‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ Review: Tired Spy Games

'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation'

Movie Rating:


It’s bizarre to think that Tom Cruise managed to will an old TV series into a film franchise that’s kept trucking for 19 years and counting. Yet here we are with a fifth ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie that’s really starting to show some franchise fatigue.

Thus far, the series has thrived on hiring distinct directors like Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird to each bring his own unique take to Cruise’s cartoon espionage adventures. Unfortunately, this time Cruise saddled the franchise with Christopher McQuarrie, a talented screenwriter without much of a directorial voice. Aside from piling plot twists on top of plot twists and taking everything far too seriously, McQuarrie doesn’t have much of a stamp to lend ‘Rogue Nation’. As a result, the latest episode in the Tom Cruise spy show feels a little tedious.

Things kick off with that big Tom-Cruise-tied-to-a-plane stunt that you’ve heard so much about. While the stunt is impressive, the sequence drops with no setup or payoff. It’s just a cool idea that everyone had to start the movie despite the fact that it has nothing to do with anything else. That’s sort of the problem with ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ as a whole. The set-pieces are fun and intricately designed, while the plot is just a bunch of espionage gobbledygook barely holding it all together. Granted, aside from the first Robert Towne-scripted movie, the ‘M:I’ flicks haven’t exactly been renowned for their intricate plotting. But given that writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has an Oscar for screenwriting, you’d hope the movie would play a little smoother than this.

Not so much. The plot is something to do with an international rogue organization of former spies called The Syndicate, which Tom Cruise (well, he’s technically named Ethan Hunt, but let’s be honest, the character never had a personality beyond being Tom Cruise) is determined to stop. Unfortunately, big CIA boss man Alec Baldwin won’t hear of it. After a series of mix-’em-ups, Cruise ends up having to go rogue to save the world. You know, exactly like all the other ‘Mission: Impossible’ movies.

Cruise stumbles onto an agent within the Syndicate played by the delightful discovery Rebecca Ferguson (seriously, she’s great) who gives him info on super-duper Syndicate baddie Sean Harris. Then, one-by-one, Cruise collects his teammates Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner to help out. Crosses turn into double-crosses, which then turn into triple-crosses until eventually the only person who knows what’s going on is Cruise, who has to both save his reputation and the world (but oddly, not get the girl in this weirdly asexual spy movie).

The good news is that the set-pieces never cease to deliver, whether it’s a wild motorcycle chase through the mountains or an underwater spin on the dangling list-stealing sequence from ‘M:I 1’. There’s a great deal of fun to be had, mixing some fantastic stunt work with just enough CGI to bend reality without breaking it. Cruise does his thing fairly well, furrowing his brow either comedically or dramatically when required and pulling of some pretty great action and fight scenes for a fifty-something.

Simon Pegg tosses in some befuddled British comedy charm. Ferguson delivers a sexy and tough-as-nails spy companion. Renner stands around in the frame with intent, and Ving Rhames tilts his hat sideways while sitting in front of a series of laptops (so you know he’s cool). Beyond that, everyone in the cast just spits out dialogue without emotion or wit, going through the motions because this movie requires a plot between all the chases, explosions, star-gazing and sight-seeing.

It’s no surprise to learn that ‘Rogue Nation’ went into production without an ending. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if all that had been decided were the set-pieces and cast list before the cameras started rolling. There’s a dry and dreary functionary nature to all the dialogue and plotting that’s a real letdown. It’s not just meaningless, but executed without joy. Sure, there are dramatic speeches and plot twists a-plenty, yet none of it adds up to much. That was true of ‘Ghost Protocol’ as well, but at least Brad Bird gave the movie such a heightened cartoony zeal that the plot didn’t matter; it was just a necessary excuse to continue the zaniness. In ‘Rogue Nation’, McQuarrie attempts to conjure the dour feeling of a Jason Bourne movie, only without any of the pointed politics or paranoia required to pull it off.

This ‘M:I’ fivequel is still fluff, only now its somber and stern-faced fluff that’s hard to take seriously. By the time Alec Bawldwin earnestly delivers one of the most ludicrous lines in blockbuster history near the climax, the audience is guaranteed to burst out laughing – not because they should laugh at that line, but because they’re desperate for an excuse to laugh at such a silly spy movie wrongfully pitched with po-faced sincerity.

Hopefully, if the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise continues, Cruise will spend a little more time developing the script and hire a director who knows it’s all supposed to be fun. To be fair, there are times when ‘Rogue Nation’ is quite fun. It’s just a shame that none of the filmmakers or actors get a chance to share in that fun with the stunt guys.

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  1. Bolo

    I feel the same way as Philip Brown (except for that part about J.J. Abrams having a distinct directorial voice). I found all the sequels in this series pretty lacking when it came to anything other than action/infiltration sequences.

    A bit of lively banter among the team would go a long way in terms of my enjoyment of these films. Other than maybe Simon Pegg, nobody has a personality. They’re all just these bland people who are awesome at everything. And the villains in this series actually make your average Marvel villain seem well-delevoped.

  2. Timcharger

    “the delightful discovery Rebecca Ferguson (seriously, she’s great)”
    “Ferguson delivers a sexy and tough-as-nails spy companion.”

    She does look great in the trailers. Is it just me, but her resemblance
    to MI3’s Michelle Monaghan is too uncanny? When I first saw
    Ferguson in the trailers, I thought they were bringing back Ethan
    Hunt’s wife from the 3rd movie as an agent.


