The good Lord willing, in some 20 years after watching a 70-something year old Tom cruise charm is way through a feature, I will sit my kids down and give them an old school lecture on the marvel that was the legendary impossible white man Tom Cruise sprint.
Montages from The Firm, Jack Reacher and the Mission Impossible films will be will be reverenced and any excuse to watch John Woo’s ridiculously entertaining overdose on slow motion is always welcome. Cruise the action star, post De Palma’s Mission Impossible, surely has become an institution. I wasn’t really sure after Ghost Protocol and Jack Reacher but I am truly convicted now.
It has been almost 20 years since the first entry and in spite of the stylistic shifts that came with the various directors, the Mission: Impossible franchise has thrived like fine wine and peaks with Christopher McQuarrie’s entry, Rogue Nation. McQuarrie intelligently takes full advantage of the franchise’s longevity to construct a very aware film with layers of wit, meta-texture, pastiche and borderline parody interwoven into an excellently tense action thriller.
The film revels in the idea of its franchise player executing his own stunts and opens with the well marketed sequences that features the beatified Cruise sprint and culminates in Cruise (as Ethan Hunt but who cares) hanging onto the outside of an airborne military cargo plane as he and his team try to retrieve a package in a James Bond style opening. Later in the film he goes on to school motor sport riders and daredevils alike in the art of ultra-high-speed motorcycle racing on winding highways without any protective gear of course. Am I overstepping by adding Hunt was literally dead minutes then involved in a ridiculously intense car crash minutes before executing his motorbike stunt? Maybe but this film is so driven by character perspective spoiler points do not even come into play.
The titular concept of the rogue nation is almost intentionally ambiguous. We don’t know if they are some underground organisation or a coalition baddest assassins, a la John Wick, on the planet but we do know they are bad news for the IMF. The IMF themselves are also met with concerns about transparency, oversight and mishaps like a certain Russian building undergoing an unfortunate makeover. Impetuous CIA chief Hunley (Alec Baldwin) really has it in for the IMF and is calling for the espionage unit to be disbanded.
He succeeds and has the IMF absorbed into the CIA with Ethan’s pals, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and techie Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) becoming company men. Ethan’s old pal Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) also features but isn’t messing with the CIA after the forced union. Almost simultaneously, Hunt helps himself to court side seats as the IMF is seriously compromised by an attack from an ominous shadow outfit known as The Syndicate (or the rogue nation). They are conduits of civil unrest and global conspiracies consisting of industrial accidents, political assassinations and inexplicably missing airliners — all points conveyed with an interesting real world feel.
The rogue nation is led by one of the more fascinating and creepy M:I villains, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), and he is the man who finally pushes Hunt to the edge. There are moments of genuine despair for Hunt as this baddie appears a step ahead at every turn the test become less physical and more emotional. This is the one mission the disavowed Hunt can walk away from but things get real obsessive for our star as he further involves his old pals in his mission to bring down the calculating Lane and his shadow organisation of mostly Eastern European looking black leather clad thugs.
The more interesting piece of the rogue nation is the British operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who comes off as a classic femme fatale and getting a read on her deal proves difficult. She presents and intriguing proposition for Hunt from the moment she aids his escape from the clutches of the Syndicate but the next moment she has cross hairs trained on the heart of a head of state. She is a portrait of nuance in the espionage game and reminds us the difference between agents is mainly what they choose to believe in. Consider the dynamic between Hunt and Lane: Lane believes in anarchy and violence as the route to order but Hunt is ever the honourable and collateral damage is never an option.
Rogue Nation’s wildcard is ultimately Chris McQuarrie with his exceptional direction and layered screenplay driving affairs. Early on the powers-that-be condemn the IMF as an organisation that has thrived on luck – cut to a restrained Hunt, awaiting evisceration, glancing at a rabbit foot dropped by his fortuitous and eventual rescuer. Rouge Nation is tremendously aware of itself and constantly winks at audiences as the film unravels with commendable wit.
There’s a certain Mission not impossible (but rather difficult) gag pushed by Benji and Cruise is surprisingly up for some physical humour. We always drool over the awesome Cruise sprint but as the endgame approaches, Hunt stumbles through London alleys winded. The fun and pastiche is ramped up with 20 years of this franchise allowing for throwbacks to some of the iconic sequences from the other franchise entries. Our director is even sophisticated enough to churn a metaphor for aging action stars from this film – Yes there will be other people to take Hunt’s place if he gave up and disappeared but Hunt is ostensibly married to the game and we love Hunt/Cruise so the status quo remains.
This film is well paced and that tense Vienna opera sequence, expertly executed by McQuarrie, fraught with suspense comes off as one of the more exceptional thrilling set piece this year. Rogue Nation has enough strong character moments to sustain some drama and enough kinetic action sequences to go with your bucket of popcorn. Most of us came for Cruise and the fun but McQuarrie is savvy enough give us a legitimate cinematic experience and one of the films of the year.