After a couple of shaky early installments the “Mission Impossible” franchise seems to have found its stride. Personally I’ve never considered any of the films bad, but a couple definitely showed a dip in quality. But 2011’s “Ghost Protocol” gave the series a new and stable identity. It was an action-packed blockbuster anchored by an entertaining story and an almost self-deprecating sense of humor. Now we have the fifth film “Rogue Nation” which embraces everything right about its predecessor and then elevates it.
Say what you want about Tom Cruise but he is an actor who has redefined himself and he remains successful because he knows who he is at this stage of his career. His Ethan Hunt character in “Rogue Nation” perfectly encapsulates his current state. Gone are the cheesy “Top Gun” grins, the “Risky Business” dances, and the “Jerry Maguire” flamboyance. In this film Ethan is still an IMF super agent, but he is also overmatched, fragile, and often dependent on others. It’s a refreshing approach that makes Ethan less of a superhero and more of a human being.
The story begins with two separate battles taking place. The first is before a Senate oversight committee. CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is seeking to shut down IMF due to their reckless and damaging tactics (see the Kremlin from the last film as an example). Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) defends the group but to no avail. IMF is shut down and all field agents are to be placed under CIA control.
But Ethan Hunt is involved in another battle – a covert operation intended to expose a global crime consortium known as the Syndicate. Ethan is lured into a trap and captured by the Syndicate’s mysterious leader Solomon Lane (deviously played by Sean Harris). But an equally mysterious British operative named Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) helps Ethan escape without revealing her reasons or motives. Convinced more than ever that the Syndicate must be stopped, Ethan sets out to stop Lane while avoiding the hounding CIA and determining which side Ilsa is fighting for.
Cruise has a lot of input into these films and he wisely surrounds himself with quality filmmakers. Christopher McQuarrie directed, wrote the screenplay, and is a regular collaborator with Cruise. You may remember he won an Oscar for writing the brilliantly verbose “The Usual Suspects”. Here his script features the adrenaline-fueled action sequences, but it also services its characters with good dialogue and smart humor. Then there is the wonderful cinematographer Robert Elswit, an Oscar winner for his work on “There Will Be Blood”. His camera never frames a bad shot and it never lands in a bad place. His action scenes may be the biggest treat particularly an exhilarating car and motorcycle chase through the streets of Casablanca.
Getting back to the story and particularly Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, I can’t say enough about how refreshing it is to see this type of lead character in this type of movie be so dependent on others. So many cliches and overused tropes are tossed aside to give us a more human Ethan Hunt even amid his crazy stunts and top-notch spy work. We repeatedly see him being rescued or him relying on the strength and wisdom of others.
This is mostly seen in his relationship with Ilsa. So often she bests him and at other times she saves his life. He’s no knight in shining armor. Actually I think it could easily be said that Ilsa is the toughest character in the film. Cruise’s performance often highlights her strengths. Plus it helps to have such a great performance from Rebecca Ferguson. What’s best about their relationship is that McQuarrie and Cruise don’t force a run-of-the-mill romance on us. I kept waiting for the movie to strike that all-too-familiar note. After all this is Tom Cruise, right? Instead the film deviates from yet another overused story development which was so satisfying.
There are so many other things I could say about “Rogue Nation”. I could talk about the beautiful locations and the global feel. I could talk about the rest of the supporting cast and the strong work they do. I could talk more about the story and its aversion to cliches while still being a big budget blockbuster. Instead I’ll just say “Rogue Nation” is a very good movie from a franchise that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. It definitely rises about most of the other summer tent pole pictures we’ve seen. Now bring on MI:6.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS
Oh, yeah. Saw this last night at the Chinese Theatre IMAX (Laser) and it…was…awesome!
Wasn’t it great??? As I mention, it dodges so many overused cliches and story angles while still being an adrenaline-fueled blockbuster. Loved it.
Interesting read Keith, and lots of praise for this around at the minute. I’m going to see it in the next few days and watched Ghost Protocol last night for the first time. I have to say I disagree that there has been an improvement over time, though from my WordPress reader I can see that I’m in the minority when it comes to that point of view, and I hasten to add that as action films go I think they’re all better than average. For me the first film by Brian De Palma is the best, although I was impressed by the first two set pieces in MIGP. I’m looking forward to switching off and enjoying more of that kind of thing.
