films to create something more dynamic and smartly complex. That’s not to say that the film is unpredictable, it isn’t, one of its few faults. But I’d rather have smart and predictable than dumb and unpredictable (Furious 7) any day. Fans of the original Mission: Impossible film should agree, and they will appreciate everything that this latest installment has to offer.
Entertainment Value: Perhaps the trailers have away a little too much of the action scenes, but what I really enjoyed about this film is the time between those action films. Unlike Ghost Protocol, the film doesn’t need its action sequences to keep you at the edge of your seat. There’s enough going on between the various characters and their unrevealed motives to keep the audience engaged and interested until the end. On the way we’re treated to a myriad of references to the previous films that fans will enjoy as much for their familiarity as for how they are integrated in new ways. Overall the action sequences aren’t as explosive as those in the previous two films which may leave some people disappointed, but Rogue Nation is nonetheless a fun to watch action-oriented film with more brains than your typical summer fare. Good (4.5/5.0)
Story: The plot is fairly straight forward and well laid out. What makes it interesting is the characters and the dialogue between them. Like most of the Mission: Impossible films you have an action-packed plot set against a web of uncertainty that has to be untangled for the “mission” to be completed. The film unfolds like a mystery, which makes it engaging and smart. Not until the end are all the motives of the characters revealed, which makes the film enjoyable because for the most part you’re never quite sure which side they are on or what their true intentions are. That is what makes a proper spy film, inviting the audience to partake in the sleuthing in order for them to appreciate the endgame. There are moments when the film seems to rest on its laurels, but it is predictable only in moments that play homage to similar set-ups in the past. In that regard even though we might know what will happen, we appreciate the way it happens. Good (4.0/5.0)
Acting: As ever, Tom Cruise shines as Ethan Hunt, which has probably become the signature role of his career. He delivers in the action sequences and brings the charm and charisma for everything else. While great, Cruise isn’t the only star of this Mission: Impossible film as he had been in previous installments. This time, the other actors have more screen time, and it pays off. First, you have Simon Pegg playing more than just the tech guy that we’ve seen before. He’s entertaining, funny, but also tough when he needs to be. Ving Rhames is also back delivering dependable common sense. Jeremy Renner seemed to have more of a role in the previous films, but here he still gets to show off a little. The real story is Rebecca Furgeson, who gives us a strong female character. Unlike in previous Mission: Impossible films, her role is not just a sidekick that kicks ass or a love interest. Furgeson’s character is more than that, and probably the most interesting and different aspect of this film as it compares to the others. In such a high profile role there are many demanding moments, and Furgeson does a good job overall. Finally, you have the detestable bad guy, this time played by Sean Harris as if he’s trying to echo the sly creepiness of Javier Bardem’s Silva, and Alec Baldwin being Alec Baldwin. Good (4.5/5.0)
Direction: Christopher McQuarrie previously worked with Tom Cruise on Jack Reacher, which showed a lot of potential. Rogue Nation cashes in on that potential. Cruise and McQuarrie seem to work well together. Cruise always seems to be on the same page and it makes the film move flawlessly forward. McQuarrie handles the action sequences well with fluid camera movements and long-take shots that allow the audience to really understand what is happening. McQuarrie seems to have great special awareness as he uses close-up shots and first person perspectives to really put the audience in his character’s shoes. This makes the film a much more immersive experience than Ghost Protocol. There’s still plenty of time to admire the scenery too, as McQuarrie’s use of lighting also helps to establish a mood. But he’s not just painting a pretty picture for the audience, there’s a lot of detail crammed in as a throwback to the best moments of each of the previous films. The climax of the film ends where the first film began; the steamy streets of London at night, eerily lit by streetlamp to create an almost horror-film like feeling. As in the other sequels there is a nod to the now ubiquitous repelling rope sequence from the first film. Likewise there’s a haywire motorcycle chase to remind us of the second film, and a brief roof-sliding gag to recall one of the most crazy stunts in the third film. What this says is that McQuarrie clearly understands the film he is making and the audience who he is making it for. Good (4.5/5)
Production: Masterful and entertaining stunts are the name of the game here, and the film pulls them off brilliantly. There are only one or two moments when CGI use is apparent. The rest of the time the film looks and sounds great. Tom Cruise is as daring as ever and it really makes this franchise stand out. Overall production qualities are high, the scenes and locales are mesmerizing and the cinematography really brings them to light. This film felt clean and bright, much like the previous installment versus the gritty feel of the third film. As is always the case with Mission: Impossible films, the score is fantastic although we never hear that signature song during the live action, only riffs of it. Is this the best Mission: Impossible yet? That’s a difficult question to answer. What I can say is that as a devoted fan of the franchise from day 1, it exceeded my expectations and delivered everything I was looking for. Rogue Nation is proof that with the help of a strong lead and creative film makers, a franchise doesn't have to be defined by diminishing returns with each sequel. Good (4.5/5)
What's Bad: Not as action-packed as the last film, the acting isn't perfect.