VOD Review: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.
The fifth film in the “prop up the myth that Tom Cruise is still sexy and cool” franchise tries to do it right, but doesn’t quite excite.
When your movie franchise has more entries than Jaws and is just shy of rivaling Rocky for sequels, things can get a bit stale. Even more so when every mission you undertake is supposedly impossible. Keeping the stakes high is pretty tough when you stop the world from blowing up every Tuesday (which also happens to be Mike Pence’s new job). Can Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) accomplish his most impossible mission: keep us entertained for over two hours?
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)
MI:RN’s mission, should it choose to accept it: try to uncover a shadowy cabal, imaginatively named “The Syndicate” because “Illuminati Monsatan Reptilian Big Pharma” was already trademarked by Alex Jones. This mission will be super impossible however, because the MI team has been disbanded (again), and Ethan Hunt is a fugitive from the law (again). I can start to see why Tom Cruise has such fantastic hair in the MI movies; there’s a whole lot of lather, rinse, repeat going on here. Let me guess, he meets up with a beautiful secret agent that he can’t quite trust. He does?! Time to get my own 900 number, people, I must be a psychic.
Starring Tom Cruise as… Tom Cruise.
A good spy thriller rises or falls on its lead characters. One of the biggest debates to any 007 movie is how well the actor inhabits James Bond. Ben Affleck took a ton of flak doing a Jack Ryan movie solely because he wasn’t Harrison Ford’s version of Agent Ryan. Don’t even remind the internet about Jeremy Renner trying to reboot the Bourne franchise… These days Liam Neeson has remade his acting persona based entirely on being a man with a particular set of skills.
My gripe with the MI films has always been that Tom Cruise doesn’t become Ethan Hunt, Ethan Hunt becomes Tom Cruise’s perception of himself. The Tom Cruise brand is the premise that he is that guy who is so talented, sexy and charming that you can’t help but to like the smug little shit. He’s been playing Maverick for 30 years. MI is just a vehicle for continuing that image. It’s pretty telling that his best movies have always been about Tom Cruise ™ getting his comeuppance, being parodied, or straight up acknowledging that people don’t actually buy that persona anymore.
Calling In the Support Team.
Cruise is somewhat bailed out by a talented cast behind him. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg return to the series, and both put in workmanlike performances. Jeremy Renner plays the MI head honcho, and does a good job sparring with Alec Baldwin’s hard-ass FBI director. They only go so far though, as much like Cruise, the artifice in their art is nakedly on display. It’s pretty clear that Renner and Pegg are doing these roles to pad their resumes for other projects (Pegg in particular seems hell bent for leather to be taken seriously in action movies,) and Ving Rhames is just doing his same old routine for a paycheck. None of them seem to actually live in the MI world, so it gets hard to invest in the goings on, especially with such a cliched plot.
Beauty in Destruction.
The directing of the film is its strongest aspect. Christopher McQuarrie is apparently sewn at the hip to Tom Cruise, having been involved in Edge of Tomorrow, Jack Reacher, and the upcoming Mummy movie, and he seems to know how to get the most mileage out of his star. The stunts are slick, including the much ballyhooed airplane scene that Cruise insisted on doing himself. The action is clear and polished, with nary a trace of the Bourne style shaky cam. The vistas are gorgeous and presented gloriously, from lush Russian plains to a sumptuous Austrian Opera.
Having written the movie as well as directing it, McQuarrie also shows a keen understanding of what sets the Mission Impossible aesthetic apart from other spy thrillers, evoking the gadgetry and nostalgia of the classic series in a way that doesn’t seem forced or cheesy.
That being said, McQuarrie can’t shake how samey the movie feels to previous MI movies and spy thrillers in general. There’s no real twist or wrinkle to the film to make it feel like its own animal. The action is done very well, but I knew each scene was coming in pretty much the exact order they came in. That lack of originality is quite surprising coming from the man who wrote The Usual Suspects. Evidently everyone involved in this movie was just cashing a paycheck.
Live, Die (from boredom), Repeat.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation feels exactly like what it is: a franchise in desperate need of a shake-up. The fatigue of the same actors doing the same thing for the same stakes permeates every aspect of the film, and that completely overshadows the technical brilliance and clever homages that attempt to elevate it.
Maybe investing in the characters and their relationships to each other could inject some life into it, or reset the tension by playing for smaller stakes but with more emotional investment sprinkled in. The tools are right there, in the form of the talented supporting cast, waiting to be used. Whatever it is, they better figure it out, because MI:6 is already in the works, and as it is I have no interest in watching Tom and his fantastic hair save the world yet again.
This review will self-destruct in five seconds…