The intention of a Mission Impossible film seems to change with each director but the transformation of movies since 1996 when the first film came out has changed irrevocably. We now have these bloated blockbusters and comic book adaptations just trying to create a universe. Mission Impossible, and to a lesser degree, the Bond films have always been about bowing to the director. This is undeniably the effect of Tom Cruise. Whatever you want to say about the guy personally, his business instincts are usually creative and spot on. Point in fact is “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”, the strongest entry storywise by far since the first one directed by Brian DePalma and written by Robert Towne. This is because you have an exceptional writer at the helm directing his own script with Cruise backing him all the way while giving constructive notes. People ask why Cruise is still a movie star. This is why.
The conceit of this film, much like “Ghost Protocol”, involves the disavowing of the IMF team. What is great here is that from the beginning, Cruise plays against expectations by doing the most massive stunt at the beginning with the take off of a huge cargo plane and getting it out of the way. Cruise hanging off the side of that transport continues to show that he is willing to go the extra mile.
The picture jumps back into story mode but knows where it is going starting from the immediate capture scene soon after. What McQuarrie seems to do, like he did in “Jack Reacher” and likely “Edge Of Tomorrow” is create female characters who are very bit as powerful and smart as Cruise yet still retain a balance. Emily Blunt did it in spades with her character in “Edge” and Rosamund Pike to a lesser degree in “Reacher”. Rebecca Ferguson is a more divisive choice but interesting nonetheless. She is more akin to Tom’s age but also keeps the intent platonic as to not demean her progression. From the beginning she is just as quick and save for a couple swimsuit shots, not over exposed while Cruise is only too happy to take off his shirt when asked for it. The key is that she moves the plot and is not a by product of it. Big points for that and indicative of McQuarrie as a writer having a steady hand. It is too bad that it needs to be mentioned but it is a truism.
One thing McQuarrie also creates, like DePalma did before him in the series, is stylish and practical set pieces. They might not fall utterly in line but their intent is beyond reproach. The Vienna Opera House sequence has elements of DePalma’s beginning in “Femme Fatale” using the backdrop of classical music to show a double/double cross. Ferguson anchors it having the right balance of poise and classic titillation In a stunning yellow dress you can’t take your eyes off of.
Another is a hark back to the CIA infiltration scene in M:I 1 but this time going underwater with Cruise holding his breath. Again he supposedly did this for real but the story element makes it work especially with a turn of phrase from Ferguson which leaps into an even more high octane but less original car chase. The progression is interesting again nonetheless because it introduces a flaw in Cruise in his response which makes the sequence more true. Despite the spectacle of running through a sandstorm in the last one, “Rogue Nation” is more controlled and lower budget. It allows for cleaner and more concise film making.
Ethan Hunt’s cohorts are back but save for Simon Pegg, they seem to fill gaps through no fault of their own. it is just the way it is built. MCcQuarrie understands the underdog nature of Pegg’s character Benji getting to run with Cruise and makes the best of it giving him both gravitas, wit and humor. The dichotomy of the opening scene with an absolutely excellent climactic scene against a bad guy using a really great progressive device really ups the game in the final moments because it makes it about the psychology and the intellect. It is a very intimate scene with no big explosions and that it what makes it so exceptional. It shows what film making used to be on bigger films.
The only slight soft spot is the villain. With his frail almost Blofeld approach, he has menace but his tics seem too affected and as a result seems over acted. Granted the rest of the leads including the head of MI6 and especially Cruise and Ferguson are top rate. Alec Baldwin as the new CIA chief had the possibility of getting some of that old Jack Ryan mojo back but he needed to change his delivery. He Is so overtaken with his own persona and posture that he wastes a perfectly good opportunity and seems to be mugging. Again smaller issues in an overall exceptional picture.
“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” stands with the 1996 original as being one of the best of this series simply because the writing is tight and the direction follows close behind it. Much of this is due to Cruise but also to Christopher McQuarrie’s strengths. Add to this a more malleable Cruise able share the screen and mold his image plus a powerful and plot oriented female lead in Rebecca Ferguson and a multi layered turn by Simon Pegg. Put these all together and you have an effective, smart and worthwhile ride.
By Tim Wassberg