Written By James Jones
Rating: 3 stars
In recent years, spying in Hollywood has been dominated by three main franchises: Bond, Bourne and Mission: Impossible. Two have unmistakable theme tunes and the other is noted for its gritty realism, at odds with many action blockbusters which have increasingly depended on computer special effects. No one, however, could accuse Mission:Impossible – Rogue Nation of an over-reliance on CGI. It is a film which opens with Tom Cruise literally hanging on for dear life to the side of an aeroplane as it takes off. Not bad for a 53-year-old.
The fifth outing for Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his fellow IMF operatives sees CIA Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) attempt to shut down the IMF as a result of its rather erratic and destructive activities, as seen in the previous film. It soon becomes clear, however, that the CIA is not the only threat to the IMF’s existence when the shadowy terrorist organisation known as The Syndicate, led by the rather creepy Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), attempts to wreak havoc.
These are the bare bones of a plot which strings together a series of action sequences (some rip-roaringly outrageous, some less so) and, whilst the action jumps around the globe, the threat from The Syndicate feels anything but global. Not that such set pieces are ineffective: indeed, the film is at its best when it throws itself fully into the absurdity and unashamed implausibility of Hunt et al’s escapades. The stakes, however, are never raised high enough for any of it to much matter.
Tom Cruise’s enthusiasm and sheer star power is evident and, supported by Simon Pegg as IMF tech wizard Benji and Rebecca Ferguson as British (is that double?) agent Isla Faust, he remains a compelling action hero. Cruise’s insistence on doing his own stunts (which necessarily demands that his fellow actors do so as well) landed him with six injuries during the course of filming and it wouldn’t be surprising if the vast majority of the film’s investment from Alibaba Pictures (part of the Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba) went on paying for the cast’s insurance premiums.
The M:I franchise has benefited from a different director for each film, imbuing each with a unique tone and identity. Brian De Palma, John Woo, J. J. Abrams and Brad Bird have each directed an instalment and Rogue Nation is helmed by Christopher McQuarrie, whose previous credits as a screenwriter include The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie and Edge of Tomorrow. In the director’s seat, however, McQuarrie is overwhelmed by Cruise and the whole film feels like a wild theme park dedicated to Cruise’s attempts to kill himself.
Slightly silly, you might think, to be expecting auteurism from a M:I film, but in the absence of any genre originality in the film’s plotting, a stronger directorial style would have lifted the whole affair. This is not to say that Rogue Nation falls flat. Within the first thirty minutes, the action zips around the globe from Casablanca to Vienna, Cuba to Paris, and would have surely boosted Ethan Hunt’s frequent flyer points no end. A rather fun, Hitchcockian sequence at the Austrian opera (complete with bullets timed to fire when the opera singer hits the high note) and the prerequisite, nicely shot Cruise-on-a-motorbike scenes are enjoyable, even if we have seen them all before.
Despite some slightly questionable dialogue – “he is the living manifestation of destiny” – the script is a lively and often humorous affair, especially when Simon Pegg flexes his comedic muscle (although he is notably less goofy than in previous films). Rebecca Ferguson, too, is impressive in her command over her character, whose ambiguity is interesting to watch. Sean Harris as the head of The Syndicate makes for a rather unsettling villain, rasping and twitching his way through stealing USB drives and causing chaos for Ethan Hunt and crew.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is an enjoyable spectacle but the excitement diffuses well before you reach the cinema exit. It lacks the combination of spectacular gadgetry and truly original stunts which characterised earlier films and which sets the series apart from the likes of Bond and Bourne. As summer blockbusters go, you could do a lot worse. But that’s hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?
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