MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION Movie Review – Tom Cruise, The Fifth Element
Few franchises are as closely tied to their lead actor as much as the Mission: Impossible franchise is to Tom Cruise. That’s purposeful, of course. Cruise grabbed the film rights to the venerable TV series two decades ago in an effort to turn himself into an action hero, Ethan Hunt, America’s answer to the long-running, later rebooted, British-led James Bond series. It’s probably no accident that Cruise’s latest globetrotting, spy-thriller/action hybrid, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, begins and ends in London (minus a Minsk set prologue), the geographical and spiritual home of Bond and his late creator, Ian Fleming. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is just as formulaic, template-driven as the six-decade-old Bond series (including the most recent Daniel Craig-led reboot), dependent on Hitchcock-inspired McGuffins (e.g., a list of covert operatives, a super-virus, moles in the super-secret IMF organization, nuclear launch codes) to generate generally forgettable, throwaway plots.
But the moviegoers who’ve eagerly paid to see the Mission: Impossible series over the better part of two decades have never said, “Two for the latest Mission: Impossible” for the disposable plots. They come for the elaborately choreographed, action-set pieces, the exotic locations (“exotic” being a relative term, of course), suspense-filled story twists, and just as importantly, Cruise giving another effortless-looking, cool-under-pressure, irony-free turn as Ethan Hunt, a Terminator-like super-spy who rarely gets his suit rumpled or his hair out of place. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that Cruise’s fifth appearance as Hunt opens with a spectacular set piece (emphasis on “spectacular”) as Hunt chases down a moving cargo plane (on foot, no less), somehow manages to jump on a wing and grab onto an unopened door as the cargo plane takes off, all while his spy-in-arms and comic sidekick, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), tries repeatedly to remotely open the door, any door.
Nothing else that follows in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation matches the opening set piece, but that’s not a problem, let alone a fatal one. The opening set piece once again reminds audiences of Cruise’s near fanatical zeal for doing as many stunts himself, free of CGI (a safety harness was involved, however). Moments later, though half a continent away (London), Hunt finds himself captured, strung up, the next victim of a grinning, sadistic torturer who calls himself the “Bone Doctor.” Hunt’s elusive search for a super-secret, world-destabilizing organization with a vaguely defined ideological agenda (think of it as Spectre-lite), the Syndicate, has led inevitably to his capture. Thanks to the intervention of a Syndicate agent, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson, making an impressive series debut), with mixed, possibly duplicitous motives, Hunt doesn’t stay captured for long. Once again, however, the U.S. government disavows Hunt and the IMF’s covert actions, this time in the form of Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), the current CIA director and the voice of anti-IMF sentiment.
Hundley succeeds in disbanding the IMF (Impossible Mission Force, in case you’re wondering), forcing William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Dunn to temporarily switch super-secret organizations from the now defunct IMF to the CIA. That doesn’t stop Dunn from helping Hunt whenever he can, up to and including the next major set piece, a two- or three-way assassination attempt of a high-ranking politician at the Vienna Opera House during a sold-out performance of Puccini’s “Turandot.” It’s Hunt as the American Bond all over again (Quantum of Solace had a similar, though far less memorable scene) with the Mission: Impossible series in a constant dialogue — or from a different perspective, the equivalent of a nuclear arms race, except via increasingly elaborate, innovative set pieces — that’s made both series qualitatively better action wise. They’re both wish-fulfillment fantasies of the white male kind, of course, but that doesn’t make them any less engaging or entertaining.
And Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation certainly qualifies as entertaining, even if only viscerally and not intellectually (there’s little room in the series for political topicality or contemporary relevance except generally, an intentional decision meant to avoid audience alienation from either side of the political spectrum). Despite the usual one-climax-too-many — a Morocco-set chase scene would have provided the fifth film with the perfect third-act climax — plus one too many exposition dumps or narrative tangents, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation rarely fails to accomplish what Cruise and his Jack Reacher collaborator, Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), set out to do: To prove, once again, that Cruise, even at 53 (a super-fit 53, it should be added), can perform at the highest levels, physically in the sense of doing most of his own stunt work, and in the box-office sense, headlining the fifth entry in a two-decade-old series that, Cruise, shows little sign of slowing down.