Wednesday, July 29, 2015

'Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation' review

When a film opens with one of the most daring and spectacular stunt sequences in recent memory, conventional wisdom would say that the movie peaks too early- that the rest of the film will certainly fall short of that dazzling scene. Not Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation. Even though the fifth installment in the spy franchise opens with a set piece for the record books, Rogue Nation keeps finding a way to top itself, with carefully designed, edge-of-your-seat thrills and twists. A good, old-fashioned piece of Hollywood entertainment, Tom Cruise's latest espionage spectacular thrives off of the charm of its stars as well as an incredible amount of gasp-inducing, mind-blowing action scenes that rank among some of the best to grace the silver screen this year. While it doesn't quite reach the heights of Ghost Protocol, the franchise's finest achievement, Rogue Nation is another fantastic outing for the Mission: Impossible team and a blast of pure energy in a summer that has lost its way in recent weeks.

Picking up where Ghost Protocol left off, Rogue Nation continues the adventures of IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) as he hunts criminals around the globe. This time, he's tracking a terrorist organization known as The Syndicate, responsible for the disappearance of many agents across the globe. However, Hunt and the IMF are also under fire from the CIA, especially Chief Hunley (Alec Baldwin) for their crazy mishaps that left the Kremlin in pieces (the irony that it's Alec Baldwin trying to take down the IMF will undoubtedly draw mentions to Team America: World Police, which is simply hilarious in my mind). Top IMF agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) tries to stop Hunley and an executive government board but it's too late- the IMF is disbanded and Hunt is deemed a rogue agent, with his capture being a top priority. But despite the constant presence of the CIA on his trail, Hunt will stop at nothing to stop the Syndicate and capture Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the ruthless mastermind behind the whole operation. With the help of femme fatale Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and his close friend Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Hunt will embark on his most dangerous mission yet to prevent the world from falling into total chaos.

Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol is one of the better action films of the 21st Century so far. It's a slick, funny thrill ride and I remember sitting in that theater back in 2011 and being completely awed by what was on screen. With that in mind, I knew that Rogue Nation would have a lot of expectations to live up to. And in many aspects, director Christopher McQuarrie and his team exceed that high bar. As a stunt show and as an action film, Rogue Nation matches and even beats Ghost Protocol in pretty much every way. Each set piece is so meticulously staged and delicately crafted that you'll find yourself leaning forward, holding your breath and staring in awe as the scene unfolds. That sort of power is unparalleled in modern film making and it's something that this franchise has done so well in recent years.

The biggest obstacle that Rogue Nation runs into is in regards to the plot department, and this has consistently been my most pressing issue with this franchise. As the twists pile up, so do the questions, and at times, it seems that Rogue Nation really isn't keen on answering them. What I liked about Ghost Protocol was that it mixed that amazement factor with clear objectives and a plot that was smart, but easy enough to follow. Rogue Nation, particularly in its third act, is much more muddled. The sudden turns can be fun, but at a certain point, they just kept coming and coming to the point where I felt that enough was enough. The screenplay by McQuarrie is quick and sharp, yet a tad too convoluted for its own good.

But despite those issues, Rogue Nation is a rollicking good time and certainly one of the better entries in the series. Although Rogue Nation didn't continue Ghost Protocol's simple plot structure, it did manage to amplify many other aspects of that film and even improve on them. This is a tremendously quick-witted and funny film, with much of the humor coming from Simon Pegg. He's one of the funniest comedic actors on the planet, and he gets the chance to do some great work as well as work with a developed character that has a real importance to the film. Pegg's Benji has been the comic relief guy in the past, but now, he's a full-fledged member of the team and that works to this film's benefit.

Renner has some good scenes too and he continues to show that he's a gifted actor who can work with action scenes as well as comedic beats and deep character moments. He's an actor with a lot of depth and range and that has always helped him give strong performances. Rebecca Ferguson delivers an impressive performance as the female lead of the cast, but I have to admit that I wasn't a fan of some of the directions that her character went in. However, it is certainly refreshing to see a movie where the main female cast member doesn't have to run around in high heels or have a romantic relationship with any of the characters. Ferguson's Ilsa has a complicated relationship with Hunt and I love their dynamic throughout this film.

Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris and Ving Rhames are great as well in their supporting roles, but the glue that holds it all together is Cruise and I think that it's no secret at this point- he's the reason this franchise is still flying so high. Cruise's drive for perfection and his desire to make this film feel as real as possible are things that make Rogue Nation better. The fact that Cruise did some of these stunts is insane and it adds some weight to the film that wouldn't be there otherwise. I've never seen Cruise so determined in a movie role before. Hunt is a man on a mission and so is Cruise.

The slight weaknesses of Rogue Nation are undeniable, but the strengths are so strong that they almost make you forget about what doesn't work in the film. Although the film runs a tad long at 131 minutes, McQuarrie holds the audience's attention throughout and moves the simple, yet complex plot along at such a breakneck pace that it can be hard to keep up. The hard-hitting violence and the Third Man-esque conclusion match up well with the absurd stunt work, making for an action experience that is constantly engaging.

The most impressive thing about Rogue Nation's action scenes is that each one stands on its own. The setpieces aren't all monotonously the same- there's something different in every scene. A different setting, a different weapon, different stakes. If I were to find a flaw in George Miller's action masterclass Mad Max: Fury Road, that would be it- all of the action scenes pretty much play out in similar ways. With Rogue Nation, that isn't a problem at all. The airplane chase. The opera house shootout. The motorcycle chase. The water dive. The cafe duel. All of these scenes up the ante and each have their own distinct feel and that makes the experience of watching Rogue Nation very interesting and engaging.

While Rogue Nation isn't as invigorating as something like Ghost Protocol or Skyfall, it works on nearly every level, delivering non-stop fun and some white-knuckle action scenes that are visceral, yet staged brilliantly. In a time where many action films feel fun, yet safe, Rogue Nation plays with our expectations, delivering an unpredictable and entertaining thriller that will please die hard fans and amaze audience members. Ghost Protocol brought this series back to life. Rogue Nation proves that it's here to stay.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                            (8.5/10)


  1. Mission Impossible stunts always go so hard.

  2. I heartily agree! While it lacked the straight-forward drive of Ghost Protocol, I felt like this had more energy and drive. I especially appreciated that Rebecca Ferguson's character was important, not just eye candy. Though I don't know that I'd class her as a femme fatale, luring men to their doom. She's not just a catalyst or a temptation, she's an active, important part of the plot as a whole, keeping up with the boys and even besting them at times.