Sticking to the Formula
The fifth Mission: Impossible is a very competent action movie. Christopher McQuarrie seems to be marking off a checklist as he chronicles the latest adventures of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF* crew. Tom Cruise gets to run a whole lot? Check. Cruise gets to perform a crazy stunt that we can put right on the poster? Check. IMF gets all screwed up because it’s the worst spy organization in the history of both real and fictional mankind? Check. Comedic bumbling from a loyal sidekick? Check. Femme fatale that has just enough sexual tension with the lead? Check.
There’s nothing wrong with Rogue Nation being by the numbers. Sometimes you just need a solid action flick, especially at this point in the year. Still, the latest Mission: Impossible didn’t give me the same warm feelings deep inside that Ghost Protocol did. It all feels very calculated, running down the aforementioned checklist.
The big stunt especially feels checked off. Ethan Hunt jumps on that plane right out of the gate, flopping around like a suction cup Garfield on the wrong side of the window on a speeding car. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the rest of the movie. You might be able to argue the same about the Burj Khalifa skyscraper scene in Ghost Protocol, however that felt much more organic in the actual story.
The one scene that did really work for Rogue Nation is the opera assassination showdown. Secret musical rifles, catwalk fistfights, that’s what I’m talking about! It keeps introducing players and stacking problem after problem onto Hunt and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). This is Mission: Impossible at its best, something the movie could have used much more of.
*Did you know that IMF stood for “Impossible Missions Force”? I didn’t, and laughed out loud when I heard it mentioned.
Continuity and Women
Does any series have a more unusual continuity than Mission: Impossible? Every film is different. You never know what crew you’re going to get, although it seems that Ethan Hunt and Benji Dunn are givens at this point, along with at least a dash of Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames). Throw in another male and female agent and you’ve got Mission:Impossible stew, baby! There’s a whoooole lot of sausage in that stew.
After Ghost Protocol was far better than anyone outside of the Church of Scientology could have expected, it seemed odd not to bring back Jane Carter (Paula Patton), just as it was odd not to bring back Zhen Lei (Maggie Q) from M:I III. Supposedly neither of them were available for this one. I’m not sure where they would have fit in the story if they were available. Rogue Nation gives its female roster spot to a classic spy movie femme fatale-type in the person of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).
Ferguson acquits herself well in Rogue Nation, although I wasn’t quite as taken with her character as a number of the film’s reviewers seem to be. It seems odd that she is the only notable female in this world. Just one female agent on the IMF team would have solved this problem. They brought William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) back for Rogue Nation just to speak to congress. The role occupied by Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) could have easily been occupied by a woman, however that would have deprived us of Alec Baldwin.
The M:I series can keep all of the men around, but can’t bring any women back. Think about some of the actresses that have been featured in this series. There’s Patton and Q as mentioned above. There’s also Keri Russell, Michelle Monaghan, and Thandie Newton. I’m not one for complaining about these issues typically, but it is very weird.
My biggest issue with Rogue Nation was the villain. The gold standard for M:I baddies is Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Davian made it personal with Ethan Hunt. It helped that the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman played him. The personal angle helped immensely though. People tend not to recall the finer details of M:I III. They remember Owen Davian.
Rogue Nation also tries to go straight for Ethan Hunt, this time with a rival spy organization known as The Syndicate, led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Harris has the chops to play a good villain, but damn does that man need a beard. The clean-shaven professional look just isn’t menacing. Harris looks more like a creepy (big emphasis on creepy) top henchman than the mastermind of an organization so shadowy that even shadowy organizations don’t know about them. Solomon Lane looks like a character from Tim and Eric Awesome Show. His plots may be menacing, but Solomon Lane’s presence is not. He doesn’t get any better than his initial appearance in a London record shop.
That said, the Bone Doctor (Jens Hultén) is a wonderful top henchman name. A big, crazy, sadistic Russian? Yeah, that’s what’s up.
The action is real solid for the most part, especially the opera scene and the motorcycle chase in Morocco. Even with a severe lack of women, the cast is terrific. Cruise and Pegg are basically a duo at this point, and who doesn’t love more Ving Rhames? It’s a little puzzling as to why they’d leave Jeremy Renner mostly on the sidelines. At least he has Alec Baldwin to keep him company. Your enjoyment of Rogue Nation all depends on how much you like Sean Harris’ villain and Rebecca Ferguson’s femme fatale. It’s not my favorite Mission: Impossible, but it does what it needs to effectively and efficiently.