Fair perspective. I don’t think I would say they have there has been a steady improvement over time. As I mentioned I like all the movies. But for me the first had moments of greatness but also lulls. The third film also felt a bit flimsy at times. Yet both still were entertaining. I saw Ghost Protocol as the franchise gaining a bit of an identity while still remaining a directors’ franchise. This film builds on that but may feature the most human, non-cliche Ethan Hunt yet. Also we get a strong female character (and not strictly in the physical sense which is often the case). Love this film and I’m really glad to hear it is being so well received. Anxious to hear your thoughts.
Nice review Keith. I enjoyed the last two Mission Impossible movies more than I expected to. Hope to see this within the next week.
I’m a fan of the franchise but even I was surprised to see some of the things in this film. I loved Ethan Hunt’s dependency. He’s still a super agent but countless times it’s the work of others that saves him or accomplishes a goal. The film also does right by its female lead. Ilsa is a strong and complex character. Loved her. And it also doesn’t follow the standard blockbuster cliche checklist. I won’t spoil a thing but I kept waiting for several normal ticks to happen and they never did. Very satisfying.
I’m a Cruise fan and a fan of this series. The plot is nearly as convoluted as MI:l and The Usual Suspects together. The stunt set pieces are terrific, especially the motorcycle chase sequence. This movie is a winner and it deserves the praise it has been receiving, including yours.
YES! My gosh that car/motorcycle chase was the most exhilarating thing I’ve seen this year. Glad to read your enthusiasm. I’m with you, this is indeed a winner.
I am simply incapable of reading a Mission Impossible review without the theme tune pounding in my head.
So glad the word on this is positive. Nice review, dude.
Thanks man. A pretty iconic theme, right? My kids even know it.
This is a really good movie – a blockbuster done right!
Yeah, I’m all in for this one. Sounds every bit as exciting and entertaining as I was hoping it would be!
It is a blast man! I was expecting to like it but within the bounds of reasoning. It surprised me more. Definitely check it out.
What were your thoughts on the other films in the franchise. I find the opinions on them pretty interesting.
Great review! You have me sold on this one.
I gotta say I was excited going into this one but it was better than expected.
I love hearing people’s thoughts on the franchise as a whole. The opinions are pretty different. This one is right near the top of the list.
Great review, Keith. I’m glad you liked it as much as you did. Can you believe I practically begged to have someone go with me to see this film and could not? Sigh. I’m sure I’ll be wishing for it for Christmas present, but I think it’s one of those films that is better seen on the big screen.
You know this was really good on the big screen. The action is so well done. But I think what really put this one over the top for me was its willingness to kick aside the normal blockbuster clichés. It’s still a big budget summer movie, but it does several refreshing things at the same time. Are you a fan of the franchise?
Yes, I’ve liked them all. I like that this franchise has different directors and that it seems to evolve as technology expands and issues change. I like your comment that Ethan Hunt is more fragile and needs his team more than ever. I’m glad he’s gotten old and less grating.
Oh yes. He has his bacon saved multiple times in this movie. I won’t spoil anything but I was amazed that they added such a human touch to him. And he’s not the strongest character in the movie physically or mentally. That was a touch I really liked.
as for the franchise, I know a lot of people don’t like the second movie. The one directed by John Woo. I really liked that one. It was such a drastic turn from the first film and I think that threw some people off. I loved it because it was so different. It added such a new flavor mainly because of what you said – different directors.
I loved the John Woo. I thought it beautifully filmed. I loved the car dance replicating the tango.
Woo hoo! Glad we’re in agreement on this one Keith! I LOVE the crazy action and self-deprecating humor, pretty much similar to Ghost Protocol but that Opera scene is so spectacular and I LOVE Rebecca Ferguson so much here that this is now my favorite of the series. Nice to see Ethan is no ‘knight in shining armor’ as you said, glad to see the female character getting the upper hand for most of the film, I even think it’s about time IMF has a female spy as the lead 😉
It’s awesome, right? I truly believe Ilsa was a tougher character (not just physically) than Ethan. Ferguson was indeed amazing. And I love that Ethan is so dependent on his friends. No spoilers but even the ending avoided the usual expected showdown. Just sooo much I enjoyed about it. Now I’m ready to see it again!
Liked but never loved the series. Hear good things about this one though.
Definitely worth seeing. And I would say try and catch it on the big screen.
Will try to. I really do admire the fact Cruise does his own stunts.
I so agree. It even managed to exceed my fairly lofty expectations.
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