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Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation

July 31, 2015
Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation

I’m as surprised as anyone: I honestly liked a Mission: Impossible movie. What’s more, it was Rogue Nation, the one co-written and directed Christopher McQuarrie, whose work since The Usual Suspects has always been more miss than hit for me. But McQuarrie and Iron Man 3 co-writer Drew Pearce hew closer than ever before to the bones of the classic television show, and they come up with a thoroughly entertaining spy romp.

It starts right from the beginning, after a cold start that reintroduces us to the core of the Impossible Missions Force: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner). As the opening credits roll, they’re shot through with stills and split-second clips lifted from later on in the movie — a device instantly recognizable to any fan of the TV series. This bodes well.

Right after that we get a reference to “The Syndicate”, the shadowy international organization Hunt has been tracking lately, but also a reference to the criminal network that featured heavily in the final season of the series’ run. His latest self-destructing message turns out to be a fake they’ve planted. A mysterious man (Sean Harris) shows up and Hunt is captured. But before Hunt can be tortured by someone he recognizes as “The Bone Doctor” (Jens Hultén), a mysterious woman (Rebecca Ferguson) frees him despite seeming to work for his captors. It’s all very mysterious.

At the same time, the incoming CIA chief Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) gets a congressional committee to shut down the IMF over Brandt’s objections. Luther retires, but Brandt ends up working for Hunley and Benji gets stuck in a room playing video games and subjected to weekly polygraphs in an attempt to locate Hunt, who has gone to ground in search of the Syndicate on his own.

From here, yeah, it’s basically a chase after one MacGuffin after another. But only some of the chase is an action stuntfest. Most of it is oriented around a heist, a con, and an old-fashioned psychological stare-down. And that’s what the series was always supposed to be about anyway, with fights and chases as last resorts for when things went downhill fast.

Now, that’s not to say that these are the best heists, cons, and stare-downs I’ve seen in movies. The plotting is a little too convoluted, while at the same time the twists are all but transparent to real caper fans. It’s like taking an old, familiar mechanism and slapping some extra gears on it that don’t really do much but you hope they look kind of cool. That all said, it’s still pretty fun to watch the power shift until things play out neatly the way you’d guessed.

On the other hand, if you come to Mission: Impossible movies for the action, you’ll probably be underwhelmed. The big chase through and outside Casablanca has a couple stunning shots, and Cruise can fall off a motorcycle like nobody’s business, but that’s about the peak for the film. The fights we get are few and far between, and McQuarrie and Kingsman editor Eddie Hamilton cut them in a way that suggests they’re covering for Hultén or Ferguson being weak on the choreography.

Rogue Nation is far from a perfect movie, but it seems that on the fifth time the series has finally gotten back to the tone that made Mission: Impossible such a cultural touchstone half a century ago.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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