Thursday, August 6, 2015

Movie Review: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie.
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie and Drew Pearce based on the television series created by Bruce Geller.
Starring: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Sean Harris (Solomon Lane), Simon McBurney (Atlee), Jingchu Zhang (Lauren), Tom Hollander (Prime Minister), Jens Hultén (Janik Vinter), Alec Baldwin (Alan Hunley).

The Mission Impossible movies are that rare action franchise that operates at a continually high level each time out – and actually seem to get better with each passing movie. Say whatever you want about Tom Cruise – and there’s lots to say – but he throws himself into each one of these movies, and really goes all out to entertain – constantly seeking to top himself with new, bolder stunts. He also, as producer, has a knack for picking the right director to come into the franchise and give it new life. It’s not often that the fifth film in a series is the best – and I’m not convinced Rogue Nation is better than Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol (the fourth entry) – but damn it, it comes close. It’s also the most ridiculously entertaining action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road – and had that action masterwork not come out this year, this likely would be the best live action blockbuster of the year. It’s just so much fun.

The plot of the this installment is just as ridiculous as the plots of all the Mission Impossible movies – which by the way, I’ve almost completely forgotten because these movies are not really about plots. This one is about the disbanding of the IMF, which causes Cruise’s Ethan Hunt to go Rogue, as he tries to track down the leader of a group known as the Syndicate named Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) – who is like the IMF, except evil. Hunt has his team – Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) in place, and is being hunted by the CIA and its new director (Alec Baldwin) – and, of course, there’s a new woman – Ilsa Faust (the ridiculously sexy Rebecca Ferguson), who may be good, or may be evil, but dammit, she looks good to Hunt either way.

The set pieces in Rogue Nation are, quite simply, amazing – not just in their execution, but in their variety. The preview is built around Cruise hanging off the side of a plane – and that happens just a few minutes into the movie. There’s also an excellent car chase sequence, which turns into a bike chase sequence – which is far better than even the good car work in the Fast & Furious movies – a heist sequence, which requires Cruise to hold his breath underwater in what is essentially a large turbine, and best of all, an attempted assassination sequence in an opera house – which builds the type of suspense that Hitchcock would be proud of.

The director of all this is Christopher McQuarrie, who directed Cruise before in Jack Reacher, and won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Usual Suspects 20 years ago. Up until now, he’s been a fine director – but he blows past fine director in this film. This is one of the best action films of the year.

These movies are perhaps the purest distillation of Tom Cruise’s public persona. No, they aren’t his best work as an actor – the twin 1999 movies, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, which both play on his public image brilliantly – are probably that. But the Mission Impossible movies present Cruise to the world in the precise light he wants to be seen in – and shows him at his very best.

By this point in the summer, I am usually worn out of big action movies, and ready to move on to the prestige films of the fall (there is a reason I skipped the latest Terminator movie, and will likely skip Fantastic Four as well – waiting for home video for both). And if you’re like that as well, I more than understand, but you’re missing something great if you don’t see this movie in a theater. It’s great blockbuster filmmaking – that puts most of what we’ve seen this summer to shame. I’m not sure how they keep doing it – but this series just keeps getting better.

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