    Phil, this line…

    “Cruise, who has to both save his reputation and the world (but oddly, not get the girl in this weirdly asexual spy movie).”

    You’re saying what I think you’re saying right? (Not that there’s
    anything wrong with that.) This rumor is like greatest mystery
    that isn’t a secret but might be completely wrong. too. It’s like
    everyone would say, I knew it. But it could be complete false, too.

    In the 3rd film of the series, Cruise was not asexual. He got
    married. The 4th film, he was still married. Having not seen the
    5th yet, but unless it is revealed that Ethan Hunt is now a bachelor,
    there could be good reason why he doesn’t get the girl.

    • Timcharger

      I just rewatched the ending of the 4th film, and it implies that
      Ethan Hunt stayed married, but only with secret visits to his wife,
      to protect her/hide her from his enemies.

      So even if Hunt saves the world with sexy spy girl Ferguson, wifey
      won’t approve, even if they look alike.

  3. Timcharger

    So I find out that Michelle Monaghan’s character, the wife
    of Ethan Hunt is not mentioned at all in Rogue Nation.

    Not mentioning COULD mean that Ethan Hunt is a free
    man? But going with the storyline from Ghost Protocol,
    that he faked her death, that means they should still be
    secretly married. And secret agents should be good at
    keeping secrets, so that’s why Monaghan isn’t mentioned
    at all in Rogue Nation. Sounds good, right?

    So, I’m going with: Hunt is still married in Rogue Nation.


    So Phil, perhaps you forgot or didn’t know that Hunt is
    married, so it makes sense that you would think:

    “oddly, not get the girl in this weirdly asexual spy movie.”

    Thus making you think about the rumors of Tom Cruise.
    It made me think about the rumors when I read your line.
    And again, not that there’s anything wrong with that,
    if it is true.


    But maybe there’s another possibility. Perhaps Phil,
    you did know that Tom Cruise’s character is married.

    Phil, being unmarried (I think), may not be aware that
    marital vows don’t have that save-the-world loophole.
    Before I got married, I would have guessed such a loophole
    exists. Save the world, you should get the sexy spy girl;
    wives should understand. You did save the world, right?
    But no, that’s a common misunderstanding among
    bachelors. Don’t get me wrong, I would support having
    this exemption. But no such loophole, despite how
    beneficial it is to encourage the saving of the world.

  4. C.C.

    -“Things kick off with that big Tom-Cruise-tied-to-a-plane stunt that you’ve heard so much about. While the stunt is impressive, the sequence drops with no setup or payoff. It’s just a cool idea that everyone had to start the movie despite the fact that it has nothing to do with anything else.”

    You mean, just like the James Bond movies? And Raiders of The Lost Ark and the Indy movies?
    Not a new thing.

    • Phil Brown

      Oh yeah, many action movies start with a disconnected action sequence,but this didn’t even have a little self contained story to it nor was it ever referred to again in the movie like a bond or Indiana Jones flick. It was just one big stunt that didn’t relate to the rest of the movie. That’s what was odd and a little off.

      • Mr. Noodle;'s brother

        hang on, and spoiler alert, the sequence served to paint a picture of this “rogue nation” that is operating behind the scenes. they do mention that the people who were transporting the cargo had not the money, nor the resources, to be dealing with this payload.

      • cardpetree

        Lol, it was the first mention of the Syndicate in the movie so how was it just one big stunt that didn’t relate to the rest of the movie?

        • Chris B

          Yeah, I was thinking the same thing as I was watching the film. The payload is being transferred by The Syndicate. I get where Phil’s coming from though, the connection was pretty thin in that it was a line or two of dialogue and that’s it. Also, the complete lack of set-up for the sequence is kind of ridiculous. At the very least it would have benefited from at least 5 minutes or so of stealthy/espionagy/IMFy stuff beforehand in a hangar or something.

    • Chris B

      You should really make a point of seeing MI:3 Will, I think it’s actually the best of the series, although that could change after I see Rogue Nation this week…

  5. Chris B

    I’m a little surprised by the disparity between Phil’s score and the majority of other film critics as well. Going to see this on tuesday night and really looking forward to it. For me personally, this summer hasn’t had that many blockbusters I’m all that interested in seeing, this is one of the few I feel like actually going to the theatre to watch. Say what you want about Cruise and his strange religious beliefs, the guy delivers entertaining action movies year in and year out…he’s a beast.

  6. Chris B

    As much as it pains me, I have to agree with Phil’s review of this one. The whole thing just felt rather bland and lacking in personality. The main villain had such an obnoxious and nasally way of speaking, the underwater sequence was obviously a re-hash of the first MI, although lacking most of the tension, and why did we have to spend so much time in London?! How dull and unoriginal. As Phil pointed out, at least the director’s of the previous installments gave their films a distinctive flavor (however unsavory John Woo’s may have been). Just a letdown all around. I think I’ll re-watch the other films in the franchise to remind myself of what a fun spy flick feels like…

  7. Timcharger

    Cruise should hire a director who should know it’s supposed to be FUN…
    Too bad the filmmakers or actors don’t share the FUN with the stunt guys….

    And the winner of the poll by a wide margin:
    It’s FUN! I enjoyed it.

    Couldn’t help notice that.

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