It goes without saying that Actor/ Producer Tom Cruise knows how to put on a show. Having been active in the movie industry for 35 years, his 19-year-old action vehicle Mission: Impossible (1996, 2000, 2006, 2011, 2015) is his career marker. Not only serving as a reliable income for him as both producer and star, each instalment allows the star to vet a distinctive talent to bring a new style behind the camera. With Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation screenwriter/ director and frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow) gets his turn.
I was surprised that for once in a long time, a big Hollywood movie screenplay is credited to one person. I then remembered that Christopher McQuarrie is an Oscar-winning screenwriter. Upon further digging I saw he won an arbitration case against Drew Pearce, the Iron Man 3 writer who receives a story credit here. As the newest seat in the directors chair he earned his spot working with Cruise on Jack Reacher as well as writing last summer’s critical hit Edge of Tomorrow and was suggested by Cruise to the other producers after the Ghost Protocol director opted not to return. Although he is the least visually distinctive of the directors his crafting remains tight.
So far as tone and visual style goes the movie is a non-commodity. Highly respected cinematographer Robert Elswitt makes sure the camera is pointed is in the right direction and McQuarrie makes sure it lines up with the rest of the scene. What I feel is a lost opportunity here is how the much heavily publicized Cruise hanging on the side of the airplane stunt is shot is wasted. Wouldn’t it be great to have the shot (seen on the poster) start at least five seconds before takeoff, and have the audience hold onto that moment with Cruise? I also wonder if it was possible to have more of a money shot from another plane looking at Cruise on the airplane for a point of reference, similar to what Nolan does in the opening of The Dark Knight Rises [attached to prints of the last M:I film]. Another set-piece showing Cruise underwater would have benefitted from longer (though to be fair.. much harder) takes that look less cartoonish however expertly blended with CGI. Tom, of all people knows how to show us the money and I think it would make sense for a future instalment to be directed by Joseph Kosinski who worked with Cruise on Oblivion and would be better at showing us what we paid for while adding his own style and maintaining a believable look. We know much of it was authentic (Cruise was trained by deep divers to hold his breath for 6 minutes) but I feel how it was shown much of it could have been convincingly shot on green screen.
What the director lacks in style he makes up for in craft with the continuous set-piece formula established with predecessor Ghost Protocol. Opening with the above described sequence, the film advances to a chase as protagonist Ethan Hunt is pursued by C.I.A. director Alec Baldwin (I cannot recall his character’s name) who is trying to capture Hunt and dissolve the IMF. The movie cuts back and forth between Jeremy Renner’s returning character William Brandt with M:I stalwart Luther Stickle (Ving Rhames) who have a strong buddy chemistry and the rest of the IMF team moves from set-piece to set-piece. The opera house fight is a standout as the best action sequence of the year as Hunt, along with fellow operative Benji (Simon Pegg never better, on board since the third instalment) try to thwart an assassination attempt set forth by “The Syndicate” a anti-IMF ‘Rogue Nation’.
The big get in this instalment, keeping away from what I otherwise thought was going to be a boys club is Swedish actress Rebecca Fergusson. Introduced saving Ethan Hunt [as she does multiple times], possible Rogue Nation agent Ilsa Faust is both seen and described behind the scenes as Ethan Hunt’s equal. For what it’s worth she is the series’ best female character and possibly best character as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s baddie in M:I:3 felt more like a middle man and can-do agent Ethan Hunt is more or less a substitute for Cruise’s persona. She constantly alludes mystery, effectively plays both sides while remaining believable on both as a secret agent. Obviously she is also beautiful, but her character proudly evades the hollywood pitfall of being written in a sexist way or still being too overtly sexual.
For once the film series approaches something of a theme, in that of one of the senate hearings describing the results of the IMF agency missions being nothing more than random luck and chance. The evil villain of the picture sums it up by saying Ethan Hunt’s luck will one day run out and the people he cares for will be held responsible or pay for his reckless actions. Such might also be true if one of Cruise’s film stunts goes awry. From that perspective onwards one begins to wonder how far the actor/ character can continue to push himself physically as the franchise extends, and question when the odds will tip out of favour. How did Ethan Hunt survive a motorcycle crash at 120 mph without getting anything more than a scratch on him? How did he survive getting air-blasted into a cargo space at high altitude without shattering his spine on the door frame? Also how is Alec Baldwin able to use a phone on a plane? It’s Mission: Impossible! This is the only time I’ve looked to the title of a movie for such major explanations. And it remains just as satisfying every time. This series is a fast-moving (or running), restless, relentless perpetual motion machine designed specifically for Cruise to show off his own daredevil qualities in order to appease the audience, and he succeeds greatly. One wonders how much longer he can maintain this improbable balancing act.
Paramount Pictures, Skydance Films, Bad Robot Productions Presents Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation starring Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Jeremy Renner, with Alec Baldwin, and Ving Rhames
Running Time 2hrs 12mins. Rated PG-13, est. Budget $150 million