The overload of publicity emanating from Hollywood’s promotional machine can leave you fatigued from constantly being told that this weekend’s opening film is “a must-see thriller”, “an epic adventure”, “a gripping suspense”. Every weekend seems to witness the release of a “once in a lifetime film.” Despite the formidable hype, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation delivers an entertaining, clever, and often gripping spy story, propelled dramatically by the mysterious motivations of spy Ilsa Faust, played by the film’s British-Swedish breakout star, Rebecca Ferguson.
I went into this fifth film of the Mission Impossible franchise knowing little about it except that there were lots of very real stunts, including the film’s star, Tom Cruise, being rigged to the side of an Airbus A400M, which struck me initially as too try-hard to be taken seriously. Then the shots in the trailer of the motorcycle chases (“Look! No helmet on Tom Cruise!”), all of the press talking about how many of the stunts Mr. Cruise did himself, struck me as revealing our weariness with the inauthenticity of these studio creations, which far too often are bloated money-making farces of adventure and human drama.
So I dismissed it at first. But then I saw it. It is a nearly perfect action movie. So if you want to have the same experience, go see the movie first and read this review later. (Spoiler alert!)
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, opens with the revamped roster of the IMF (the Impossible Missions Force) introduced in 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, finishing up an operation to intercept Syria-bound nerve gas in Minsk that results in that Airbus stunt. The IMF team at this point consists of Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, a constant source of comic relief), William Brandt, (Jeremy Renner, who in this film spends a lot of time trying to undo the damage done by CIA Director Alan Hunley, played by Alec Baldwin), and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, appearing in his fifth M.I. film).
After completing the Minsk operation, Ethan Hunt returns to the London office to check in and is ambushed by a man who kills the IMF front desk agent and gasses Ethan unconscious. Ethan wakes up with his hands and feet bound, tied to a pillar in a dark room. In walks Ilsa, apparently to interrogate him, but before she has a chance several Swedish-speaking thugs enter, one of whom has a nasty set of knives and the evocative nickname of “the Bone Doctor.” Ilsa passes Ethan Hunt the key to unlock his handcuffs as they wordlessly scheme to get him free while the Bone Doctor monologues him. So, for no reason, Ilsa releases him, but has crafted the escape to look as if he was the architect of his own release, maintaining whatever cover she’s earned for herself with this organization.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, the IMF has been called to testify before the Congressional Intelligence Committee to answer for their seemingly reckless handling of the Moscow explosions in Ghost Protocol. The panel, suspicious that Hunt’s character is both “arsonist and fireman” in all these incidents, ultimately dissolves the IMF, declares Hunt a rogue agent, and reassigns Renner’s and Pegg’s characters to the CIA. Hunt, now sought by the CIA, vanishes so he can solve the mystery of the Syndicate on his own.
This film has all the exotic allure of chasing would-be assassins around the Vienna Opera House (in a brilliantly shot sequence that avoids the usual musical clichés) and of pursuing rogue spies on motorcycle through mountain cutback roads in Morocco (with one spy named Ilsa looking an awful lot like Ingrid Bergman). You’ve got palace intrigue and third-act statecraft. And, gloriously, you have Alec Baldwin using that prissy bluster of his to great comedic effect. This is a movie which maximizes every asset in its story, cast, and world-design to tell a very entertaining spy tale.
The most satisfying achievement of the film, in addition to the noteworthy feat of crafting an international spy-ring-antagonist conspiracy that feels fresh, is the mystery of Ilsa Faust and her enigmatic relationship with Ethan Hunt. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation cleverly hints at both directions her character can finally embrace—betrayal or ultimate loyalty—uncovering layer upon layer of intrigue and deception as the film progresses. Furthermore, a story direction not hinted at in the trailers and advertising involves the conclusion of Renner and Baldwin’s characters’ story line, bringing the conflict of the IMF and the Syndicate to a satisfying conclusion.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity
Written and Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, and Alex Baldwin
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