Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Go Rogue

Even after having a dynamite-long, almost twenty-year lifespan, the Mission: Impossible franchise — based on a television series created by Bruce Geller — still continues to do the ‘impossible:’ survive. Sure, the original Brian De Palma helmed, Tom Cruise starring vehicle, Mission: Impossible was a box office triumph back in 1996, praised by both critics and patrons alike, but its follow-up, John Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2 (2000), literally blew the property to smithereens, as director Woo’s filmmaking manner and ‘gun fu’ technique — bringing his Hong Kong-style and martial arts comic-book flavor to the labyrinthine plot and political maneuverings of its predecessor — didn’t align well with the groundwork that had been laid out before; I was utterly gob-smacked upon seeing Ethan Hunt vacating in the scorched Utah dessert, free solo climbing a gigantic rock face for sport — this was certainly not the character Cruise had depicted so effortlessly in the prior crowd-pleasing feat. Hard-hitting action, an overabundance of explosions, and unwarranted daredevil driving killed the intelligent ‘spy’ feel of its astute espionage frontrunner … or did it? Thankfully, several years on and prolific filmmaker J.J. Abrams reinvigorated the saga with Mission: Impossible 3 (2006), balancing compelling action with a gusty ‘secret service’ feel, making this third installment a return-to-form for the crippled film series. With Abrams remaining on board as producer, Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) proved to provide audiences with that perfect blend of raw dynamic action and edge-of-your-seat trills synonymous with the film brand, with the latter two entries re-winning viewer’s confidence once more, ergo fully reviving the thought-to-be-dead title.

So here we are with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), the fifth installment in the now popular and exceedingly lucrative film franchise. It’s surprising to note that, over time, each new entry keeps getting better and better — minus Woo’s ‘missed-the-mark’ blunder of course — and this latest ‘chapter’ is no exception, as Rogue Nation, surging with raw kinetic action from end-to-end while riveting with the relentlessness and explosiveness of its pulsating non-stop narrative, could potentially stand to be the most gripping, intelligent and satisfying flick in the series since De Palma’s 1996 effort. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, having previously captained the Tom Cruise starring vessel that was Jack Reacher (2012) and penning 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow screenplay, and, with a story written by both McQuarrie and Drew Pearce — the man responsible for the refreshing Iron Man 3 (2013) script — Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation literally picks up right where the fourth installment finished off, with the plot now centering on and around Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), and his Impossible Mission Force (IMF) team, tracking down an international criminal consortium known as ‘The Syndicate’ — a network of highly skilled operatives dedicated to establishing a new world order via an escalating series of terrorist attacks — an organization first mentioned at the conclusion of Ghost Protocol.

Danger reaches new heights!
Danger reaches new heights!

With the IMF more or less disbanded — due to the group’s recklessness and unjustifiable existence — though being somewhat absorbed into the CIA by request of its head honcho, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), Ethan Hunt is left out in the cold, perusing a mysterious threat that call themselves ‘The Syndicate.’ Convinced he can prove their existence is real — having been captured by the Syndicate and avoiding torture by escaping from one of their underground chambers, with help of disavowed British agent, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who may or may not be a member of this elusive illicit ring — Hunt refuses to follow CIA instructions and turn himself in, leaving CIA director Hunley no other choice but to call for Hunt’s capture. Faced with what may be the most impossible mission yet, Ethan gathers together his old team — former IMF agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), recruited by the CIA and currently working under Hunley, but secretly aiding Hunt from afar; intelligence analyst Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), who, this time around, gets out from behind the desk and delves into some life-threatening field work, opposed to number crunching; and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), a loyal, tough-as-nails ex-IMF agent, called back into action at Brandt’s request. So, with the IMF troupe essentially re-assembled, Hunt, and his squad of super spies, join forces with the mendacious Faust — a misleading femme fatale, perhaps playing both sides — as they together attempt to track down, and overturn, this formidable and deadly rogue nation: The Syndicate.

To put it bluntly, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation simply wastes no time, as the opening moments of the film see IMF agent Ethan Hunt, dangling from the door of an Airbus A400M as it ascends into the wild blue yonder. And this is just the first of many dangerous and daring death-defying acts, as the film’s steady unbreaking momentum and ‘can-you-top-this?’ attitude quickly shoots past the speedometer’s limit, delivering a consuming and electrifying influx of jaw-dropping near-impossible set pieces. Our heroes’ globetrotting venture literally takes them across multiple continents. From the Austrian capital, Vienna, where, to save the life of the Austrian Chancellor, and set against the beautiful backdrop of the magnum opus, Turandot, a silent but deadly behind-the-scenes skirmish ensues up on the canopy at the Vienna State Opera, Wiener Staatsoper — which concludes on the landmark’s grandiose roof-top — all the way to the blazed and sweltering, dust-covered streets of Africa, which sees Hunt, with the aid of Dunn and Faust, face their most ‘impossible’ assignment to date, as, in an attempt to acquire a ledger containing the names of all Syndicate agents, our on-the-run protagonists attempt to infiltrate an uber-secure ‘water-filled’ server, located beneath a power station in Morocco; this edgy, nail-biting undertaking is a real show stopper and stands to be the film’s — heck, maybe even the franchise’s — clear-cut standout moment. Throwing in a couple of frenzied, frenetic Fast-and-Furious-esuq vehicle/ motorbike pursuits for good measure while constantly and continually raising the stakes — at one point, Hunt is left no other option but to attack and possibly assassinate the British head-of-state — Rogue Nation simply never stops to take a breather, and, despite its brisk pace and explosive chaos, the behavior of the characters, and the emotional aspect of the narrative, still follows acceptable reasoning and remains clear and in tact throughout.

Dressed to Kill
Dressed to Kill

Much of the film’s strength emanates from its seemingly unstoppable delivery of edge-of-your-seat action and high-tension splurs, but let’s not ignore the grandeur of its vast panoramas — the cinematography by Robert Elswit, Nightcrawler (2014) is top notch, as the breathtaking visuals make exquisitely stylish arenas for the ever-imminent rumbles — its noir-ish moodiness, or the palatable efforts of its leads and multiple bit players, all adding to this slick state-of-the-art thrill-ride. Reprising his role as Ethan Hunt — having embodied the character five times throughout the past two decades — Tom Cruise, who also works as one of the producers on the movie, brings a dependably combustible, tireless energy to the project; tabloid life aside, Cruise remains an action star without equal, you’ll never see the 53-year-old portray a comic-book immortal as he possesses a real vulnerability and organic, offhand charm. Cruise is the driving force behind the Mission: Impossible property — his unquestionable commitment to the franchise is absolute — and the leading man continues to deliver as undercover agent Ethan Hunt, who, in Rogue Nation, works desperately to save the IMF from being dissolved, in turn, protecting the world from death, disorder and destruction on a global scale — I’m certain the legendary Hollywood superstar will keep releasing and starring in Mission: Impossible pictures for as long as his body will physically allow.

Alongside Cruise, English funny-man Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead (2004), supplies much of the picture’s humor and well timed tension-easing comic relief as Benji Dunn, an information technology specialist who anxiously yet ardently recruits himself to field-operative status, whereas fetching newcomer to the saga Rebecca Ferguson, Hercules (2014) instills vixen Ilsa Faust with a worldly zest and a pinch of sensual intrigue, possibly the best female co-star in the series since Emmanuelle Béart’s double-crossing seductress, Claire Phelps, in De Palma’s 1996 original. Unfortunately, several of the second tier characters are sadly sidelined throughout the entire picture, which comes as a bit of a disappointment. William Brandt is neglected for the bulk of the flick, and while Jeremy Renner, The Avengers (2012), does the best he can with his limited screen time, it would’ve been great had Brandt’s part been a little more substantial, particularly in terms of action; the same can be said about Luther Stickell, played by Ving Rhames — the only character other than Hunt to have appeared in all five M:I films — who’s also wasted and isn’t given much to do either, with the majority of his scenes being short-lived and quite forgetful. Working against the IMF, Alec Baldwin, The Departed (2006), hams it up as CIA chief Alan Hunley, who, at every given turn, constantly and continually finds himself one step behind Hunt, while Sean Harris, Prometheus (2012) — effectively employing a shrill, reedy voice — infuses the steel-fisted Solomon Lane, the overseer of the major figure of fear — the shadow-terrorist group, The Syndicate — with an unnerving sense of dread. This villainous portrayal is a dead-set bulls-eye as Harris knocks it out of the park; Lane is manipulative, meticulous and certainly tests Ethan’s limits, putting our leading man through the ringer both physically and mentally.

The hunt is on ...
The hunt is on …

Ultimately, viewers know what to expect when they ‘choose to accept’ a Mission: Impossible picture, and Rogue Nation is certainly no different, as the intricate zigzagged plot, just like the former M:I titles, is suffused with dishonesty, deception, and disloyalty — at rather high levels mind you — plus, there’s always Lalo Schifrin’s catchy ‘Mission: Impossible Theme’ — which Rogue Nation composer Joe Kraemer, Jack Reacher (2012), weaves seamlessly into the score — to get one’s excitement and enthusiasm levels up. Fortunately, this fifth Mission: Impossible go-around just may be the best in the series so far, despite the fact that the movie’s fuse — which stays lit for most of this sensory escapist extravaganza — does fizzle out as the film comes to a slightly substandard climax, with the finale not being nearly as exhilarating or exciting as the narrative’s previous acts. With a powerfully fitting antagonist in The Syndicate — or as Benji likes to put it, ‘the anti-IMF’ — a strong and sizzling leading lady in Faust, blisteringly choreographed action, gasp-inducing suspense, exotic locations and genuine relatable protagonists — who display a strong loyalty amongst one another as friends, not just IMF colleagues, giving the spectacle more weight — Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is an unapologetically fun spy-fi that verifies the M:I franchise’s long-running lifespan, a strength that certainly warrants a sixth outing, as there’s no sign of Mission: Impossible ‘self-destructing’ anytime soon.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by S-Littner

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is released through Paramount Pictures Australia