25th Jul2015

‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris | Story by Christopher McQuarrie, Drew Pearce | Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie | Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

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If there’s anything that connects the Mission: Impossible films in my head, it’s that I consistently come out of each new instalment wondering what the hell happened. The plots are needlessly complicated and contrived in ways that would bamboozle even a Bond screenwriter, possibly to convince the audience they’re watching a sophisticated, John le Carre-esque thriller that also happens to feature explosions every five minutes, and if they don’t follow the labyrinthine story they must be too dim to get it.

In reality, however, the scripts that tell the tale of international super-spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) seem to be getting progressively lazier with each new film, as Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation feels like the most generic and Mission: Impossible-iest of the bunch. Part of the fault lies in the script, which for the most part is a paint-by-numbers thriller – Hunt is being hounded by a mysterious organisation and a suspicious CIA simultaneously – that makes passing attempts at believable dialogue. (“Did you try the thing?” “That thing didn’t work!” “Try the other thing!” “The other thing worked! Wow!”)

The other major flaw comes in director/co-writer Christopher McQuarrie’s apparent belief that Agent Hunt is, like, the best guy ever. In an age when even superheroes are coming under intense scrutiny for their methods and results, Ethan Hunt is at best not a great role model and at worst a mass murderer, so why McQuarrie idolises him quite so much (like he did in the similarly shaky Jack Reacher) is a head-scratcher.

Most of the movie plays out like you’d expect: Simon Pegg’s Benji is adorably tricked into reluctantly helping Ethan out (bafflingly, Benji doesn’t suspect a thing when he receives free tickets to the Viennese opera – and quite sadly goes on his own), the gang chases the generic villain to an exotic locale before he escapes to another exotic locale (erm, London) and Twists Are Had. Rogue Nation’s climactic admissions involve Tom Hollander as the British PM and the subsequent revelation that the whole movie was, in fact, a spoof thriller all along. There were a lot of laughs had in my screening during the later scenes, though this may have been a localised event that relied on the audience being predominantly British and having seen The Thick Of It.

Another raft of unintentional comedy comes courtesy of Alec Baldwin, presumably brought in to represent the sort of elder statesman gravitas apparently necessary for movies about the Impossible Mission Force. But instead of maintaining a stance of dignity and all-American gruffness, McQuarrie has him deliver gems like, “Ethan Hunt is the physical embodiment of destiny,” and remaining straight-faced in progressively more hysterically implausible scenarios.

The only one, in fact, who manages to play it straight-straight is Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa, an extremely capable but seriously compromised British double (triple? [quadruple?]) agent who is Hunt’s foil for much of the film. She is also The Woman, and as such must perform her espionage duties in slinky dresses while perfectly groomed.  Although Rogue Nation fails the Bechdel test spectacularly, Ilsa is a breath of fresh air in male-dominated action world; a woman who can take care of herself, give as good as she’s got and give the impression that she’s got far, far more going on than almost dying for Tom Cruise. Her action scenes – particularly a climactic one-on-one brawl with a knife-wielding torturer – felt like the only ones in which anything was at stake, and her gender rightly has little bearing on whether or not she can kick someone’s ass.

Unfortunately, that’s all she’s allowed to do, as we bid farewell to Ilsa at the end of the film – another single-use woman tossed aside at the end of an M:I movie while the male cast just keeps on growing.  (I have a theory that this movie is Ethan Hunt’s coming-out story, based on his constant rejection of women and obsession with bad, powerful men, but that’s for another time.)

Along with Baldwin, there’s Jeremy Renner’s Brandt bumping up the numbers. He’s a holdover from Ghost Protocol, during which it looked like he was the heir apparent to Cruise’s lead role. Ethan Hunt’s still knocking about, though, and Renner spends most of his time looking bored in governmental hearings as if he’s simply waiting for his boss to cark it so he can have a go.

Despite a mostly great cast and all the money in the world, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation feels like less than the sum of its parts, a spy thriller that contains very few thrills and takes itself far more seriously than anyone else will.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is released on Friday 31st July.

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