'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation'
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.