Monday 27 July 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation review

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (12A/PG-13, 131 mins)
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

It’s a sad state of affairs that Tom Cruise is the biggest star on the planet in every measure other than box office returns. For charisma, charm and sheer star wattage, on and off the camera, he’s still at the top of a tree he’s occupied for over 30 years now.

And yet for some reason cinemagoers, or perhaps more correctly, American cinemagoers, don’t want to look at his films anymore outside the Mission: Impossible franchise. In the face of this apathy he seems to have made it his mission to astonish audiences into submission by attempting things on screen that no human, never mind a pampered A-lister, should be doing.

That included dangling from the world’s tallest building in Ghost Protocol, the previous M:I movie, and now this fifth entry in the series showcases Cruise as superspy Ethan Hunt hanging on seemingly unharnessed from the side of a plane in take-off.

It’s pretty much what the entire film is being sold on, and looks like part of an elaborate climactic sequence, but in actual fact it happens in the first two minutes as Hunt and his team target a group of terrorists. He’s trying to get on the plane to rescue its dangerous cargo and, as prologues go, it’s magnificent stuff, brief but jaw-dropping and clearly completely real. See it in IMAX with the sound making the floor beneath you shake and you’ll feel like you’re taking off with him.

Such heights are hard to sustain, and for some of the next hour or so as plot elements are clicked into position, it can sometimes feel like you’re back down to earth and sitting in a traffic jam instead of flying high.

First off there’s the emergence of a shadowy organisation known as the Syndicate, rogue operatives responsible for worldwide atrocities. Then the Impossible Mission Force gets dissolved at the behest of Alec Baldwin’s CIA boss who doesn’t believe the Syndicate exists and thinks Hunt is himself rogue, leaving him on the CIA’s wanted list and on the run with only Simon Pegg’s analyst Benji to help him.

Ethan has already encountered Ilsa Faust (the excellent Rebecca Ferguson), a potential double agent who looks to be working for the Syndicate, led by a chilling bad guy in Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, who seems as though his many years of playing quietly dangerous nutters have been leading to this).

None of this is dull, but there’s a lot of it, interspersed with a bunch of fights and some country hopping. A polished sequence at the Vienna opera sets the film back on track while also setting up the mystery of just what exactly Ilsa is up to. And central to the Mission movies is having to steal a bit of tech from an impregnable stronghold, leading to a top notch underwater escapade that owes a lot to Gravity.

There’s a high-speed motorbike pursuit in Morocco that will leave you breathless, assuming you’ve got it back after the underwater stuff, but not all of these action moments feel like they're advancing the story, the bike chase in particular. So for all that these sequences look cool and offer fleeting excitement, there’s a bit of padding here, and a few too many computer generated cars despite protestations that it’s all for reals.

Critically though, as much of what makes these movies good is built on tension as it is on action. But even more importantly than that, it’s built on characters, and makes a virtue of Hunt’s doggedness and willingness to do what it takes for the mission. The result is a delicately balanced and extremely suspenseful chess game (not literally!) between Ethan and Lane that ratchets up as we head towards one of the best finales of the series.

Cruise is reliably excellent throughout and Jeremy Renner gets some funny lines but absolutely nothing to do in the action stakes (for some reason Benji has been promoted to second fiddle), which seems like a shame considering how able he was in Ghost Protocol. Overshadowing all of them is Ferguson, with the little-known Swede demonstrating serious combat chops as well as convincing us as an agent with a lot of secrets.

With 15 minutes shaved off and a little more clarity of focus, Rogue Nation might have claimed Best Mission: Impossible Movie. We’ll just have to settle for it being a first rate action movie and a terrific spy movie.

1 comment:

  1. It's not as fun as MI: Ghost Protocol and at some points in the movie lapses into the Daniel Craig-Bond side of the serious scale (i.e. taking itself quite seriously rather than the fun ridiculity that I associate with the M:I movies). It also suffers from a slightly weak female lead. But if you're not a finicky person like me, it's a fun ride full of adventure and thrills, and is a pretty clever movie which embraces the fun side of the genre with aplomb.

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