REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Cal finally catches up with Tom Cruise’s globetrotting superspy. Is the fifth chapter one of the best yet? 

It’s rare for a Hollywood movie franchise to maintain quality through to its fifth instalment, and yet 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation accomplishes that seemingly impossible mission, emerging as one of the summer’s strongest blockbusters. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who was last seen at the helm of the 2012 Tom Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher, Rogue Nation represents another high point for this now nineteen-year-old franchise, which has flirted with greatness since 2006’s Mission: Impossible III (which is still arguably the best). The decision to move the film’s release date up by a whopping five months was cause for concern, but the finished picture remains astonishingly assured and above all cohesive, pulling together a gripping spy yarn anchored by solid performances and sublime visuals. In short, it’s everything you want from a summer flick and more.

After CIA head Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) works to shut down the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), Ethan Hunt (Cruise) goes rogue, living off the grid as he works to bring down a shadow organisation known as The Syndicate. The likes of Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and tech guru Benji (Simon Pegg) are drafted into CIA service, forced to assist as the agency seeks to find and apprehend Hunt at all costs. As Hunt ventures around the globe determined to prevent further deaths at the hands of The Syndicate, he finds assistance in Benji, Brandt, and old pal Luther (Ving Rhames), while also frequently encountering a British Intelligence agent named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) whose loyalties remain unclear.

The well-publicised stunt involving Cruise dangling from a plane is actually part of the opening sequence, which kicks off the movie on an exhilarating high. The set-piece is a real treat, a thoroughly armrest-clenching, hugely competent opener scored with the iconic M:I theme that left this reviewer giddy with excitement. It was a sublime creative decision to include this stunt at the start of the film – it amplifies the exhilaration factor for the ensuing action scenes, as it’s never entirely clear what’s real and what has been tinkered through digital effects. And that’s the highest compliment one can award a blockbuster of this ilk. Additionally, while all previous entries in the series have aped the show’s title sequence, Rogue Nation takes it one step further, with clips to introduce each respective main player. Indeed, the feature wears its television origins on its sleeve, and it feels closer to the original TV show than all four of its predecessors. As a matter of fact, The Syndicate was a recurring antagonist on the show.

There’s an air of class to Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation that’s unexpected considering its summer blockbuster pedigree, with McQuarrie taking cues from Alfred Hitchcock in particular, as well as paying homage to other classics. Part of the story takes place in Casablanca, which in itself will conjure up memories of the classic 1942 film Casablanca, but the name Ilsa will also be familiar to any cinema aficionados. Additionally, one of the standout set-pieces takes place at an opera in Vienna, which appears to be a callback to Hitchcock’s 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Such touches would be foolhardy in a less skilful production, but Rogue Nation is executed with a deft hand, and it’s smartly-written to boot.

McQuarrie’s proficient directorial talents are aided considerably by the exotic global locations, the vibrant cinematography courtesy of the Oscar-winning Robert Elswit, and Joe Kraemer’s pulse-pounding score which makes great use of Lalo Schifrin’s iconic theme music. For the most part, Rogue Nation is a surprisingly grounded blockbuster, generating excitement through stretches of intense, cloak-and-dagger espionage rather than outright mayhem. McQuarrie gets plenty of mileage out of suspenseful, mostly wordless sequences, reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s work on the original Mission: Impossible film. Even the climax has been dialled back, leaving the trailers to mostly foreground the extended vehicular chase through the streets of Morocco which closes the second act. However, the movie does have its fair share of silly moments, including an over-the-top car roll that looks too digital and is too unrealistic.

The M:I franchise has had its share of witty one-liners, but Rogue Nation is probably the most humorous to date. It’s full of amusing bantering and clever scripting, which keeps the enterprise feeling fun and light. And it’s a testament to McQuarrie’s direction that he is able to juggle the varying tones so well. Naturally, performances right across the board are hugely effective. The decision to induct Pegg into the franchise’s ensemble remains superb. He’s a great asset, and it’s fantastic that the British funny-man returns here in a larger capacity. Meanwhile, Rhames, who has appeared in every instalment thus far, is terrific as always, handling the comedy with a deft hand. Renner also makes his return here, and he’s yet again on fine form. Then there’s Cruise, who remains a consummate pro and a true movie star despite being in his fifties. Cruise does his own driving and stunts, and he’s perpetually focused from start to finish. As for the newcomers, Baldwin makes a positive impression, while Sean Harris excels as the villain. If the last movie, Ghost Protocol, had a flaw, it would’ve been the lack of a memorable bad guy, but Harris fulfils his duties admirably here. And finally, Swedish actress Ferguson really impresses as Ilsa, and she shares great chemistry with Cruise. However, the absence of Michelle Monaghan is a tad disappointing – this series still needs to provide closure on the relationship between Ethan and Monaghan’s Julia.

Rogue Nation is a long movie, ultimately clocking in at over two hours, and at times it does feel its length. After two incredible opening acts, the flick slows down for its final third, which does affect narrative rhythm and pacing. With that said, however, Rogue Nation does improve upon repeat viewings, which solidifies this as another joy for 2015’s summer movie derby and an ideal way to cap off the season. At this point, the prospect of a sixth Mission: Impossible movie is extremely enticing indeed, which is more than can be said for other long-running franchises.

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