Friday, July 31, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

This movie snuck up on us! (That's kind of weird to say, considering it's been four years since its last installment.) Initially scheduled for a December 2015 release, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation did an almost unprecedented move up five months ahead of its original release date. After the surprising treat that Ghost Protocol was in 2011, I knew it was only a matter of time until a fifth installment in the M:I franchise was released. Of course, I thought it would get here a lot sooner than now, and I assumed it would star Jeremy Renner. However, after a couple of sci-fi hits (to use the term loosely, given the meager box office returns of Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow), it seemed more and more like Cruise was staying with this franchise for the long haul. Indeed, this movie puts Cruise front and center, which would be mind-boggling for anybody who hasn't kept up with him since his couch-jumping antics in 2005. We suddenly love Tom Cruise again! For me, who wasn't crazy big on the megastar in past performances (see my review of Oblivion for more on that), I am grateful to see his evolution as a movie star. After seeing the first trailer for Rogue Nation, I instantly regretted not putting it on my list of most anticipated films for this year. But how well does the movie follow its marketing promise?

Walking into a record store after intercepting a batch of nerve gas from a terrorist group known as the Syndicate, Ethan Hunt believes he's getting a new mission from the IMF. However, the mission briefing turns out to be a message from the Syndicate itself, and the room fills with knock-out gas as the head of the mysterious group kills a young agent in front of Ethan. Though he later makes his escape, Ethan cannot convince CIA Director Alan Hunley that the Syndicate is real, and Hunley takes immediate action to disband the IMF entirely and shift their active missions over to the CIA. Though Ethan continues to follow his leads to bring down the Syndicate, Hunley turns the CIA's focus toward a full-scale man-hunt for the former agent, eventually issuing a kill-on-sight order to his field operatives.

Don't worry, that isn't even the entire set-up for the film. I stopped there not only because I don't want to spoil anything, but because the actual plot of this film is pretty complicated. So many different parties are pitted against each other, their motivations and morals ambiguous as the action plays out. Thankfully, to this film's credit, the story isn't difficult to follow in its final product. Relatively new to the director's chair, Christopher McQuarrie (who also penned the script) did a tremendous job filling the big shoes of Brad Bird from Ghost Protocol, and his confidence and visual style is that of a much more seasoned director. His sensibility for action scenes is really spot-on, opting for practical stunts as much as possible... and fittingly, even that line seems to get pushed in this film. I daresay, that some of the action set-pieces in Rogue Nation are better than any other film in the M:I series, and possibly of any in the spy genre. This goes back to Tom Cruise and his borderline death-wish thrill-seeking as he continues to perform all his own most dangerous stunts, even at age 53. If for nothing else, go see this movie to experience the best motorcycle chase possibly ever put to film!

This movie takes a lot of the formula of the previous entries and tweaks them in subtle ways. Unlike most films in the series, where the story takes place over a few days or weeks, this movie covers over six months of time. That can be both a blessing and a curse, allowing for much more to have taken place during that time, while also potentially bogging down the story with unnecessary explanations. Kudos to McQuarrie again for managing to keep the characters and their individual motivations in check while still progressing the primary story line. Rogue Nation moves at a lightning fast pace, and if it wasn't so entertaining I would probably feel exhausted by the end. It smartly subverts the things we're expecting, while also introducing things we've never seen in an M:I movie before.

In summation, this movie does what probably no other fifth installment to a franchise has accomplished - it's topped itself once again, and brought us easily the most consistently entertaining film of the entire franchise. There are marked improvements from the last movie, which I really enjoyed, and both the returning cast and the new characters (especially Alec Baldwin) brought a lot to the table. Even Cruise's female co-star, played by the lovely Rebecca Ferguson, remarkably proved to be an equal, something that we've never experienced in this series. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is a masterpiece of stunt work and thrilling action, and thankfully the story is good enough to warrant those incredible scenes. I can't quite go up to four stars, but I'll give this film my strongest possible three and a half. Go out and see it!

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity