‘Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation’ is a franchise best
Every once in a while, there’s an action movie you breathe your way out of as the credits roll. You’ve been smiling the last several minutes and maybe you hadn’t even realized you were holding your breath. You’re also charged -- your adrenaline’s spiking and you feel like you could do a thousand ill-advised stunts just like the action heroes on screen did. “The Matrix” is the poster child of this post-movie syndrome. Millions of viewers hoped that someone tried to engage them in a kung fu battle in the theater’s parking lot. It’s not alone. “The Bourne Ultimatum” made us feel like we could race across rooftops and earlier this year, “Mad Max: Fury Road” made passengers across America shout for exhilarated drivers to stop hairpinning every turn as if they were being chased by post-apocalyptic Viking dune buggies.
“Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation” is not just the best of the “Mission: Impossible” films, it’s also one of the better spy movies you may ever see. There are larger than life action sequences, but the film lives and breathes its complicated spy world like none of the other “M:I” films have. Each movie in this series has been an action movie first and a spy movie second. “Rogue Nation” reverses this trend. It ramps up the film’s spy elements without losing the breakneck action. Moreover, there are fewer technological gimmicks -- “Rogue Nation” is a film about play and counter-play, about plots buried within plots and the personalities behind them clashing and manipulating each other.
The hallmark of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is getting to see nearly every element of a well-orchestrated plan go wrong at some point. The team has to adjust on the fly. “Rogue Nation” is no different.
As Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his spy agency the IMF are shut down by Congress, he has to pursue a burgeoning terrorist organization without much help. Where predecessor “Ghost Protocol” found mileage by pairing Cruise with Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt, “Rogue Nation” makes a riskier gambit. Cruise is paired with British comedian Simon Pegg’s hacker Benji for a good portion of the film. Benji isn’t just there for comic relief; he’s an agent in his own right by this point. Even while the film’s espionage elements are tightening, Pegg’s impeccable timing and irreverent attitude bring a fuller human being out of Cruise this time around. Pegg’s presence allows Cruise to be less perfect, more flawed. It’s an unexpectedly enjoyable screen pairing.
The previous “best” in the series, “Ghost Protocol” let the viewer into the chaos even as a plan unfolded. The tension in a spy sequence relied on how our heroes were going to find ways to help each other as everything around them broke down. “Rogue Nation” takes a different tack by hiding several characters’ real motivations from the viewer. The tension arises from how our heroes may find ways to betray each other. It’s a fun inversion that takes particular advantage of Jeremy Renner’s skill at being a franchise’s wet blanket.
There are two big names to know here. The first is Rebecca Ferguson. She plays Ilsa Faust, who is Ethan’s equal as an agent. This isn’t the James Bond style of “equal,” meaning she’s equal insofar as it takes to turn her into a romantic conquest. No, she is essentially as good a fighter, as good a shot, as good a driver, and as clever a spy as Ethan is. She’s also the heart of the plot, something of a quadruple agent by the time the story’s done.
This brings up the second name: Christopher McQuarrie. He directed and wrote the screenplay. You may not know him, but he once won an Oscar for writing “The Usual Suspects.” It was a complex crime thriller with practical style and storytelling. Rogue Nation hearkens back to that practical style, as well as the first “Mission: Impossible” film, for inspiration. McQuarrie has a talent for creating incredibly complex and ever-evolving stories, but he uses considerable behind-the-scenes wizardry to present a classy, raw-yet-polished style that’s free of needless flash. Audiences can easily keep up with and enjoy the complicated spy shenanigans.
We may not all be Tom Cruise fans -- there are things to admire and despise about the actor himself. If you’re going to watch any recent Tom Cruise movie, this is the one to see. There’s not much ego to the film. It’s also a Rebecca Ferguson and a Simon Pegg movie. While it’s a very good action movie, it’s a truly thrilling spy movie. You won’t see anything else like it this year.
Three-and-a-half out of four stars. “Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol” is rated PG-13 for action.
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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